Some people like the challenge. For others, it’s a way to unwind after a hectic day. Whatever the reason, jigsaw puzzles have a lot of fans. Puzzle lovers are found across the country and around the world, and metro Atlanta has its share.

Photo courtesy of Mosaic Puzzles

Daiga Dunis of Decatur said the puzzles allow her to disconnect and focus on relaxing. “It’s a visual thing and I’m a visual person. I like the shapes and the colors in the picture. It’s kind of like meditating.”

And it’s exciting when things start to fit. “We get a bit of an endorphin surge when the pieces link together,” she added.

Good for the brain

Medical experts confirm those positive results.

“Putting a jigsaw puzzle together has many health benefits and can help reduce stress and improve memory,” Jill Riley, senior clinical operations associate in the Michael E. DeBakey Department of Surgery at Baylor College of Medicine, wrote in a 2020 blog entry.

“Puzzles are also good for the brain. Studies have shown that doing jigsaw puzzles can improve cognition and visual-spatial reasoning. The act of putting the pieces of a puzzle together requires concentration and improves short-term memory and problem solving. Using the puzzle as an exercise of the mind can spark imagination and increase both your creativity and productivity.”

Daiga Dunis (Photo by Isadora Pennington)

Dunis, 72, said that she has particularly enjoyed working on puzzles during the pandemic, and she’s not alone.

Many Flavors

Dunis says every puzzle company has a different vibe for its products. “New York Puzzle Company is a bit squirrelly,” she said. “Normally, when you work an edge, it’s pretty standard and a good safe bet. Not with theirs…something could change with it.”

Dunis prefers puzzles with clear patterns and colors. “I did one that was a picture of a peacock with an open tail. So many of the colors were exactly the same, it was very challenging,” she said. “I almost didn’t finish it, but I soldiered on and got it done.”

Puzzle manufacturers’ websites demonstrate each brand’s unique spin. Most of the sites allow you to shop by number of pieces, difficulty and specific themes, such as “flowers” or “sports,” which allows puzzlers to choose designs they’re willing to stare at for hours as they assemble the images on card tables or dining room tables or any other available surface.

Dunis builds her puzzles on a special table made of Masonite. The board has a smooth, flat, hard surface with skinny trays that slide out like drawers on the side. It allows her to move the puzzle around while she’s still working on it.

“I sort the edge pieces first, then use the trays to sort the other pieces by shape or color,” she said. If she wants to use the dining room table for something else, she “shove the drawers back in, pick it up and carry it elsewhere.”

Once she finishes a puzzle, “I stare at it for a while, snap a photo with my cellphone, then crunch it up,” Dunis said. “I take the puzzles I’ve done whenever I’m going to see people who might enjoy doing them. Just like books, I pass them on.”

Making it your own

Jigsaw puzzles can also be personal treasures and unique gifts. Eloise Ragsdale of Decatur has done a lot of photography over the years and found a great way to share it with others.

“We’ve been going for about 40 years to south Florida, Sanibel Island,” Ragsdale said. There, Ragsdale and her daughter, Emily Grasso, collect seashells. “In fact, we’re going to become Shell Ambassadors there.” Shell Ambassadors are specially trained volunteers who answer beach visitors’ questions about the shells they find.

Ragsdale said that after about a week, they gather their shells and arrange them on the sand to be photographed. Then, she chooses a photo, edits it on Photoshop and sends it off to be made into a puzzle that she gives as holiday gifts to some friends.

“You’d think they’d be easy enough to do,” Ragsdale said. “I mean, they’re not all like blue sky. The shells look different.” But she admitted that she didn’t finish hers.

She said that one of her friends received a 1,000-piece puzzle, and “he put it together so fast, I sent him a second one.”

Puzzle places

Jigsaw puzzles turn up all over the place. Stop by the gift shop of your favorite Atlanta attraction, such as the Atlanta History Center, and you’re sure to find a selection of jigsaw puzzles alongside the books and magnets for sale. The Atlanta Botanical Garden’s gift shop stocks everything from puzzles for children with 20 pieces to 1000-piece puzzles for adults.

Book Nook, a used book shop in Decatur, usually offers second-hand puzzles for sale. The shop takes in puzzles in trade for store credit that can be used to buy movies, music, comics or, of course, other puzzles.

Jigsaw puzzle swaps are another option. Organizers plan get-togethers and participants gather to trade puzzles they’ve finished and packed up.

An online group, JigsawPuzzleSwapExchange.com, has members in North America, Australia and Europe. It claims to be the “largest international group of puzzle enthusiasts who actively trade puzzles with each other, worldwide.” Swap meets are for members only, and membership is $60 a year. According to the site, Sandy Springs Library is one of the swap meet-up spots.

In fact, some local libraries allow patrons to check out jigsaw puzzles. Atlanta-Fulton County’s Milton Library is among many that lend puzzles as well as books.

The Peachtree City Library

The Peachtree City Library in Peachtree City has a long row of shelves filled with puzzles of different shapes, sizes and difficulty levels. Librarian assistant Diane Starkey said that there’s a good mix, from 10-piece puzzles for children to 1,000 + pieces for adults.

“We lend out quite a lot of puzzles every day,” she said. “Some people come in and check out a whole stack!”

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Kathy Dean

Kathy Dean is a freelance writer and editor based in metro Atlanta.