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."
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
OK. Carol Glazer is president and founder of a big jigsaw puzzle and family games company in Newton, Mass. About a month ago, she got a big surprise.
CAROL GLAZER: Around the second week of March, we noticed sales at one of our largest retail customers - the sales were up 300% over the same week the previous year.
AILSA CHANG, HOST:
That's right. Sales at Ceaco puzzles shot up 300%.
GLAZER: And we said, oh, my God. How can you prepare for something like this?
CHANG: Glazer says that they had stock on the shelves, but this overwhelmed them. As a matter of fact, in just one day last month, Ceaco sold more puzzles than in the entire month of December.
KELLY: Nationwide, sales of jigsaw puzzles have been off the charts since we've all been in isolation.
CHRIS BYRNE: It really takes your focus off of whatever is going on.
KELLY: That is Chris Byrne. He is a toy industry expert known as The Toy Guy.
BYRNE: You're trying to find that peak of the barn or that piece of sky or this alone element of cloud. It really takes a lot of attention and focus, and that can be very healthy in terms of, I'll just say, distraction.
KELLY: The Toy Guy knows a lot of people trapped at home right now might be jigsaw puzzle newbies. He's got some advice.
BYRNE: Be prepared to be patient, and that's part of the appeal of it.
CHANG: We sought more tips for novices from a Facebook group called Jigsaw Puzzlers. One member, Tammy McLeod of Los Angeles, suggests starting where she does.
TAMMY MCLEOUD: I tend to pick pictures with a subject matter that I don't mind staring at for a few hours.
CHANG: Makes sense. Here's some more of a Jigsaw Puzzlers' advice.
KELLY: Don't start with one that is too big.
CHANG: Sort inside pieces on trays or cookie sheets by shape.
MCLEOUD: Do the edges first.
CHANG: And in the crisis that has made jigsaw puzzles very popular, remember this mantra from dedicated players - puzzling is not a race. Relax, and enjoy the process.
KELLY: Now, as for that puzzle company, Ceaco, well, its workers are not considered essential, so manufacturing is shut down for now, which to jigsaw fans may be puzzling. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.