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Pandemic puzzles: Digging in, piece by piece

Jigsaws are hot — and the reason shouldn't be puzzling. With so many people staying at home, working a puzzle can be relaxing, satisfying and a welcoming distraction.

Sales are up. Many puzzles are sold out online. And, locally, people are hauling out one puzzle after another.

"We’re on our third ... strangely compelling," said Kathy Guest Shadrack, of Hamburg.

Jigsaw puzzles are not for everybody. Some find them a chore. A frustrating endeavor. And pet owners have their own challenges. Especially annoying are cats that swat random pieces to the floor or simply stretch out over the whole unfinished mess.

But for those who love doing them?

Sheila Neff, a retired Williamsville teacher, is on her fifth "pandemic puzzle."

"I was actually ahead of the curve on this one. Being a regular puzzler, I had an assortment ready to choose from. In addition, a good friend and fellow puzzler had sent me one just as the quarantine was beginning," she said.

"My favorite puzzles come from Gallison, a small company that features many Michael Storrings illustrations which are so much fun to do. I am currently working on a 1,000-piece showing a street in Paris," she said.

Shadrack and her husband, Mike, like to work on puzzles in the late afternoon and evening.

"We just keep them out on the dining room table –  because it's not like we're entertaining – and whenever one of us wanders by, we're drawn in. Next thing you know, it's two hours later and you've done part of a barn," she wrote in a Facebook reply.

"Two were gifts and one we bought – not easy to find so our current puzzle is as sweet as a Hallmark card. I've ordered two more from 'Bits and Pieces,' " she said.

Kellie Klos, co-owner of Clayton’s Toys on Main Street in Williamsville, said adult jigsaw puzzles have been a hot item since March 20-23. While they still had some in stock as of Tuesday, they are waiting on new shipments.

Like other nonessential businesses, the store is closed and has no staff. Its online store is open, and Klos is taking phone orders for noncontact curbside pickup, limited delivery and shipping.

"We’re totally blowing through them. We’re literally selling Christmas puzzles because we’re out of all the other styles. Someone will call and say, ‘I’m looking for 1,000-piece.’ I’ll say, ‘We have two left and they’re both Christmas.’ Originally I think we had six, so we’ve gone through more than half of our 1,000-piece Christmas puzzles just because people are looking for things to do," Klos said.

"Honestly it totally makes sense. I’m doing a puzzle at home right now as we speak; I’ve got it out on my dining room table. It’s a good way to decompress," she said.

The 500- and 1,000-piece puzzles are the most popular. “After we ran out of 1,000-piece we had a pretty easy time bumping people up to 1,500-piece until they were gone,” Klos said. "The 500-piece is the most popular throughout the year, so that’s the one we have the most of.”

Earlier this week, the store’s normally large inventory of adults puzzles was down to a few 3D puzzles; some 759-piece mystery puzzles; a fair collection of 500-piece puzzles; a few 2,000-, 3,000- and 5,000-piece puzzles – and one 9,000-piece puzzle.

A 9,000-piece puzzle? “If ever there’s a time it’s going to sell, it would be now,” Klos said.

Don't count on TV host Ellen DeGeneres being interested. Last month, she posted a five-part video on Instagram of her attempting to tackle a 4,000-piece puzzle while self-isolating at home.

It did not go well.

First she gave up because she said that she had counted all the pieces and there were only 3,999. Then she said she found the missing piece under the table so she tried again. Then she got frustrated flipping over many but not all of the pieces. Then they all went back in the box.

She called 4,000 pieces "ridiculous."

"I don't have a table big enough. Who does?" she said.

Puzzle sales are up. Filip Francke, CEO of Ravensburger Games North America, told NPR earlier this month that his company’s sales are up 370% compared to last year.

"This is not a North America thing. People around the world are turning to puzzles," he said.

"Anything that’s related to feeling cozy or safe, images where you feel that you’re in an environment where you can recognize yourself or dream away to – they’re doing really, really well," he told NPR.

Or, as Klos put it: "You get absorbed into something and use your brain to figure out where that next piece is. When I do my puzzle, it gets my mind focused on something else for a while,” she said.

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