Cardboard Connections: Piecing Our Humanity Together Through Jigsaws

July 25, 2014 at 8:39 pm Leave a comment

I’ve found from years of experience working in retail that I always develop an affection for a particular section in each store. Usually it’s the section where I’m given my first “big” task. At Pier 1 Imports for example, after spending a late night on inventory, counting and making a list of every kind of napkin, I felt maternally bonded to the napkins. Since that night, I always make sure my napkin children are neatly folded, stacked, and displayed perfectly. I’m not a psychologist, but this feels like Corporate Stockholm Syndrome: an irrational love for the patterned fabric that pays my wages.

At Eureka, I immediately felt a protective instinct for the puzzle wall. As a newbie to the world of puzzle retail, there was something comforting about such traditional, straightforward merchandise. You don’t have to be a genius to give people a jigsaw recommendation, especially when you have a selection of pretty much every kind of jigsaw puzzle anyone would ever want right at your fingertips. What you do have to be is an attentive listener with a knack for remembering where that one puzzle with all the dogs in hats ended up (I swear I just saw it yesterday).

Our collection of jigsaw puzzles is usually the first thing people notice when they walk into the shop. It occupies an entire wall. It’s also constantly changing. It has to be restocked and rearranged every day—never retaining the same puzzles from one day to the next. As such, it needs constant love and attention. I’ll take ten minutes to sit down and write a new blog post only to look up and see fifteen holes in the puzzle wall that weren’t there before.

Jigsaw enthusiasts will understand why it’s hard to keep the wall organized. When shopping for a jigsaw, it’s important to take each option down and carefully study the image on the box. Picture yourself sitting on a screened-in porch, around a fire, or at a kitchen table picking through the pieces. Picture the pieces sitting on your kitchen table for the three weeks it might take you to finish it. Decide that maybe the 24,000 piece puzzle (yes, that’s a real puzzle we sell) might be too large to complete over a weekend on the cape.

A jigsaw is a wonderful thing. It’s a constantly-evolving piece of interactive art. I think it’s a real shame that it isn’t a constant fixture in most homes. Puzzles nowadays are only found lying out in summer houses. It’s a good way to kill time when we don’t have the internet or in the rare moments of our lives when we  just sit down, take a breath, and exist. They’re a low-stress leisure activity, but they’re also surprisingly stimulating to the brain (some research suggests that solving jigsaws delays the onset of Alzheimer’s). But I’ve found it can be just as rewarding to set one up in your front hall and use the opportunity to take a second every day to place a single piece.

I am about to visit my parents for a brief stay on the coast of Nova Scotia and I will be bringing my mother a jigsaw for her birthday (don’t worry, she doesn’t have internet access right now, so she can’t read this). She’s had a New Yorker subscription since before I was born, so the moment I saw all of our jigsaws featuring vintage cover art from classic New Yorker issues, I knew I had to get her one. I can’t lie, the anticipation of arriving on the shore, setting up a puzzle on the porch, and spending a few hours of every internet-less day sitting in silence, picking out pieces, feeling the warm Canadian breeze waft up from the beach across the field is almost too much to handle—almost.

A successfully completed puzzle from the sidewalk outside.

A successfully completed puzzle from the sidewalk outside Eureka.

I’ve learned to appreciate jigsaws because of their ability to bring people together. On sunny days, we’ll set up a jigsaw on the sidewalk for folks to stop and work on while walking to their different destinations. It’s always fun to watch the first intrepid cryptographer sit down to start the puzzle and shortly thereafter see them joined by others. The puzzle-solvers (who usually don’t know each other) will sit together for ten minutes to an hour, starting in silence, handing each other pieces, united in their shared desire to escape from the stresses of life for a moment, ending with handshakes and introductions. It may seem corny or hyperbolic for me to take this communal effort as a symbol of the potential symbiosis and interconnectivity of human society, a proof that deep down we’re all trying to solve our own puzzles and it’s okay to ask for help, but the point remains that it’s rare to interact with strangers in such a familial way in a city as large as Boston. Then again, it might just be that Eureka attracts the best customers around.

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