If one is looking for doom, gloom, destruction or gallows humor, there is a vast menu of sources. The stock market, the unemployment tick-up, the uncertainty, the growing number of coronavirus cases, the concerns about the healthcare system, the small business shutdowns with uncertain futures – pick your poison in terms of bad news.
But you won’t find it here – for the next several hundred words, we are putting the bad news aside in favor of the good. Not the “not as bad as it could be” or the gallows humor type of good – but actual good news. Because for all the stories about toilet paper hoarding, hand sanitizer price gouging and spring breakers fighting for their right to party – and the ensuing public health consequences – there is a much quieter narrative about how day-to-day people are managing the situation at hand.
They’re not all panicking, resisting or otherwise misbehaving. They’re mostly staying in and becoming slightly different – and arguably better – versions of themselves. They are more likely to look out for their neighbors, to spend quality time with their kids and to have fresh bread cooling on the windowsill.
And no, that last one isn’t a joke – in fact, it seems to be a trend. Americans aren’t just staying in – they’re also getting “old school” while they do it. It’s a little bit “Leave to Beaver” out there – albeit with the modern upgrade here and there. And in many cases, it’s quite heartwarming.
Board Games Are Back
As schools have closed and workers have been sent home, the natural question presented itself: What were Americans going to go with themselves? Particularly families who were suddenly trapped together in a few thousand square feet for 24 hours a day.
A week in, we have our answer. They’re jumping in the “Wayback Machine” and settling in for game nights. And no, we don’t mean group Playstation or Nintendo Wii sessions (though some data indicate that there is plenty of that going around as well) – we mean they’re making like their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents and playing board games.
And they’re doing puzzles.
And what are people playing? According to one particularly busy Minneapolis area game shop, the time-tested classics are big performers: Trivial Pursuit, Yahtzee, Hungry Hungry Hippos, Uno and Cribbage have all been top sellers. Consumers have also gotten nostalgic in their choice of video game systems, eschewing more complex modern systems for the old-school, 8-bit systems that were popular 25 to 30 years ago.
The gaming run nostalgia, High Score Games Manager Tommy Toohey told local media, is actually a pretty understandable reaction to anxiety – particularly for people who suddenly have extra time on their hands.
“People want to play what they played when they were little, or they want to show their kids the types of games they played when they were kids,” Toohey noted.
The pop in puzzle sales has been equally dramatic, Puzzle Warehouse Marketing Manager Greg Brown noted, as puzzles tap into the same nostalgia factor as board games, particularly for parents – and they come with three additional benefits. They are time-consuming, they make for good team activities and they can be done on an ongoing basis. Which is why, he said, their demand at this point now outstrips the demand they see during the typical holiday season rush.
"It seems like every day, business is accelerating," Brown said. "We broke yesterday's record."
And if you are imagining families eating a lot of snack food while they sit down for these epic puzzle sessions and game nights – well, there’s probably something to that, as data throughout the pandemic indicates that people are scaling up their snack food purchases. But, depending on how deeply retro some families are feeling, and how much time they are looking to fill on any given day, some of those snacks might not be pre-packaged.
They’ll be homemade.
Baking’s Big Return
Among the usual suspects selling out in America’s grocery stores, there are those that are somewhat less expected – pie crusts, flour, sugar, eggs, baking powder/soda, yeast and chocolate chips. Yes, Americans have gone full-on June Cleaver, turning to baking as a form of stress relief.
Well maybe not full-on June Cleaver – try as we might, we were unable to find any data on how many people would be wearing pearls and a cardigan sweater while baking.
As for what they are baking, judging from the number of bread machines currently sold out on Amazon, we would hazard a guess that people are trying their hands at producing their own loaves. A quick survey of recipes being pushed by various online sources also seem to indicate that easy pies, popovers and various incarnations of “never fail cakes” seem to lead the field.
And judging by a quick Instagram search, the term “never fail” is used fairly loosely when it comes to creating a cake.
But, as various experts agree, the results are less important than the process itself. Baking gives people a sense of order, a sense of purpose and a strong feeling of control.
Not to mention, even a never-fail cake that failed to live up to its name usually still tastes pretty good – and when one is putting together a 50,000-piece puzzle with their entire family, it is important to carbo-load.
Plus, as Americans are leaning into creative ways to be better neighbors, baking skills will only become more important. They may soon need to make Christmas cookies.
The Holidays Come Early
Among the more heartening things about the last week are the stories of neighbors reaching out to aid each other – cooking meals for those who can’t, grocery shopping for those at risk and the like.
But for our favorite trend of the week, we must tip our hats to the out-of-the-box thinkers who, when the going gets tough, decide to declare the holiday season back on and rehang their Christmas lights.
It is literally beginning to look a lot like Christmas everywhere you go, as people nationwide are redecorating for the holiday in hopes of brightening the mood for themselves and for their neighbors. And, early reports indicate, Christmas lights are highly contagious – once one person in a confined neighborhood puts them up, they tend to spread rapidly from house to house.
As it turns out, everyone knows they are in this together, even if they can’t at the moment stand next to each other.
So have a good weekend, indulge in your baked goods, don’t cheat while playing Monopoly and enjoy the lights.