These are the rules on the walls of the tent at the baking contest that will look very familiar to fans of Mary Berry! Wasgij Original 23 – The Bake Off is the latest offering from Wasgij. To solve this puzzle you have to imagine that you are the judge with the stripy top (is that Mel or Sue?) and piece together what she can see. The Bake Off coincides with the Little Snoring History Pageant so it’s inevitable that havoc will ensue.
This is another great Wasgij and is packed with fun references to the TV programme (and modern life in general!) so it’s a welcome addition to the Wasgij Original collection – in fact it’s encouraging to see that there’s no drop-off in creativity or originality.
And like the TV programme this puzzle has an extra bit The Bake Off continued… which is one of the first extensions that Wasgij have launched – the idea of the extension puzzle is to allow you to add an extra 250 pieces to the right hand side of the completed Original 23, or it can be enjoyed on its own as a mini-puzzle. It’s an innovative concept and it will be interesting to see how puzzlers react to this. Do let us know what you think.
Dexterity is what separates us from other species. Our fine motor skills allow us to complete tasks that are not possible to any other animals except some higher primates. While the level of dexterity varies from person to person, there are a number of exercises that can help improve your dexterity if desired. Some contemporary computer games are even designed to improve dexterity. Unfortunately, most of the people who feel diminished dexterity are ageing and suffering from one of many diseases linked to the old age. Many of them did not enter the computer age. Fortunately, there are some forgotten tools that work very well in improving dexterity in older people, such as good old jigsaw puzzles.
Why would you need to improve your dexterity?
Dexterity means coordination between the small muscles in the fingers and the eyes. The whole process actually starts in the primary motor cortex of our brain and enables us to have such complex motor skills. Dexterity and what we can do with it is what makes humans, and some other primates, so advanced in evolution. But, dexterity can be lost or impaired for many reasons: injury, stroke, illness, developmental disability, problems with brain, nerves, muscles, spinal cord or joints can affect our fine motor skills, and diminish our ability to control the movement of our hands. This loss can be devastating and can deprive a person of self-sufficiency and the ability to live a normal life.
People with arthritis and similar issues need dexterity exercises to maintain the mobility of their hands and to continue being independent.
Even some healthy people would like better dexterity, such as musicians and surgeons. For them, having perfect fine motor skills and perfect hand-eye coordination means better performance, and in case of surgeons, well-being of their patients.
Training for better dexterity
Scientists agree that training is crucial for the recovery of dexterity after most types of injury that affects motor skills, particularly after such brain illnesses as stroke. Resistance training is part of the regular rehabilitation of stroke patients.
It has been well established by the scientific community that playing video games can significantly improve dexterity. But, video games are solitary pursuits and most people who are recovering their dexterity after a serious disease need to heal on many levels, besides working on their muscles. Social interaction is a big part of the healing process.
Puzzles and dexterity
We take our dexterity for granted, until we lose it or it is diminished. Even simple injury which makes our fingers swollen makes it impossible to pick up small puzzle pieces. Try to imagine how it feels for a person with arthritis, or someone recovering from stroke. Simple movements, such as picking up puzzle pieces, turning them over to see where they fit and fitting them in their right place can be quite a challenge.
What makes puzzles so eminently suitable for dexterity training is that they can be played at all levels. To help children improve dexterity, you can choose one of many puzzles that are designed for their particular age in mind. To assist stroke victims with their recovery, you can start with large size puzzles at that are easier to pick up at the beginning of the recovery process, and move to more complex puzzles as their dexterity improves.
Puzzles or computer games?
While the world is turning digital and we are looking for solutions to all our problems on the internet, there are many people who find interaction with computers lonely and sad. The latest computer games might be perfectly designed to improve hand-eye coordination, but even if you have a partner, that partner might be miles away, in front of another computer. Playing puzzles can be done alone, but is much more fun when few people play together, tackling different corners of the board, solving the problem together and competing with each other.
The social aspect of playing puzzles is as important as improving dexterity for stroke patients. They have suffered from a brain damage, which destroyed some parts of their brain and wiped out simple skills such as using their hands. Re-learning such skills requires more than just teaching muscles to do certain jobs. It also requires recovery of their self-awareness, independence, place in the society and the belief that they will recover completely and resume their normal lives. Depression is very common in people with diminished physical capacity and loss of independence. Completing a game of puzzles can be a great way for them to accomplish something they could not do a short time ago.
For a long time, medical practitioners believed that once a part of the brain is damaged, all function linked to that particular part is lost. In the last few decades, this belief has been completely reversed, with the discovery of brain plasticity. The brain plasticity refers to the ability of our nervous system to adapt to the damage and to change its structure in order to recover lost functionality.
Playing games such as puzzles assists brain in re-learning functions that are lost after the stroke. Puzzles not only involve manual dexterity, but focus, decision-making, patience and persistence. By repeatedly playing puzzles, brain plasticity is induced and lost functionality is recovered in time.
New kinds of puzzles
While jigsaw puzzles lost some of their popularity due to the prevalence of computer games, new three-dimensional puzzles, puzzles with customized photos and pieces of all sizes and complexity put puzzles back to where they belong: into our homes. They are great fun, can be very challenging and can keep kids sufficiently entertained during long winter evenings. Even small children can play, and not only improve their motor skills but learn a bit of geography, biology or anything else the latest puzzle has to show. And for old people, participating in playing with different generations, in the atmosphere of love and competition, means much more than just recovery from the illness. It gives them hope and reason for living.
For an engineer, architect, artist or a designer, the ability to transform shapes mentally is crucial in their daily performance. But, to develop advanced skill in transforming shapes, they need to start training very early. According to a study by the researchers from the University of Chicago, playing puzzles is an ideal way of training for such skills, and the children should start as early as when they are two years old.
Puzzles and spatial skills
The researchers worked with 53 kids aged from two to four, and their parents, and observed them playing with puzzles as they would in their normal home environment. They found that regular playing with puzzles can predict the advanced spatial skills in children when they are 54 months old.
When tested later, at the age of 5, the children who regularly played with puzzles – at least twice a week – performed much better when performing tasks that involved translating and rotating shapes.
Both boys and girls who played puzzles performed better at spatial tests than children that did not, but the results for boys were better. Boys also engaged in playing more complicated and complex puzzles. Scientists suspect that the reason for the difference between boys and girls was more in the parents’ input than the real spatial skill difference between the genders. Parents of boys offered more spatial language during playing puzzles than parents of girls.
Interestingly, parents from higher income group played puzzles more often and more commonly than parents from other income groups, and were more likely to buy puzzles to their children instead of other, more common and currently popular toys.
The research findings confirm the previously held belief that playing puzzles supports the development of mental skills necessary for performing well in disciplines such as technology, maths and engineering.
Fine motor skills development
Spatial transformation skills are just some of many skills kids can develop while playing puzzles. Playing with large puzzles can help babies develop gross motor skills, and for older skills, manipulating small puzzles pieces help the development of fine motor skills. Fine motor skills are linked to the hand-eye coordination. Children who develop fine motor skills early in life have easier time learning to draw and write or learn to play an instrument.
If children show difficulties in hand-eye coordination while playing puzzles, it is one of the early signs of some developmental problem and it means that parents should consult a professional. Early detection of a problem might increase a chance of finding a solution.
Problem solving and intelligence
Playing puzzles is an ideal way for children to lean an important skill of problem solving. Scientists consider that problem solving is a major aspect of intelligence. Playing puzzles, with or without a photo of the completed puzzle, forces children to look for the solution to the problem – finding the right piece for the space. They use their experience from previous games, but with different picture, in a different situation. The more games of puzzles they play, the easier task of finding the right puzzle piece becomes. They learn that they need to turn the piece around to find the right fit, need to look at the colors and patterns that match, and especially to create a frame with the edge pieces. These are not easy tasks for small children, but the practice boosts up the speed with which they learn in an amazing way. By trying different pieces for a certain space, children learn to strategize, separating similar pieces into groups for later use, giving their brains an additional exercise.
Children often have problem focusing and have short attention span. But, once they get engaged in a puzzle, they are able to spend an unusual amount of time playing without losing interest, in order to complete the picture. Completed puzzle also offers them a sense of satisfaction, boosting their self-esteem.
Playing puzzles with a sibling encourages the spirit of competition, adding to the need to persevere in order to complete the task as fast as possible.
As children grow up, they are drawn to more and more complicated puzzles. Most of them require a photo of the completed puzzle to be played. Children match each piece they are trying to place to the place they see in the photo, memorizing the right placement. In addition, if the piece does not fit, they put it aside, remembering the piece later when they find the proper space for it.
Geography, history and biology
By choosing the right puzzle, parents can help children with a difficult school subject and turn it into fun. If geography is posing problems, a puzzle with a map of the world might trigger an interest that the teacher failed to create. Puzzles with historical events, such as battles, can help children understand the importance of learning history in order to understand the present. A puzzle with a photo of a skeleton or human body can be a wonderful introduction to the basic biology of human organs. Considering the huge variety of puzzles available, any parent can find the right puzzle to fit with the particular subject their kid needs a little boost with.
While puzzles can be played alone, they are much more fun when played in a group, or at least with one partner. Playing together with others helps children to learn to cooperate, take turns, wait and follow rules. There is no cheating in puzzles, there is only one way of doing things, but the rules of fair play still apply. Children learn to cooperate by dividing the task and separating pieces by color or pattern, for example. If the number of players is bigger, children can play in teams, learning about alliances and team building. Like all the best toys, puzzles teach children about important society rules through fun and play.
Small children usually play with parents, who provide instructions and assistance by explaining different parts of puzzles, using words, phrases and terms that might be new to the children. Each new puzzle offers opportunities to the parents to increase the vocabulary of their children.
Besides boosting cognitive development, jigsaw puzzles are pure fun, providing hours of play and enjoyment. It is particularly important that children play with parents and grandparents, who are slowly losing their place in children’s education and development, being replaced by TV and computers. There is no replacement for human relationship and interaction. Children and parents who play together also solve other problems together, support each other and trust each other. It is not a stretch to say that, by playing puzzles together, parents develop a window into their children’s mind. That window might allow them to spot the problem when it occurs and offer help and support before the problem becomes more difficult.
Adults who do regular brain activities such as jigsaws puzzles could delay the onset of Alzheimer’s. It could even cut the chances of developing the disease by a third, according to research published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The study looked at the leisure time of subjects during early adulthood, age 20 to 39, and middle adulthood, age 40 to 60.
Activities were classed into:
Passive, such as watching television, talking on the phone or listening to music.
Intellectual, such as reading, jigsaw or crossword puzzles, playing musical instruments, chess or other board games, knitting or woodwork.
Physical, such as baseball, football or other sports, bike riding, swimming, walking or skating.
The Alzheimer’s patients were less active in all these activities except for television watching, notes neurologist Dr. Robert P. Friedland, first author of this latest research. Worryingly, Friedland found that television watching may even be a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease.
Previous studies have drawn similar conclusions (most notably the MacArthur Study). They also reported that people who take part in intellectual activities have a better quality of life and a longer life expectancy.
But why do brain activities such as assembling a jigsaw puzzles have such a seemingly powerful effect?
Like any other organ, the brain needs regular exercise. Successfully piecing a puzzle together, even just placing one piece in the right place, encourages the production of dopamine, a chemical that improves learning and memory. Doing a puzzle, for example, also works both sides of the brain at the same time (the left and right hemispheres). This creates actual “connections” between the left and right sides, as well as connections between individual brain cells. It’s thought that healthier brain cells are better able to control or slow the Alzheimer’s process. Unfortunately there is no evidence that these activities will actually alter the disease.
This latest research from Friedman shows further evidence that simple brain activities have many health benefits and can delay the onset of Alzheimer’s. Anything we can do to keep our brains active, such as doing jigsaw puzzles, must therefore make sense.
I am on a trip of a lifetime to the noisy Big Apple, and am shocked at the sheer scale of New York city, it is indeed a place which never sleeps. No wonder some have named this vibrant destination twice.
We do the usual department stores including world-famous Macey’s. We’re keen to find a place where my daughter would like to go too. And that’s the 150 year old toy store Schwarz on 5th Avenue – a firm favourite with the young of age and heart. Two real life toy soldiers greet us and open the large glass doors for us.
It is totally mesmerising; we head up the escalator to escape into another world. A giant dinosaur roars as we reach the top. I glimpse on the far wall smiling children in photographs and I catch the words Ravensburger jigsaw puzzles. Whist waiting for my daughter to finish looking at some Cinderella dresses I tap into my smart phone “Ravensburger”. I am amazed at what I discover. I knew Ravensburger had been around for a while but their beginnings took me by surprise.
Ravensburger was founded in 1883 by Ottor Robery Maier in a town called Upper Swabia, Southern Germany. He began by publishing not jigsaws but instructions for craftsmen and architects. A year later he published his first board game which he names “Journey around the World”. Quite why he moved from instructions to board games it remains unclear.
But then the link becomes clearer. By 1900, his company’s product lines included not only art instruction manuals but also books and board games. The famous Ravensburger blue triangle trade mark was registered in 1900 and twelve years later this ever increasing business began exporting to Europe and Russia.
It is an extraordinary success story: by the First World War, Ravensburger had around 800 products. Sadly, Ravensburger’s publishing house was damaged during the Second World War but they still managed to carry on producing children’s games and books which specialised in art books, architecture, and other hobbies. Amazingly Ravensburger jigsaw puzzles only started to be produced from the 1960s.
Today Ravensburger is one of the leading manufacturers of jigsaw puzzles – its range of Puzzleballs are always particularly popular. It’s incredible to think that Ravensburger jigsaw puzzles have brought such enjoyment to young and old over those years.
A small hand pulls me away from my smart phone and I found myself in the queue buying yet another Cinderella dress.
A cold wet miserable day and I’m standing in my local library, sheltering from the rain. I casually browse the bookshelves, flicking through the autobiographies. Something catches my eye.
Cars splash past but it’s the sign above the community noticeboard I spot. It directs visitors to climb the stone steps to the floor above to the museum. There’s another flyer pinned to the board advertising the latest exhibition – Henry VIII.
I’m intrigued and duly climb the steps. There are pictures on the walls of how the local town of Weybridge, Surrey used to look like in the 1920s through to the 1960s. Although only small, Elmbridge museum has a wide collection of historical memorabilia. There’s much to celebrate that’s local in this part of the world. Henry VIII had one of his (as I was later to find out) many palaces at Oatlands. This was also home to the first racing car circuit at Brooklands, the same area where Concorde was designed and parts built.
But it’s the corner of the room that grabs my attention. It’s of a Victorian School Room set. There’s a cane, a blackboard and dusty text books. Just like I had seen downstairs in the library there’s a jigsaw – this one is of a world map. I begin chatting to the museum curator and we talk about jigsaw puzzles. A search on the internet computer,tucked by the main enquiry desk, reveals that jigsaws were designed to help British children learn about geography. A London engraver and mapmaker called John Spilsbury mounted a sheet of hardwood around in 1760. What a great idea and a fun way to learn about the world around and so jigsaw puzzles began to grown in popularity, especially as an educational tool.
I learn that by 1880 different tooling was coming into use with the introduction of a fretsaw, not what we would know as a true jigsaw. Plywood was to come into use towards the end of the century. I found it fascinating to discover that illustrations were glued or painted to the front side of the wood. Jigsaw makers would make pencil tracings to the back of each jigsaw puzzle. This, however, all seems like a long way removed from when my grandmother helped us to do our own Christmas jigsaw, for fun.
Another revolution came in the 20th century for jigsaws – cardboard jigsaw puzzles. They were still mainly for children and the puzzles were die-cut. The technique of cutting jigsaw puzzles this way – imagine a giant cookie cutter – continues today.