Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Jigsaw Puzzles: Making Brains Gooder

After Capitol Reef came Moab, where I would be meeting Quentin.  I got there early, though.  I whole day early at that.  What ever is a person to do in Moab, UT for one whole day?  Visit Arches National Park?  Rent a mountain bike and tackle Poison Spider?  Psh... it was a no-brainer.  Jigsaw puzzles.  I was going to do some jigsaw puzzles.

When's the last time you did a puzzle?  Not a crossword or sudoku, but an actual 1000 piece, make the picture appear, no that piece doesn't go there so stop trying to make it fit, jigsaw puzzle.  Do you even remember the last time?  We did them all the time as kids, (You all remember those puzzles.  Disguised as fun games, they secretly taught us all about the alphabet, farm animals, and spacial relationships.), but then as we grew older, we ditched them, thinking there was no more to be gained from the assembly of their interlocking pieces.  For shame, all of us!  Puzzles are still important!

According to one article that I've read from a biased source:
Research is now showing the quantifiable benefits of carrying this activity into adulthood... jigsaw puzzles and other mind-flexing activities can actually lead to a longer life expectancy, a better quality of life, and reduce our chances of developing certain types of mental illness, including memory loss, dementia, and even Alzheimer’s Disease (by an amazing third). 
But how does this simple toy accomplish such amazing things? Most likely it is due to the simultaneous use of both sides of the brain. The left brain hemisphere, our analytical side, sees all of the separate pieces and attempts to sort them out logically. The right brain hemisphere, our creative side, sees the “big picture” and works intuitively. Both types of thinking are required in order to successfully piece the puzzle together. In exercising both sides of the brain at the same time, we create actual “connections” between the left and right sides, as well as connections between individual brain cells. These connections increase our ability to learn, to comprehend, and to remember. In addition, completing a puzzle, or even just the successful placement one piece, encourages the production of dopamine, a brain chemical that increases learning and memory. 
The connections made while working on jigsaw puzzles aren’t limited to our brain cells. Exercising both sides of the brain simultaneously also allows the brain to move from a Beta state, the wakeful mind, into an “Alpha” state, the same mental state experienced while dreaming. The Alpha state is where we tap into our subconscious mind. Jigsaw puzzles naturally induce this state of creative, focused meditation, where connections can be made on deeper levels.
Woah!  Who would've thought?  So much science, right?  And their sources are totally credible.  If you don't believe me, click on the citation links provided with that article.  What do you mean neither of those links worked?  Try clicking again, I'll wait.  Still didn't work?  Well, who needs sources anyway?!  In any case, you should keep reading below where they talk about jigsaw puzzles being a metaphor for life.  That's some deep stuff.

But really, what isn't a metaphor for life?  To prove it, I'm going to open up a book and flip randomly and then blindly put my finger down on a word.  Here goes: Page 111, "drink".  Ok, "drink"... Give me a minute... Ok, here goes: Life is like a drink in that you need to take it slow to properly enjoy it.  If you rush through either, you'll miss out on the subtle nuances of each sip/day.  When you're young/have a full glass, you want to grow up so quickly/drink as much as you can, but gulping down life experiences/drinks rather than savoring/learning from them will leave you wishing you had better used that freedom that comes with a lack of adult responsibility/full glass of beverage.  BOOM!  Everything is a metaphor for life!  Eat it,!

Ok, let's get back to this.  While I was in Moab, I did a few with a rad Moabite and was reminded of how much fun jigsaw puzzles are.  The strategies (Edges first, obvs, but then what?  Sort by color?  By shape?  By section?).  The anticipation (I can almost see the mountain!).  The frustration (Did we lose a piece?  How am I not finding that piece?  It should be obvious!  It's neon freakin' green.).  The discoveries (Oh, right.  Colors are interpreted relative to their surroundings.  Neon freakin' green isn't quite as neon without it's surrounding neon pieces.).  And ultimately, the satisfaction that comes with patience and persistence (This puzzle has been conquered!  We are a team of geniuses!  How is it 4am?).

All that said, you should go do a puzzle tonight.  Start with a nice 500 piece puzzle and see how it goes.  I bet your brain will thank you in the morning.

I was ready to murder this sadistic ladybug puzzle by hour 6.

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