VANCOUVER -- The pandemic has led to uncountable changes in our day-to-day lives, including how we deal with stress. Many people are finding new hobbies to help them relax with so many of the things they used to enjoy are off the table.

The pandemic puzzle craze began in March of last year, and hasn’t let up since. For some, it fills the time. For others, it’s a stress reliever. And for the companies that make puzzles – it’s been an unexpected windfall.

At Splash Toy Shop in Steveston, staff are seeing the demand firsthand.

“Puzzles have been selling so quickly lately,” says owner Beth McKercher. “It’s unprecedented. The adult market has been driving sales the most.”

CusTomers are looking for puzzles between 500 and 2,000 pieces.

And that includes Susan Smitten, who lives in Victoria. She’s been puzzling a lot more since the pandemic began.

“Basically (to) not think about all of the stress of COVID and all of the stuff that is inundating us every day, with radio and television and the news,” she explains. “I’m just sick of hearing it. This gives me the calm place that I can be and eliminate all of the noise clutter.”

For Cobble Hill Puzzles, a Victoria company, the rush on their products began as soon as people realized they’d need to stay at home.

“It was like the run on toilet paper – but it never stopped,” says Dave Manga, the company’s owner.

And their manufacturer couldn’t keep up with demand. Normally, they have more than 520 different puzzles available.

“Right now, we have probably about 30 in stock,” Manga says. “We get a truck in and it sells out within a couple of days. It’s a shortage that has been felt around the world.”

Manga says sales in 2020 doubled over the year before and if he had been able to stock enough product to keep up with the demand, his business would have quadrupled.

The boom has also led to an increase in the sales of accessories, like puzzle mats, that allow you to roll up your puzzle in progress and put it away until you’re ready to keep working. Smitten's accesory of choice is a sorting bowl.

“It has been sort of a game changer,” she says. “There’s that little thrill every time you find that one piece that you’re looking for and you go “Oh! This is it! I’ve got it!”