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From wellbeing to rock ‘n’ roll: How jigsaw puzzling has reinvented its own image

It’s indisputable that jigsaw puzzles today aren’t what they used to be. And we can all breathe a sigh of relief for that, because if there was ever a sector in need of a real shot in the arm, it was one such as this.

A sector formerly soaked in cliché, it’s only really over the course of the last decade that jigsaw puzzling has managed to shake off the stereotype of its appearance of being all rather twee. Today, and thanks to an injection of fresh blood and a reconfigured way of looking at the sector, jigsaw puzzling really has become the new rock ‘n’ roll.

Just look at what the likes of Gibsons, Jumbo, Wrebbit, or Kidicraft have achieved in the space in the last few years, bringing in innovation and a wealth of accessible, popular, and ultimately powerful licenses, combined with innovative new slants on the puzzling hobby – be that 3D puzzling, or mystery images – that has brought the sector roaring into a new lease of life.

If further proof was needed, observe the partnership that Gibsons itself embarked upon when it partnered with the electro- pop band Metronomy in October last year to supply a licensed puzzle range as part of the group’s merchandise offering. Puzzling has learned how to be cool, and we’ve suddenly got an audience of youths keen on tapping their contactless cards on a sector that is now doing all it can to offer them what they want.

Even the old school rockers have been getting in on the act. 2019, afterall, witnessed the music merchandise specialists Plastic Head launch into the heavy metal album cover puzzle space under its Rocksaws arm, bringing artwork from the likes of Iron Maiden (among plenty others) into the category.

Yes, 2019 was the year in which jigsaw puzzling finally became appealing. So what can the sector achieve in 2020? Well, with its rise in popularity, so too has come an increase in research into the positive effects that the hobby can have on the individuals most partial to piecing them together. And it turns out, there’s a great deal more depth to the adult puzzling market than bringing in a few of those more off-the-wall licenses.

The UK independent puzzle company, Gibsons – now in its 101st year of business in the games and puzzles space – suggests that with the recent wave of young adults looking for a ‘digital detox’ and respite from their constant encounter with digital devices today, puzzling has been highlighted as an ‘excellent way to relieve stress and focus on the present moment.’

On top of this, research is now showing the assessable benefits of puzzling for adults, and studies have shown that keeping the mind active with jigsaw puzzles can lead to a better quality of life and reduce the chances of developing certain types of mental illnesses, including memory loss and dementia.

According to Professor Zoe Wyrko of University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust, a consultant geriatrician, and a member of the expert team on Channel 4’s award winning TV show, Old People’s Home for 4 Year Olds, it is the stimulation of multiple points of the brain that jigsaw puzzling engages that enhance an individual’s ability to focus.

“Jigsaw puzzles are an activity that can be enjoyed by all ages,” she states. “They give a person something to focus and concentrate on, both of which can improve wellbeing.

“Jigsaws provoke memories in different ways – the sound of pieces rattling in a box, the smell of a newly opened puzzle, and remembering the act of doing jigsaws with friends or family when younger. The pictures can spark conversations, reminding people of topics that may be long forgotten.”

The mental benefits of jigsaw puzzling is no new revelation, of course. Not really. There’s a reason that puzzling features so heavily among the play diet of children, for its encouragement and development of motor skills and co-ordination. But it is perhaps because of the surge in popularity of puzzling among adult audiences that it has been thrown back into the light today.

Research from 2017, carried out by the health and wellbeing platform Dr Newton, has detailed much of the science behind it, suggesting that ‘successfully placing a puzzle piece to create the wider picture encourages the production of dopamine – the neurotransmitter that regulates mood and affects concentration, motivation, memory, and motor control.’

Meanwhile, it’s an inescapable truth that approximately one in four people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year, and in England, one in six people report experiencing a common mental health problem in any given week.

It’s a subject that Gibsons has been active in addressing, not only through a partnership with the charity MIND that saw the firm donate a portion of £10,000 to the organisation last year, but in the development and marketing of a new range of puzzles in its portfolio.

Kim Garrod, product development manager at Gibsons, tells ToyNews: “Our classic jigsaws are some of the best on the market and are loved by all traditional puzzlers. However, we’re well aware of the importance of mindfulness among a younger age group and wanted to launch a range of striking, design-led puzzles that don’t conform to jigsaw puzzle traditions.

“So, we’ve also focused on creating innovative puzzle boxes that stand out on shelf and jigsaw designs created by up-and- coming artists.”

The range is Gibsons’ White Logo Collection, a wave of 13 puzzles each featuring alternative imagery for the modern day puzzler, with seven new designs launched this year, including Punimals, a new launch illustrated by the celebrated artist, Katie Abey.

But Gibsons’ movement in the field of mental wellness doesn’t end there. In fact its new The Piecing Together Collection was created to provide those living with dementia, limited fine motor skills, or visual impairments with “a fun activity that can be enjoyed with a loved one,” tapping into the research that puzzling can aid cognitive dexterity in those suffering memory loss.

The launch was orchestrated following the recent statistic that some 850,000 people are estimated to be living with dementia in the UK.

Gibsons’ Garrod, adds: “The large, easy to handle pieces and beautiful images have been carefully designed to be age- appropriate for adults, yet accessible for all. There are ten designs available ranging from 12-24 pieces, and the puzzles can be completed inside the box, which provides a frame to work within.

“Gibsons’ goal was to create a puzzle that brings people together during these difficult times. We undertook the research to design this collection. This included care home visits, liaising with Age UK Centres and teaming up with Dr Zoe Wyrko.”

If Gibsons is now operating on two ends of the same scale – providing the youth of today with the mindfulness of puzzling with alternative launches by way of digital detox, as well as those living with dementia with specially curated images and puzzle pieces to evoke memories, then it is the entire spectrum that jigsaw puzzling as a hobby now spans.

From heavyweight licenses – such as the vibrant new DC Comics lines from Kidicraft, or the staggering design of the Harry Potter Wrebbit 3D puzzle range from Coiledspring – to launches from the elite
of rock music’s Hall of Fame, the puzzles sector is certainly in a state of evolution, and it looks like 2020 will be delivering some big innovation for its future, too.

About Robert Hutchins

Robert Hutchins is the editor of Licensing.biz and ToyNews. Hutchins has worked his way up from Staff Writer to the position of Editor across the two titles, having spent some six years with both ToyNews and Licensing.biz, and what now seems like a lifetime surrounded by toys. You can contact him by emailing robert.hutchins@bizmedia.co.uk or calling him on 0203 143 8780 You can even follow him on Twitter @RobHutchins3 if ranting is your thing...

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