• Emily McDonnell

#13: Puzzle therapy

Lockdown day 138#2£902. My advice to stay sane? Get off your screen.

We’ve been in lockdown for over a month, and I think my screentime is higher than ever. Being sat at home alone all day means that digital connections are the closest thing I get to scratching the itch I have for human closeness. And while video calls and long-emails always bring a smile to my face, they’re not enough. I find myself exhausted staring at blue light, completely disconnected from myself and my physical environment.


But I found something. Something that reconnected my mind with my body, something I got lost in: a puzzle.


I like problem-solving, but some of the challenges I’m facing right now don’t have a straight forward solution. Puzzling, however, does.


Securing a not-hideous puzzle during quarantine was surprisingly difficult; Amazon had sold out, and eBay prices were over-inflated. (As a side note: if anyone wants to start a lockdown side hustle, producing puzzles with pictures that aren’t oldie-world cities, horses or wolves howling at the wind would be the way to go). Luckily a friend had one she’d just finished, a “comedy illustration” of King’s Day in the Netherlands.


We arranged a “drop” on a bridge in the middle of Berlin. It really felt like something from a spy thriller (though perhaps a very anti-climatic one): we stopped 2 metres apart to hand over the goods, mumbling to each other with our heads turned. Cycling home with a box filled with 1,000 colourful pieces, my brain began to race: what puzzle tactic should I take?


I waited until 9pm that evening, waiting for Rupert to come home from work, but he was too exhausted to puzzle with me, instead opting for an episode of Suits on Netflix. I sat below the projection of another world and zoned it out, focusing on the box in front of me. My hands rummaged through the cardboard tiles, searching from the edge pieces, before beginning to piece them together.


I sat back, my spine aching from having been bent over, admiring the start of something. Day 2 was harder. I took the colour and pattern tactic, searching out greens that belonged to the tree, followed by the browns of windows. That evening, Rupert saw my excitement and my focus, and decided to join me. Over the following two evenings, Netflix was banished. We sat in a contented silence, passing pieces back-and-forth, celebrating little puzzle breakthroughs, until one evening, it was done.


It felt so satisfying to have actually finished something. To have been so focused, so present, and so connected.


I’m currently in the market for a bigger puzzle, so let me know if you hear of anything. Oh, and if you want a 1,000-piece puzzle, get in touch!




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