Thursday, January 23, 2014

Puzzle Pondering: Mindful Fun that Entertains and Engages

Despite our world of high-tech gadgets and digital games, puzzles of all types remain quite popular today. 

Puzzles are a seemingly simple way to keep our fingers entertained, but behind the scenes our brains get a real workout during the process. All ages instinctively respond to the problem-solving challenge of puzzles and all generations easily come together to enjoy them.

One of my favorite experiences is opening a fresh jigsaw puzzle box, carefully running my hands through all the colorful jagged pieces, and then systematically laying them all out, picture-side up. My set-up approach always follows the same logical pattern of identifying the end pieces and constructing the frame first; then pondering where to begin. It's not about racing or competing, but more about the gentle satisfaction of completing a section and seeing the picture on the box cover slowly take shape.

When I worked puzzles as a child, I didn't fully appreciate the fact that the process was actually helping my brain to develop and cognitively learn. Now that I'm older, I most definitely appreciate that fact. 

There's medical evidence that people who consistently pore over puzzles in some form keep their brains more nimble and sharp. Puzzle pondering may even stave off mental decline and Alzheimer's disease as we age.

I have also read that focusing on a jigsaw puzzle can induce a state of well-being much like meditation can do for people who simply sit quietly for a period of time. While working on a puzzle, the concentration of the mind required to search for color, shape and fit can actually push thoughts off to the side. As worries move to the background of the brain, heart and breath rates slow. Even blood pressure can become lower. A puzzle may be just what the doctor should order!

Besides this nice health benefit and satisfying social interaction, working on puzzles addresses important life skills that can be learned or sharpened at any age. Here are five benefits of pondering over puzzles:

  • Finer attentiveness to, and observation of details
  • Increased dexterity and hand-eye coordination
  • Sharper visual perception
  • Stronger logical, sequential thinking
  • Better short-term memory retention and recollection

Whether you're looking to help your child learn cognitive skills or seeking to keep your adult brain cells actively engaged, puzzles are an enjoyable and skillful way to spend your time.

Just for the fun of it, I've included a link to the world's largest puzzle offered by Ravensburger. Entitled Double Retrospect, it features the work of Keith Haring, a talented artist who died way too young at age 32. 

You would need a very large room and table to put this puzzle together - and a lot of people! Keith Haring: Double Retrospect has over 32,000 pieces and measures 214" x 75.5". Since it weighs 42 lbs. it comes with its own mini-dolly for transporting. Now this is a puzzle that would really give your brain a BIG workout! If only I had a BIG space ...

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