Fundemonium in Rohnert Park doing brisk business in puzzle delivery

At Fundemonium in Rohnert Park, the owners are experiencing backups in puzzle orders.|

Sales Solution

To order puzzles or other items to keep busy while hunkered down at home, from board games to art and educational kits, visit Orders can be placed by email at or by calling 707-540-0701 from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday.

As Sonoma County residents stay home during the coronavirus pandemic, an old-fashioned pastime has emerged as a calming force. Just ask Steven Elliott of Fundemonium in Rohnert Park, where there’s an ever-increasing demand for jigsaw puzzles.

Elliott and his wife, Jean, own the Rohnert Park Expressway West toy, hobby and game store that continues to serve the community despite temporarily closing to the public.

The Elliotts, whose store also sells science kits and other educational materials as well as board games, are filling orders in accordance with public health mandates by delivering directly to customers and offering no-contact curbside pickup, with jigsaw puzzle sales increasing as local residents find ways to keep busy while staying indoors.

“Since the shelter order began, puzzle sales have tripled compared to last year,” Steven Elliott said in an email. During a recent week, customers purchased nearly 100 puzzles, with popular scenes including landscapes, nostalgia and wildlife. Likenesses of the Golden Gate Bridge, kittens and dogs have been especially popular to piece together.

The growing popularity is part of a national surge in jigsaw puzzle sales, as reported by media outlets including CNBC, which noted that manufacturers across the U.S. are challenged to meet the increased demand while also under restrictions.

At Fundemonium, the Elliotts are experiencing backups in puzzle orders. “We have thousands of dollars worth of puzzles back-ordered three weeks out,” Steven Elliott noted.

Still, puzzles are making their way into the homes of appreciative customers. Puzzlers both new and experienced are focusing on the challenge and satisfaction of conquering 1,000- to 2,000-piece puzzles, the most popular counts being purchased through Fundemonium.

There also are plenty of puzzles for kids, from floor puzzles for preschoolers to puzzles with 24 pieces and more to challenge young children.

Elliott said there’s a broad appeal to solving scenes of the great outdoors, vintage images, wildlife and a wide variety of other themes. There’s no learning curve, and puzzle-building offers a “simple, repetitive action” that one person or an entire household can enjoy.

“Scanning puzzle pieces for colors and patterns focuses your attention and takes your mind off other worries,” Elliott wrote. “It is almost like a form of meditation.”

There are numerous benefits for children, too. Puzzle-making helps with hand-eye coordination, fine motor skills, patience, focus skills, visual-spatial reasoning and more, said Sandy Bartholome, a teacher at John Reed Elementary School in Rohnert Park.

“Puzzles have great education value. I often use them in my special education classroom,” said Bartholome, an educator for nearly 40 years and the mother of an adult daughter.

Jigsaw puzzles have been around since the mid-1700s, reported puzzle expert and author Anne D. Williams in her 2004 book, “The Jigsaw Puzzle: Piecing Together a History.” They hit an all-time popularity during the Great Depression of the 1930s, by providing inexpensive, long-lasting entertainment that could be shared with others.

Fast forward to the unprecedented pandemic of 2020, and storekeepers like the Elliotts are barely keeping up with the demand. “Building a puzzle is a great family activity that everyone can get absorbed in,” Elliott said.

Petaluma retiree Rory Keller has been solving jigsaw puzzles since her childhood, and has been an avid puzzler for at least 25 years. “I don’t always have one open, but I’ve always enjoyed them,” she said.

She’s developed various strategies as she pieces together countless puzzles, and shares one tip that may seem surprising to beginners: don’t judge a puzzle by its piece count. It’s better to consider the scene, pattern and color variation.

While a 500-piece puzzle featuring a polar bear atop a glacier may seem cute, the mostly white scene can be maddening to solve, especially for a beginner. “A single color for a whole puzzle is really hard,” Keller said.

Jigsaw puzzles, even those with numerous pieces, can be easier if there are more colors and designs in the scene. Keller suggests completing puzzle borders first, then trying to recreate the scene. Some have specialty shapes that provide a unique challenge, like the 1,000-piece “Llama Farm” puzzle Fundemonium carries.

Rohnert Park resident Nancy Woods is new to building jigsaw puzzles but managed to complete a 500-piece scene of succulents - with few color variations - once the shelter-at-home order began. She’s since put together a second 500-piece puzzle and plans to do more.

“It never even crossed my mind to do a puzzle, but I’ve really enjoyed it,” said Woods, an artist who paints in oils and runs a home-based wine-sales business. She started at the urging of a friend. “Now I’m into puzzles. I don’t know if it will stick, but I’m enjoying it.”

Even though she’s a novice, Woods is up for a challenge and doesn’t refer to the photo on the puzzle box. “I feel like it’s cheating if you look at the picture,” she said.

For those, like Woods, who are finding fun in the old-time pursuit of puzzle-making, Fundemonium has numerous options. The store was recently stocked with puzzles featuring Teddy bears, birdhouses (300 pieces); a herd of elephants, a pair of unicorns (500 pieces); birds in a garden and a cozy home library (750 pieces).

Larger puzzles, from 1,000 to 2,000 ?pieces, offered hot air balloons in flight, scenes from Route 66, wine bottles, world beers and a geometric herb garden. Or try the “Television Families” collage, with casts from “Bonanza” to “The Brady Bunch.”

For young children, there were scenes of dinosaurs, the solar system, sea life, cars and trucks, Disney princesses and mermaids.

There also are 3D puzzles of iconic landmarks like the Statue of Liberty and the Eiffel Tower for puzzlers to build upright scenes.

Although the Elliotts mainly carry Ravensburger puzzles, they’ve expanded with White Mountain, Educa and Pomegranate brands to help meet the increased demand.

While general subject themes and still lifes were popular last year, “Now people are definitely more interested in outdoor scenes,” Steven Elliott said.

Baby boomers might take comfort revisiting their childhoods, with puzzles like “Things I Read as a Kid” featuring covers of publications like “Mad,” “Jack and Jill” and “Tiger Beat.” For a sweet indulgence, there’s the Hostess-themed puzzle with treats like Twinkies, Ding Dongs, Suzy Q’s, Sno Balls and other packaged goodies favored by generations of kids. Both puzzles are 1,000 pieces.

No matter the scene, said Keller, a jigsaw puzzle offers hours of old-fashioned fun and entertainment. “It’s absorbing. I think very little about the political situation while I’m doing puzzles. It takes you out of where you are, and you know it’s solvable.”

Two Rohnert Park City Council members are joining the jigsaw craze. Pam Stafford, who usually does puzzles, has one ready to go. Susan Hollingsworth Adams and her family aren’t puzzlers, but they’re giving it a go. They recently ordered a puzzle to piece together.

The Elliotts hope to keep up with the demand for puzzles, as they worry about the economic toll the coronavirus pandemic is taking on their business. They expect an overall 70 percent drop in business for April.

“We will make it through,” Steven Elliott said in his email, “but it will be very tough.”

The Elliotts try to keep a sense of humor as the shelter-in-place order continues. “Lost your marbles?” they ask on their Facebook page, with colorful photos of the classic toys. “We’ve got more.”

Sales Solution

To order puzzles or other items to keep busy while hunkered down at home, from board games to art and educational kits, visit Orders can be placed by email at or by calling 707-540-0701 from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday.

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