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Locals Connected by Puzzle Fun As National Puzzle Day Approaches

WHEELING — While there are a large variety of puzzles that come in many shapes and forms that exercise the mind — one thing is for sure — folks of all ages around the area find puzzles are just plain fun. And what better way to celebrate as National Puzzle Day day approaches at the end of the the month.

Whether it’s a mechanical puzzle such as jigsaw puzzle, or logic or word puzzle, many area residents and students love to challenge themselves with puzzles as National Puzzle Day is celebrated Jan. 29.

Studies have found that puzzles stimulate the brain and improve problem solving and cognitive skills, according to National Calendar Day’s website. National Puzzle Day started in 2002 by syndicated newspaper puzzle maker Jodi Jill, who created classroom lesson plans especially for National Puzzle Day.

As part of the puzzle fun locally, the Kruger Street Toy and Train Museum of Wheeling recently organized an effort to have residents at nearly a dozen senior living groups in the region piece together the world’s largest commercially produced jigsaw puzzle which features scenes from animated Disney movies. The puzzle has over 40,000 pieces, according to Lynn Maguire, events coordinator for the Elm Grove museum.

Each participating group is currently working on 4,000 piece sections that will eventually all be connected together by officials at the toy and train museum. The puzzle will be over 22 feet long and 6 feet high when complete, according to Maguire. The project, which is part of the museum’s 20th anniversary celebration, will be on display at the museum for the public to enjoy by mid-March.

“We had to create an entire wall (inside the museum) to put it up,” Maguire explained. She said members of the Golden Agers senior group have also been working daily on one section of the puzzle at museum. “It’s been great to get them involved,” she commented.

Residents at both the Home for Men in Warwood and Elmhurst-The House-Friendship of Wheeling also enjoy solving puzzles on a daily basis. Home For Men Administrator Mark Knuth said many of the residents have enjoyed them so much over the years they currently have a room filled with more than 700 puzzles. He said they have accumulated them over time as the residents, family members or sometimes members of the community donate them to the facility.

“We have a puzzle table here on the first floor and a puzzle table on the second floor,” he explained.

“We’ve exchanged with people and it works out very well,” he added.

Home for Men resident Charlie Costain said his interest in puzzles didn’t really spark until he became a resident at the Warwood facility just over four years ago.

“They say it stimulates your mind and keeps your mind active,” Costain explained, while working on a large section of the Disney themed puzzle that will eventually be on display at the toy and train museum. Costain said he can solve a 1,000 piece piece puzzle in about 40 minutes by sorting the same colors and boarder pieces into categories prior to starting the puzzle. He said while puzzle solving can be a bit tedious at times overall he finds them relaxing and lot of fun.

Betsy Higgins and Pete Newmeyer are two Elmhurst-The House-Friendship residents who enjoy working puzzles in the facility’s activity rooms. Nearly a dozen finished puzzles that have been permanently framed over the years hang in the facility’s second floor activity room. Elmhurst also has hundreds of stored puzzles available for residents to have fun with whenever they wish. Newmeyer is just one resident who also has been working on one panel of the toy and train museum’s giant puzzle.

Wheeling Middle School eighth grade science teacher Debbie McKay said she offers a variety of science themed puzzles for her students to work on when they finish school tasks or tests early.

“Sometimes in homeroom, if they finish up with a test and they have 5 or 10 minutes left over, they can come over (to the puzzle table). They absolutely love it,” McKay explained. She said the puzzles are all science oriented to coincide with her overall curriculum.

“I just think it is something different and they actually learn a lot from them. … I always keep the table available,” she added.

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