Here’s a fun summer activity to do in groups or alone, all ages, needs no athletic prowess, no bathing suit (mercifully), no Wi-Fi, has no calories, and… is soooooo good for you.
I have become obsessed with a brand of old-fashioned wooden jigsaw puzzles like you didn’t think they made anymore, where the pieces fit together with a satisfying thwick.
With whimsy pieces! A hallmark of the skill and artistry of puzzle-makers of yore, whimsey pieces traditionally relate to the subject of the puzzle itself.
Growing up, didn’t you do puzzles in summer? Back then for us the closest thing to a Game Boy was the guy working in the floating duckie booth at the fair, and the closest thing to an iPad was, well never mind.
Puzzles can be a social or a solitary pursuit, and there are health benefits galore, from lowering blood pressure to increasing dopamine, which helps learning and memory. The mental exercise of puzzles helps keep you from getting senile. More on that later.
If I remember.
Don’t you love Van Gogh’s Wheat Field With Cypresses?
So I shopped for puzzles. The ones in most stores are cardboard and cheesy. Like kittens in soft focus or Hawaii at sunset. Or God forbid kittens at sunset. With a ball of yarn. And butterflies. In a basket. With a bow on it. And pink glitter.
The duchess wants beautiful, interesting, tasteful, sophisticated puzzles.
Searched high and low I did, until I found Liberty Puzzles, based in Boulder, Colorado, right here in the U-S-of-A. Says co-owner Jeff Eldridge, “We want to make puzzles that people wouldn’t mind leaving out on their coffee tables.”
They’re doing it. Jeff and partner Chris Wirth started the company eight years ago. Two dudes, one jigsaw and a card table. Today they have 15 machines and 25 employees.
Liberty works closely with the artists and museums whose paintings they license, from MoMa to the Met and beyond, sending proofs as necessary to the curators to make sure they’ve got the colors right.
Jeff clearly loves what they do. They’re doing well and doing good. “We hear from people with traumatic brain injuries who say the puzzles helped in their recovery,” he tells me. “Or that the only time Grandpa remembers all our names is when we’re doing a puzzle together.” Parents say, “It’s the only time our kids talk to us and aren’t on their phones.” (Ugh.) And, “It’s the only time our family can get together without fighting.” (Lord.) “Puzzling brings out conversation. It calms people down,” Jeff says, “and it staves off memory loss.” (Wow.)
I’m so in, and also a little addicted. Must be the dopamine.
Each of Liberty’s 400-some designs is cut differently and entirely by hand. Prices range from $39 for children’s puzzles to $185 for large models. The standard is about $95. They also do custom orders. If you lose a piece, or the dog eats one, they’ll replace it for free.
Even the flip sides are beautiful. You can see the whimsey pieces–fish, shells, whales, an anchor.
How can you not love these?
Well, not everyone’s a puzzle person. My husband His Grace would rather go to the dentist than do a puzzle. I will attempt to reform him but based on past experience, don’t hold your breath.
Of course he is already perfect. Puzzles make you very Zen.
You are completely absorbed, totally in the moment. Like meditating. Other benefits include the simultaneous harnessing of right and left brains, the creative and the logical. Your concentration increases. Heart rate and blood pressure decrease. This is good.
Unless you are talking on the phone to your sister while she is driving back from Florida. This is also good but a different experience.
But mostly, puzzles are just fun.
Until they drive you mad and you look up and it’s been an hour and oooh let’s find one more piece and then you turn a whole tree upside down and it joins into the hill and oooh the man with the shovel fits there and then…like on that commercial for cable TV that’s running now… and then you think you are a genius.
When you think you are a genius, you go to Vegas.
When you go to Vegas, you lose everything.
When you lose everything, you sell your hair to a wig shop.
Don’t sell your hair to a wig shop.
Or maybe the ad is for satellite and against cable? I’m not sure, though I have seen it 72 times. Clearly I need to do more puzzles.
How about you? Do you do them? Do you have special or fun traditions around them? A dedicated place in your house for puzzling? I’d love to hear.