Fundemonium in Rohnert Park doing brisk business in puzzle delivery
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.
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