Could the humble jigsaw puzzle save the human race?

Gavin Ucko says that families in lockdown are rediscovering the magic of jigsaw puzzles, with the appeal of a cardboard picture suddenly superseding that of digital devices

Written by Georgie Dobie

Posted 24.04.2020 | Business

Could the humble jigsaw puzzle save the human race? thumbnail

Gavin Ucko, Psychologist of Education, game inventor and Managing Director of The Happy Puzzle Company says that one of the positives that may come out of these terrible times are a rediscovery of the love of jigsaws. With his children now favouring a jigsaw puzzle over their digital devices, his family now regularly sitting down together for dinner, Gavin considers the role of the jigsaw puzzle during these difficult times and its ability to achieve so much for family life...

I am one of those people who loves working from home. I know that puts me in a minority, but surrounded only by the sound of my chair rocking backwards and forwards and the dog shuffling around, I find it easier than most to absorb myself in a project.

For better or worse, the last few weeks have seen me joined by my wife, who has been furloughed from the charity where she works, and our four children. There are changes in daytime dynamic and then there is this! 

Although as a family we have always played games in abundance, I have personally often seen it as being an extension of work, rather than a way of relaxing. I find it difficult to play anything without my brain kicking into a mode of wanting to improve the design, the layout, or the gameplay. 

Our children have been phenomenal guinea pigs for my ideas over the years and whenever they have helped me, I have made sure that they have been credited in the game. 

Our two boys, at the ages of seven and nine, co-authored a puzzle book with me. It’s one of the most fun things that we have ever done together and the enormous pride that it instilled in them has had long-term benefits, I am sure. Aside from that, what could possibly be cooler than going into school and showing your friends the book you have just had published? Not all professions seem to offer this lovely little quirk. For our friends who are in the medical profession, there is a distinct lack of opportunities in this regard. I am not aware of any primary school child who yet brought with them to ‘show and tell’ the appendix they helped their surgeon parent to remove. 

Back to our home in 2020, pre-coronavirus. Our teenagers will look up from their handheld devices once in a blue moon, if there is food on the table, and not much else. I am not sure they would notice a minor earthquake. 

However, something has changed over the course of this lockdown. The dining room table, where I once sat for most of the day, is now being used as a base for 1000-piece jigsaws. Children who once found themselves absorbed only by screens, have found a shared love of putting together small pieces to form glorious images. It’s special.

Strangely, lots of other things seem to have fallen into place as a result. Suddenly, everybody can take a break from doing the jigsaw at the same time and together we can go for a daily walk. And whereas in pre-coronavirus times, dinner consisted of ‘serving yourself from the pot when you are ready’, we suddenly find ourselves sitting down, midweek, in order to eat together as a family.

I genuinely credit the jigsaw puzzles for this. How is it possible that the appeal of a cardboard picture is suddenly superseding that of an Xbox, Apple or Android device, or even the TV?

Jigsaw puzzles appear to be magical. They absorb you, and transport you off to some beautiful world in which nothing else seems to matter. If you are building one, it’s so easy to lose yourself for hours in what you are doing.

One member of our team told me last week that her 11-year-old niece effectively disappeared to her bedroom for three days and wouldn’t come out until she had finished whatever 1000-piece puzzle she was building.

Doing a jigsaw with others is a beautiful experience. Rarely is there anything to argue about, as inevitably there will be over a game of Monopoly, Scrabble or almost anything else you choose.

A jigsaw is just so straightforward. Either you have found a piece and you are putting it in place, or you are looking for a piece. The process of sorting the pieces, isolating the edges or the corners is one that can be done together with others, without age being a boundary and with minimal verbal communication required. In short, it’s just about the most powerful team building ever created. 

And then of course the ultimate goal of any family activity, is to be able to look back at what you have achieved. To be able to have a ‘trophy’ that says ‘look what we did’; to have that sense of achievement. Could there possibly be any better way of doing this then having a framed, completed jigsaw hanging on the wall of your lounge as a permanent reminder of what you achieved? 

One of the positives that may come out of these terrible times are a rediscovery of the love of jigsaws, an activity which costs relatively little and which can achieve so much. 

Whoever thought that a sheet of punched out cardboard could achieve so much for family life at such difficult times?


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