With Americans across the country stuck at home, demand for jigsaw puzzles is surging. Puzzlemakers can't keep up.
"Around the second week of March, we notice sales at one of our largest retail customers ... were up 300% over the same week the previous year," says Carol Glazer, president of Ceaco. The Massachusetts company is one of the largest producers of jigsaw puzzles and family games in the U.S.
"And we said, 'Oh my God. How can you prepare for something like this?' "
Ceaco and others couldn't. Glazer recalls that on one day last month, Ceaco sold more puzzles than in the entire month of December. Sales by gamemaker Ravensburger reportedly are up 370% year over year in the U.S. in recent weeks.
"It didn't take long for the shelves to bare, the e-commerce dried up, nobody had puzzles," Glazer tells All Things Considered.
Compounding the puzzle shortage is that some manufacturers are not considered essential businesses. Employees at Ceaco are at home, and manufacturing is shut down. Other puzzlemakers are dealing with social distancing and safety measures in their warehouses.
The appeal of jigsaw puzzles in a pandemic isn't hard to put together.
"It really takes your focus off of whatever's going on, because you're trying to find that peak of the barn or that piece of sky or this element of cloud," says Chris Byrne, a toy industry expert known as "The Toy Guy."
"It really takes a lot of attention and focus. And that can be very healthy in terms of, I'll just say, distraction."
If you got your hands on a puzzle before the sellout — or decided now's the time to break out that 3,000-piece behemoth that's been collecting dust in the attic — Byrne says "be prepared to be patient."
Other tips from the Facebook group Jigsaw Puzzlers include: Tackle the edges first; sort out non-edge pieces by shape on separate trays; don't start with a puzzle that's too big; and take your time.
One group member, Tammy McLeod of Los Angeles, says she picks a puzzle with a picture that "I don't mind staring at for a few hours."