As Finland puzzles over coronavirus, a nostalgic pastime boosts mental health

A revival for the humble jigsaw puzzle is a sign that people are looking to traditional activities that bring families together and help ease pandemic concerns.

File picture of jigsaw puzzle / Credit; Ester Laiho, News Now Finland

The coronavirus epidemic has ushered in a time of uncertainty for Finns: uncertainty over the economy and their jobs; uncertainty over their health, and risks to themselves and their families.

But while people are coming up with new ways to pass the time while they stay at home during the long weeks of restrictions, one old fashioned pastime has seen a real resurgence even as it helps to calm frayed nerves, bring loved ones together, and improve mental health.

The humble jigsaw puzzle is more popular than ever.

“Focusing on something like puzzles, calms people down. By making for example jigsaw puzzles you don’t let your mind wander and think about the current time and its worries. The same goes for people who’ve taken up baking and crafts” says Minna Martin, a published psychologist and psychotherapist who runs the ‘Breathable Mind’ practice.

“You can see it in the countless different challenges that people are posting online. For some, making jigsaw puzzles brings this same type of playfulness and lightness and everyone can join in” she explains.

Jigsaw puzzles first rose to popularity during another unprecedented crisis, during the Great Depression in the 1930s in America, when people had to find thrifty ways to entertain themselves and spend time with their families.

The coronavirus crisis has forced people re-evaluate what’s important to them, and brought back some activities that evoke a sense of nostalgia and warm feelings.

“This time has brought old activities back and has paused or at least made people think about their life that has been constant achieving and squirreling around. The pandemic, in a way, has given us a chance to live that ‘good old time’ by making puzzles, cooking, baking and connecting with nature again” Minna Martin tells News Now Finland.

File picture of jigsaw puzzles in Prisma / Credit: Ester Laiho, News Now Finland

Jigsaw puzzles are flying off the shelves

So how popular are jigsaw puzzles in Finland these days? Finland’s two biggest retail groups report a big increase in their sales during the pandemic.

At Kesko they’ve seen sold double the number of puzzles in recent weeks than they would normally sell, with 1000-piece jigsaws aimed at adults proving to be particularly popular.

Meanwhile S-Group reports that from the middle of March until early April their Prisma stores shifted triple the number of jigsaws compared with the same period a year before, with other board games also selling very well.

Jigsaw puzzles have some longevity too, and are a crafty example of the circular economy – often passed on to friends and family once assembled. These days that means selling them online.

“Puzzles have lately been searched significantly more than usual at Tori” – a Finnish online buying and selling marketplace – explains Tori data analyst Samuli Kytö.

“During the first two weeks of April, puzzle searches were four times the normal, up 300%. There seems to be more demand than supply right now” he adds.

Tactic produced a series of jigsaw puzzles to commemorate Finland’s 100 years of Independence / Credit: Tactic

Boom times for Finnish puzzle makers

Retailers are not the only businesses noticing a sharp increase in sales during the current crisis.

Finnish games manufacturers have increased their jigsaw puzzle-making volume to meet demand.

“We have sold quite a lot of puzzles in the past month both to our customers and to consumers via our web shop. We have also received inquiries to produce puzzles from around the world” says Jenni Jalava, product category director at Martinex, a family-run business in Raisio.

“Now we have the next few months a full production plan for puzzles” she adds.

The story of another family-run business, Tactic Games, starts in a garage in Pori in 1967 with the game Kimble, a Finnish-licensed version of the board game Trouble. The company now exports to 70 different countries, with an annual turnover exceeding €50 million.

Tactic Games has seen regional differences in demand for games during the crisis.

“The pandemic has affected our sales positively in the Nordic countries and the Netherlands, but in Central Europe the situation has had a negative impact. You could say that the business has been worse compared to usual in those countries that are in full lockdown” lockdown says CEO Olli Kivelä.

Tactic has had to make temporary lay-offs in some countries, but the factory in Pori has been running as normal to make sure they’re ready to meet the demand come Christmas time and to keep up with current needs.

“Earlier years we’ve sold roughly 100,000 jigsaw puzzles per year but this year we’ve already made and sold more than 100,000 puzzles. Overall we produce and sell around 3.5 million games each year” says Kivelä.