I have always loved puzzles. When my kids were home, we always had one, and I usually worked on it. I hadn’t made one in years, but when the pandemic lockdown hit, I had a puzzle in my closet that I bought at my clearance sale a few years ago. I got off the chart table, started looking for frame parts and now I’m hooked. The puzzle box did not carry the warning that puzzles can be addictive.
I only like 1000 piece puzzles so it takes me a long time to put everything together. First because it’s not easy and then because I only work on it occasionally, but I’m reassured that it’s still there. It is an excellent stress reliever and meditation tool. Honestly. Concentrating on an image for a long period of time, with no extraneous thoughts entering your mind, is meditation in itself. In the one I’m currently working on, there’s an overabundance of white pieces, so I’m doing a lot of meditation.
The web says puzzles are good for us because they take us away from computers, devices with screens, and that must be good for us. Puzzles are like vitamins for the brain because studies show that puzzles can improve cognition, which means they help us think, know, remember and solve problems. Well yes! I don’t care how old you are, improving cognition is a good thing.
Doing puzzles is a complete workout for the brain as it exercises both the right and left sides. The right is in charge of creativity, emotions and intuitive thought; and the left is the logical, objective and methodical side. When we work on puzzles, right and left have to work together, and this activates the occipital lobe where the brain connects colors and shapes. They prove all this with neurotransmitter tests. No, I can’t explain it, but I think they connect wires to a person’s head and watch the activity as they study the parts and try to put them together.
The Web reports that puzzles are becoming popular again and calls it a retro revolution. Well yes! It’s a revolution that I appreciate even if I do it alone. It’s my go-to thing whenever I get into trouble or any other excuse I can find to take time and sit down to my puzzle. It has become one of my happy places. How boring is my life that trying to put little pieces together makes me happy? We’re not even going to go there.
You might think that I do puzzles as an excuse not to do things like work or do housework, but no, or maybe sometimes. I can always find a reason not to clean the house like I just have to find out what’s going on on the next page of the book I’m reading.
Another benefit of functional puzzles is that they improve our short-term memory. You don’t remember where you put your glasses or what you ate for breakfast, puzzles can help you. Finding your glasses is important, but it doesn’t matter what you ate for breakfast. The only important meal is the next.
The web says that when we do puzzles, it helps improve our visual-spatial reasoning. I didn’t even know I had visual-spatial reasoning, but we all do. It helps us in many daily tasks like driving a car, reading a map and organizing a drawer, and many more things. I’ve read that it helps us follow the dance steps. I’m not sure about that one because I’ve worked a lot of puzzles and I’m always one step off the pace at some point. I wasn’t born to dance, but who knows if I do enough puzzles, it might happen. But don’t expect to see me in “Dancing with the Stars”.
According to a recent study published in the Archives of Neurology, people who do puzzles and crosswords have a longer lifespan with less risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, memory loss or dementia. “Puzzles stimulate the brain and actually ward off plaque which is the marker of Alzheimer’s disease. The study compared brain scans of 75-year-olds to those of 25-year-olds. brain scans comparable to 25-year-olds.” He didn’t mention anything about dancing like a 25-year-old.
Bill and Melinda Gates are big puzzle fans and spend evenings together working on a puzzle. Does this mean that working with puzzles will not only make me smarter, but also rich?
In 1762, John Spilsbury, a map engraver, who was an apprentice of King George III’s royal geographer, mounted one of his master maps on wood, then cut into the countries and gave it to the children of local school to help them with their geography training.
Thanks John, you did well.
Louise Carroll is a regular columnist for The Ledger.