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Kansas City Sees A Pandemic Puzzle Boom As People Look For An Escape From Reality

Melody Rowell
KCUR 89.3
This 1,000 piece jigsaw puzzle from Pomegranate is one of many that is out of stock as the appetite for puzzles during the pandemic remains high.

One Kansas City seller says at first everyone wanted difficult puzzles. As patience dwindles, they’re reaching for the easier ones.

The fact that there's been a run on jigsaw puzzles since stay-at-home orders began several weeks ago is not surprising.

Putting together a jigsaw puzzle can make you feel productive and accomplished. It’s tactile and easy to understand, even when the world around you isn’t.

“I think there’s something about getting lost in doing it,” says Holly Pollard, owner of Brookside Toy & Science. “It can really take you out of the moment and all this stuff that's happening.”

Holly Pollard sells many different kinds of toys and games at Brookside Toy & Science. But nothing else has seen the kind of demand that jigsaw puzzles have lately.
Tracie Jensen
Holly Pollard also sells toys and other games at Brookside Toy & Science. But none has been as high in demand as jigsaw puzzles.

When the demand for puzzles increased in March, Pollard had to start stocking puzzles from new companies to keep up. Since then, she’s been shipping puzzles all over the country as well as doing neighborhood delivery and contact-free pickup in Kansas City.

“In the last couple of months, I’ve sold more puzzles than I usually do in the entire first three quarters of any given year,” she says.

The longtime Kansas City puzzle maker Springbok Puzzles posted on its website that it had received an “unprecedented amount of orders” lately, causing it to hire additional staff and start shipping puzzles “20 hours a day.”

(For especially impatient customers waiting on orders, Springbok has a list of other suggested indoor activities to keep them at bay.)

Piecework Puzzles’ co-founder Rachel Hochhauser says its April sales increased 1,145% compared with January, and that its most in-demand puzzles have been those featuring particularly uplifting and cheerful scenes.

Holly Pollard says the demand at Brookside Toy & Science has evolved with the pandemic.

In March, people wanted a challenge. She was selling a lot of 1,000-piece and 2,000-piece puzzles, the kinds that can take weeks if you let them.

Forbidden Fruit is a 1,000 piece puzzle from Piecework Puzzles. It's currently sold out on its website.
Piecework Puzzles
Forbidden Fruit is a 1,000 piece puzzle from Piecework Puzzles. It's currently sold out on its website.

Now, she thinks peoples’ patience has thinned.

It's 500-piece and even 300-piece puzzles that are getting scooped up by the masses. Since these kinds of puzzles have been historically popular with the nine-year-old crowd, she's been ordering new ones with more refined artwork.

Pomegranate has noticed the same shift with customers in the last week. Easier puzzles are now dominating 30% more of its puzzles sales.

Holly Pollard gets the idea behind the change. Sometimes you just want things to be easy. She thinks all anyone wants from a puzzle right now is a moment to relax and escape reality.

“You sit down with a cup of tea or a beer or wine and sort your colors and then start working on one little section,” Pollard says. “You can get lost in the beautiful image that you're trying to create.”

Holly Pollard spoke with KCUR at the end of a recent episode of Up To Date Special Coverage: Coronavirus In KC. You can listen to their entire conversation here.

Whether it’s something happening right now or something that happened 100 years ago, some stories don’t fit in the short few minutes of a newscast. As a podcast producer and reporter at KCUR Studios, I help investigate questions and local curiosities in a way that brings listeners along for adventures with plot twists and thought-provoking ideas. Sometimes there isn’t an easy answer in the end – but my hope is that we all leave with a greater understanding of the city we live in. Reach me at mackenzie@kcur.org.
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