CONSHOHOCKEN >> During the Great Depression of the 1930s, jigsaw puzzles were valued as inexpensive entertainment, and with disposable income in short supply, libraries rented them to patrons, while some retailers gave them away as buying incentives.
Conshohocken Free Library Branch Manager Marija Skoog is currently looking to build a puzzle exchange at CFL. But Skoogs motivation isnt economics. In fact, the reasoning behind her ongoing effort to add to the local librarys jigsaw stash would have been pretty baffling during the Depression era.
To be clear, although Skoog is well aware of the scads of online jigsaw puzzles and puzzle apps available, shes talking about the traditional, hands-on variety.
The great thing about [puzzles], theyre a screen-free, battery-free, family friendly activity, she continues. In a world where technology is so dominant, I think a lot of parents are looking for a way to unplug their kids, and this is a good way to do that. Doing a puzzle is fun, but it also involves problem-solving. Someone has to study a picture and figure out how to put it together. Trial and error. The same thing is true with board games, and in the future, Id like to add them to the library as well even have board game nights here at the library.
Actually, one of my friends came up with the idea for the puzzle exchange. I wasnt sure how it would go over, but we got a bunch donated, and people started coming in picking up a puzzle, bringing it back and taking another one. It caught on.
Onetime area resident Brian Turtle isnt surprised. Turtle co-founded Matawan, N.J.-headquartered Endless Games, which produces approximately 25 party and family games and a popular Broadway jigsaw puzzle. Although he has donated merchandise to other local causes and intends to support this one, area residents might better know the 1991 Archbishop Kennedy High School alum from his days as an AKHS football player. Turtle is even more recognized as one of the three guys behind pop cultures Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon game based on the six degrees of separation theory that none of us is more than six connections away from everybody else in the world.
The Bacon concept emerged one snowy night in 1994 when Turtle and Albright College classmates Craig Fass and Mike Ginelli found themselves watching Footloose and The Air Up There both Bacon star vehicles in quick succession. A few notes on a cardboard beer case led crazily to Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon and a book, several talk radio and TV appearances and a slew of other publicity ops, a number of them with the actor.
Two decades-plus later, the story is part of pop culture history, and Turtle is sold on the value of basic board games and puzzles despite the proliferation of electronic gaming.
When TV became popular, there were plenty of people who thought that would be the end of radio, but that didnt happen, and I think you have a similar situation with all the electronic games, he says. Today, I think theres definitely a need to unplug a basic human need to unplug from all the apps and electronics, and I think board games are one of the last ways to have direct human communication and interaction.
The father of 10- and 7-year-old daughters, Turtle figures with board games, its more about the journey than the destination.
For example, our Name 5 game Name 5 Pearl Jam songs, or whatever topic that comes up gets everybody talking, conjures up memories, creates conversation. Thats very cool, and I really believe theres something positive to be gained from that that the family that plays together stays together. This is gospel preaching to me, man. Whether youre talking about board games or card games, doing puzzles together I believe in the power of play.
Apparently, he has lots of company. Countless puzzle-doers mark Jan. 29 as National Puzzle Day, test their prowess during regularly scheduled competitions and compare notes at invitation-only international puzzle parties. Jigsaw puzzles entertainment value was also recognized with their induction into the National Toy Hall of Fame in 2002.
Backtracking, historians generally attribute the invention of the first such puzzle to London engraver and mapmaker John Spilsbury in the 1760s. Earlier puzzles termed dissections were made from maps affixed to wood and cut into pieces for use as teaching tools. Unlike their contemporaries, those early puzzles didnt interlock or include pictures of the end result. Not all vintage puzzles were fun, either. The Feature Profile Test, a puzzle Ellis Island immigrants were required to solve in the early 20th century (now included in the collections of the Smithsonian National Museum of American History), was used to determine feeblemindedness.
Like Skoog and Turtle, the president of CFLs board of directors sees all kinds of benefits from classic, old-fashioned puzzling.
With my two children, we encourage them to play with physical toys that require touching and maneuvering and using their fine motor skills to get a result not some digital bounce-back, Brian Coll says. Working as a bartender, Ive watched lots of parents hand their kids a phone or iPad to keep them busy Ive done it myself, and realistically, its the world we live in today but I do try to limit it.
Skoog welcomes puzzle donations at all levels of difficulty. CFL is located at 301 Fayette St., Conshohocken. Additional information is available by calling 610-825-1656.
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Conshohocken Free Library launches puzzle exchange – The Times Herald