Commentary – Popcorn balls and puzzles don’t mix

Commentary by
Pearl Lorentzen

As a child, one of my favourite Christmas goodies was popcorn balls. One of my favourite pastimes was building jigsaw puzzles.

The physical makeup of the two don’t mix. Popcorn balls are simple to make. Pop popcorn. Melt butter, corn syrup and marshmallows. Mix the popcorn with gummy candies. Stick everything together with the melted marshmallow mix. Pat into balls like a snowball. To store, wrap individually.

The only problem, other than the sugar rush, is they make my fingers sticky. This makes the puzzle pieces grimy and puzzle dust adhere to my fingers.

Any snack that can’t be eaten while puzzle-ing loses a few points on my list, especially at Christmas.

Nothing says Christmas, at least to me, like people crowded around a puzzle sipping homemade apple cider and eating snacks. Puzzle-ing is like crocheting or playing a low-key card game. It gives your hands something to do while you chat. It takes a bit more attention than certain things, but it’s much less distracting than watching videos on a cellphone.

I find it calming. I enjoy looking at scattered pieces to find patterns. It’s especially fun to look up from focusing on the sky, or another tricky bit, to see exactly where a piece or two fits.

This is one of the reasons, I’ve never tried puzzles on a smart phone or tablet. The depth perception is different. It lacks the feel of the real thing. It doesn’t have the cardboard dust, but an electronic puzzle wouldn’t solve my sticky finger dilema, as screens don’t react well to melted marshmallow.

Some people argue that the movie The Matrix is a visual representation of the French philosopher Jean Baudrillard’s book Simulacra and Simulation, written in 1981. While this seems like a rabbit trail, the theory applies to the issue of popcorn balls and puzzles. An issue, which no doubt, no one else worries about.

My limited understanding of the theory is simulated emotions, stories, and visuals, etc. from technology and entertainment that skew people’s perception of reality. As the simulation’s value grows, people view it as a simulacra, something akin to a new “reality”.

This new “reality” doesn’t exist. It is false.

However, next to the simulacra reality looks like a desert. Technology has improved a lot since 1981 and with it the lure of the simulacra. We don’t have to go to the movie theatre or watch a TV at home. There are tons of distracting apps on phones and tablets, which simulate everything from playing musical instruments to making jigsaw puzzles.

Baking and puzzles remind me that while at times when I want to escape into some simulation, in general I like reality. As adults, if we are going to limit our screen-time, we’re the ones who are going to have to do it.

Christmas and the dreaded New Year’s resolution might be a good time to think about what hobbies other than trolling the Internet or watching TV you liked as a child. What would it be like to re-integrate them back into your life?

Maybe, popcorn balls and puzzles do mix. They are a reminder that even as an adult I can do things that brought me joy as a child.

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