SUDBURY -- Jig-saw, Sudoku, and crossword puzzles are providing an enjoyable stay-home activity for those of all ages as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.

“We’ve always done [puzzles] in periods of great stress, disasters or impending doom,” said University of Toronto Anthropology and Linguistic Professor Marcel Danesi.

“It seems like, I call it the puzzle instinct, comes forth to help us.”

With Ontario’s Stay Home Order in place until Feb. 11, people across the province are looking for ways to keep busy and have fun while also staying safe.

“Puzzles are, anybody can do them,” said Danesi.

“Not everybody can play the piano, not everybody can write novels in this period, but we can all do puzzles. It’s a universal trait that we have in us and it surfaces, crystalizes in periods of great stress.”

For one local store in North Bay, puzzles are flying off the shelfs and have been since March 2020.

“When the pandemic started we were like just crazy,” explained Creative Learning Store Manager Sue Ortepi.

“Puzzles were sold out everywhere. Some of our suppliers we still can’t even get some from. Fortunately we do have a large stock coming.”

Ortepi adds, “we do sell a lot of children’s puzzles too, but our adult puzzles, 1000 piece puzzles are the most popular. 500 too is nice if you’re just starting out. The pieces are larger and they’re easier to see and you can do it as a family.”

Meanwhile in Callander, a new puzzle exchange program has started up at the local library giving residents a chance to pick up more than just books.

“We’re finding that people aren’t reading the way that they used to,” said CEO Melissa Sones.

“People seem to have, their attention span seems to be shorter is the comments we’re hearing from a lot. So I think that the puzzles area nice alternative.”

Residents in Callander can either exchange a puzzle or just pick one up to borrow.

“All the puzzles that we take from the public are quarantined just like our books are right now,” said Sones.

“Every Friday we take a picture of all the puzzles we have and post them on social media and the website so that the public can see what we have and they can actually pick what puzzle they’d like to take home with them.”

The program has only been up and running for two weeks, but the response from the community was so overwhelming that right now the library is not accepting any puzzle donations, just exchanges.

“People are definitely looking for something to do right now,” she said.

“As long as it remains popular I think we’ll continue to do it. So pretty much as long as people are staying home and looking for something to do, puzzles will be available.”

However, for Danesi, who has studied puzzles throughout his career, it isn’t shocking that their popularity continues to grow.

“One of the reasons is that you can solve a puzzle. It provides a solution and you feel really good about it. I solved it. Where as, there are no solutions to the worlds of danger, of doom, of environmental catastrophes that are occurring, so you can kind of keep them out for a little bit and find a solution for the specific puzzle in and of itself,” he said.

“They involve time, they keep you away from thinking negative thoughts. Once you’re involved, once you’re immersed in a puzzle, especially if you can’t get the answer… Let’s take a look at crossword puzzles for a concrete example. You start filling in the little squares and what belongs in there. That frustration in finding out what belongs in there will nag you for a while, if you do not come up with it you, will remain frustrated. But at the very least, you have kept away from the greater frustrations and greater fears of the world.”