best puzzles, games, crafts during the pandemic
February 19, 2021 6:51 AM   Subscribe

I have some discretionary funds to buy some games, puzzles, or craft kits for people who are struggling with self-isolating during the pandemic. Please give me some recommendations!

Some are also struggling with mental illness, trauma, or cognitive impairment on top of the isolation, so the activities should be soothing and if possible, it would be great if you could specify the difficulty level of the activity in your recommendation. The recipients will be able to keep the items so no need to necessarily have it be reusable (if you are recommending a craft kit or something of that sort). If it's a game, it should be max two player or even ideally one player. Open to both classic games (I was thinking reversi or an origami kit would be great) and new games! It would be nice if the activities were rewarding in some sort of way - like maybe they get to craft something nice to put on their bookshelf, something to hang on their wall, or the games make them laugh, or they walk away from the activity feeling like they learned something new or have something new to think about.

If you've ever found a puzzle, game or type of craft to be helpful during a long stretch of isolation or emotional/mental malaise, I would love to hear about it. Budget is about $3-$25 per item.
posted by gemutlichkeit to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (9 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know if this is feasible but I worked on a project where we supplied craft kits to people and then collectively worked on creative outputs in a Zoom meeting. We facilitated a very casual discussion around specific themes, inspired by art or music or writing, and then had a space for people to work on the project individually but with the Zoom call still open, with nice soothing music playing. Then people came back together to discuss/show what they had made, discuss the process, any themes that came up for them while working. We made postcards which were then collected as part of a wider project, but you could do nice collages or zines or something like that.
It worked really well in terms of isolation in that people had a chance to chat with others, share some experiences, and also just quietly work on something creative alongside other people.

Zine-making is a great option because you're sharing a formula for how to make them, like you could send out materials and a step by step instruction sheet as a one-off activity, but then if people are inspired they can make loads more in different styles. You can easily make a simple one in an hour, or you can spend ages on something really elaborate. Because of this it's very suitable for a wide range of abilities, timescales etc. This is a great place to get started. And zines can really reflect people's own interests - personal reflections, or records of a daily walk, or visual inspiration cut out of magazines, language learning, whatever that person is into!

During our first lockdown I got a big cross stitch kit which took hundreds of hours. It was an incredibly soothing activity, like a sort of slow-motion colouring in. The kits with a pre-printed image are much easier for beginners, and the thicker the thread the easier it is. Mine was tapestry wool so you used a big thick needle. Aesthetics of available kits vary wildly but you can get some nice cheerful ones for beginners, or kits where you stitch the design through holes in a wooden bookmark.

Kits to make friendship bracelets might also be worth a look, the materials won't be very expensive and there are lots of different techniques people can learn if they enjoy it. It's moderately fiddly but really satisfying once you get the hang of it. I remember it being a thing when I was about 10 so that'd be the kind of level of difficulty.
posted by Lluvia at 8:13 AM on February 19 [1 favorite]

I know jigsaw puzzles have been madly popular with my mom and her senior friends during the pandemic. They come in a variety of difficulty levels. There are ways to preserve a finished puzzle for display (there's a Modge Podge kit), but I've never tried it.
posted by praemunire at 8:14 AM on February 19 [2 favorites]

I like Unlock games okay. Hunta-Killa box was okay.
posted by bbqturtle at 8:17 AM on February 19

I was coming in to suggest an origami kit. I see you're already thinking along those lines so I'll just note by way of support that a family member who spent a pretty isolated stretch in hospital really got a lot of mileage from rediscovering an old love of origami. Plus it's one of those nice things where if someone decides they like it, they can continue to do it pretty easily with paper around the house rather than continuing to pay for new supplies, or if they *want* to move on to fancy craft paper and tools for it, they can.
posted by Stacey at 8:17 AM on February 19

These might be just out of your price range, but Apostrophe puzzles has some unique puzzles that look really cool. I just ordered one but havent opened it yet! Also nice to support a black-owned, women-owned business!
posted by something_witty at 8:22 AM on February 19 [1 favorite]

Watercolour set and pad of watercolour paper

Adult colouring book of pretty patterns, and markers (fine tipped crayola are good)

Ukulele or beater guitar (you may be able to get a few used ones donated if you post in a community group), with a beginner book of chords and well-known songs (Beatles greatest hits type stuff) - ideal for people with some experience
posted by nouvelle-personne at 8:33 AM on February 19

Puzzles are great because you can get a lot of different ones and then let people exchange them between themselves. Also, I find it weirdly reassuring that I know the finished puzzle is going to look fine, even if you aren't good at puzzles and take a long time to do it. I've been switching between puzzles and miniatures and I've noticed that the puzzles get done a lot faster than the miniatures, because a finished puzzle is going to look fine no matter how efficiently I get to the end, but a miniature requires actual skill in using glue to look decent when it's done.

There is a lot of variability in price and quality, ranging from the dollar store ones (they're for sale at the Target Dollar Spot right now for $3), which are often frustratingly hard to assemble as the cardboard is so thin, up to $35+ luxury puzzles. For a sweet spot, I've had good luck with Gallison/Mudpuppy, which is reasonably priced, of acceptable quality that would let more than one person do the puzzle, and doesn't seem to have a high rate of missing pieces. They also have a good variety of subject matter. Buffalo Games is a bit cheaper but also reportedly of decent quality, although I haven't tried that one myself.

300-500 pieces is probably the sweet spot. Above 500, the potential frustration factor goes up if you don't have experience puzzling. Note that Buffalo Games also makes larger piece options which may be a good fit here.
posted by pie ninja at 8:46 AM on February 19 [1 favorite]

You asked about personal experience. There have been times in my life when I've played so many games of patience that I saw the cards behind my eyelids as I was falling asleep. There've also been times when I've gone through puzzle books like a demon - the logic grid ones, or nonograms, or the books of interesting Nikoli-style sudoku variations (it's boring doing fifty of the same type of puzzle, but a book with five of each of ten different kinds is great). So, a pack of cards and a book of solitaire games, or a selection of interesting puzzle magazines?

My college librarian used to set out a huge jigsaw for people to work on during the exam period each year, so that's another vote for jigsaw puzzles as a coping strategy.

For people with enough get-up-and-go still to try something new, origami seems like a very good choice to me. One thing, though - I've found that origami kits vary quite widely in quality. In my experience, the ones where the author of the instructions is actually named on the cover tend to be better than the anonymous ones, although I'd trust e.g. a kit from Tuttle anyway. If you can, look at a page of instructions before you buy (Amazon's Look Inside feature, or just a product photo that shows some instructions): you want to check that they make sense (haven't been machine-translated, and explain the step clearly enough for a beginner to understand).

But for people feeling really wrung out, with no spoons left, I'd go for things that involve following clear instructions to achieve a guaranteed result. Lego, or those model kits that come as a flat sheet that you press the pieces out of and slot together. Nothing that requires decision-making; nothing that has the potential to frustrate. I don't mean that to sound patronising: it's where I am most of the time at the moment. The idea is to have something to occupy yourself with that you can't get wrong. Something you don't have to judge yourself over.

Finally, thanks to this question, I've just found out that there exist board games for one player. The only two in that particular list that are within your budget are also, unhelpfully, out of stock right now, but perhaps worth keeping an eye out?
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 9:32 AM on February 19 [1 favorite]

I started making amigurumi (crocheted stuffed animals) in quarantine this winter. I got started with a kit from an Etsy shop called "The Woobles" which was a bit expensive but came with extremely good instructions.
posted by martinX's bellbottoms at 1:02 PM on February 19 [1 favorite]

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