For over a hundred years, jigsaw puzzles have kept their popularity and remained a part of our culture as a common hobby among children and adults. Not only are they a classic American past time, but a great way to spend time with family and friends. Every year since 2002, Americans celebrate National Puzzle Day to share the enjoyment of puzzles. This year National Puzzle Day is celebrated on January 29, 2020. 

Jigsaw puzzles date back to the 1760s when European mapmakers pasted maps onto wood and cut them into small pieces. In 1767, John Spilsbury, an engraver and mapmaker, created the first jigsaw puzzle. Spilsbury mounted a world map to a sheet of hardwood and used a hand saw to cut around country boundaries. He called his work “Dissected Maps” and sold them as a tool for teaching geography. 

Over the years, puzzles have proven to not only be a fun way to pass the time, but they also have significant health benefits. Studies show that puzzles help to improve memory and delay signs of dementia and Alzheimer’s. The brain’s short-term memory helps us remember shapes, colors, and visualize the bigger picture to figure out which pieces will fit together. Studies have shown that keeping the mind active through puzzles can reduce the amount of brain cell damage that occurs in Alzheimer’s patients. It can also support the growth of new nerve cells and strengthens the connections between them. 

Nancy Ryan, a resident at the United Methodist Homes Elizabeth Church campus, started putting together puzzles over 20 years ago. Nancy said that she’s not sure exactly why she started the hobby, but it’s something to keep her mind working, and she believes that puzzles help to keep her memory sharp. Over the years, Nancy said that she has put together over 1,000 puzzles. She said the secret is to have patience because it can take a few days to a week to finish, depending on the scale of the puzzle. Some residents at UMH like to frame their finished puzzles after they’re completed, Nancy, however, prefers to take them apart and pass them along for others to enjoy. The only time she enjoys having a “puzzle partner” is when her daughter visits.  

Alice and George Clark, residents at the United Methodist Homes Hilltop campus, on the other hand, prefer working on puzzles together. They started the hobby a little over a year ago, as a way to spend time with each other and to pass the time, especially in the winter months. Since they started, Alice and George have completed 25 puzzles, the majority of them being 1,000 pieces. Depending on how many hours they dedicate to it, a 1,000 piece puzzle can take up to two weeks for them to finish. 

Their favorite puzzles to put together are ones that have 1,000 pieces with outdoor scenes. Alice and George enjoy doing the outdoor scene puzzles because it brings back memories of when they use to go hiking in the Adirondack Mountains. Alice does not doubt that putting together puzzles correlates to improving memory because the outdoor scenes bring back fond memories of their past. For instance, there’s a puzzle that Alice and George put together that has a red canoe and cabin, and this particular puzzle makes Alice and George reminisce about those two things they once owned. 

Tips from all of our “Master Puzzlers” 

– When starting a square-edged puzzle, they suggest separating the edge pieces from the middle pieces first. Using the edge pieces, start the frame, and work your way to the middle with the other pieces. 

-Take a look at the puzzle box if it has a picture; this can help you to match the color of the pieces to where they need to go. 

-Lastly, and most importantly, the real trick is patience.