Move over pasta and loo paper… Why puzzles are taking over shop shelves

As we’ve been instructed more and more to stay indoors – and in an effort to retain our sanity while stuck at home 24/7 – our focus has shifted more towards having fun the old-fashioned and tactile way.

Sure, the kids can have their video gaming, and addictive TikTok and Fortnite shenanigans, but nothing beats a classic puzzle challenge, be it in a group or on your own.

Once the home-schooling on trigonometry and history is out of the way, and once we’ve rearranged our pantry for the umpteenth time, we can enjoy some much-deserved peace and quiet, don our ‘day pyjamas’, sip on a Chardy, and practise a little mindfulness (or escapism), clicking together coloured pieces of cardboard.

A 3000-piece jigsaw puzzle can provide hours (or many, many hours) of in-home entertainment. And, let’s face it, there’s only so many times you can watch Tiger King on Netflix.

The popularity of both children’s and adult’s jigsaw puzzles have gone through the roof, with reports of sales having increased by up to 400% in the past month. Most of these have been online sales, although you may have noticed all the front-of-counter jigsaw boxes stacked up not-so-subtly in supermarkets, too.

“It was found that doing a jigsaw puzzle was one way to keep people calm and focused during turmoil and fear…”

With the raft of new social-distancing rules being handed down by the Australian government, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has been asked to clarify what he meant when he said Aussies were able to leave home only for “essential services”. Yes, we too were puzzled.

The PM responded: “I’ll give you an example. Our kids are at home now – as are most kids – and Jenny went out and bought them a whole bunch of jigsaw puzzles. I can assure you over the next few months we will consider those jigsaw puzzles absolutely essential.”

It seems Australians took the suggestion on as gospel, hopping onto eBay or going to the store to buy jigsaw puzzles by the boot-load. Sites such as, Mudpuppy and Redbubble are currently going gangbusters with jigsaw sales. It’s like nothing else in the family entertainment arena matters right now – not card games, not board games, not even frickin’ Pokémon.

Just jigsaw puzzles.

But Morrison might not be too off the mark. It is estimated that even in unofficial lockdown, 9.5 million families will be confined within the walls of their homes for an indefinite period of time. And with little to do but watch television or – gasp! – actually talk to each other.

Children, in particular, can be difficult to keep occupied for hours at a time, and in an attempt to stop them from using your expensive thousand-thread-count sheets as makeshift tent covers, it’s no surprise the most popular jigsaw puzzles are ones with a higher piece count.

Despite this sudden hype and interest in jigsaw puzzles, lest we forget they’ve been around for ages. The first jigsaw puzzle was introduced in the 18th Century by British cartographer John Spilsbury, who would teach children geography by cutting up maps and having them put the pieces back together.

By the 1930s, broad-based commercial production of puzzles began in the US and quickly spread in popularity during the Second World War.

It was found that doing a jigsaw puzzle was one way to keep people calm and focused during the turmoil and fear of war – so there’s a sort of precedent for doing a puzzle when confined or sheltered in one place.

Psychologists agree that during stressful times – like those we are experiencing right now thanks to COVID-19 – doing a puzzle can take our focus away from the intense changes going on around us, or from the info overload seen on the news and across social media. In short, puzzles give us a bit of a mental holiday.

Puzzles can lead you to being more meditative and mindful. Or they can lead you down fabulous rabbit-holes of escapism. Either way, they’re pretty good for you.

It’s like nothing else in the family entertainment arena matters right now – not card games, not board games, not even frickin’ Pokémon.

Puzzles are certainly more relaxing than another game currently causing a fuss on the retail circuit. ‘Pandemic’, as it is timely entitled, is where everyone works together as “scientists” and “researchers” trying to fight off (you guessed it) an international pandemic.

A little too close to reality for some, agreed. I think I’ll stick to my puzzles, thanks.

Jane Cleary


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