A box of cardboard pieces all jumbled up, a beautiful picture on the cover of the box, and nothing but time to create order where chaos is currently residing. This is my idea of a fun time, putting together a jigsaw puzzle. In my younger days I remember being so proud I put together the fifty piece puzzle. It was always a sad moment to disassemble the pretty picture. That sadness only lasted a little while because another puzzle was waiting for me. I don’t know what it was that drew me to this obsession, but it filled the time when my friends were away on vacation, grounded, or otherwise occupied.

How do you approach a puzzle?  I usually dump the whole box out on the table. Then I smooth it out so they weren’t double stacked.  As I am getting it into a single layer, I set aside the straight edges to create the border. Once the border was complete, I would focus on the main object. the one that was the easiest to construct. On and on it would go until there were no more pieces to fit. I love to run my hand over the top and feel the smooth but yet it is bumpy with each piece. Recently, I have learned a new process to approach a puzzle.

Sometimes I get to stay with my father-in-law when I am out of town. (It is so much better than in a hotel.) Two weeks ago when I left he had a puzzle sitting on the table. His neighbor had given it to him because she gave up. It has 2,000 pieces. It is 26.5 x 38.5 when constructed. That’s one big puzzle! He was contemplating starting it. “When I start this I will have to sort the pieces on paper plates.There isn’t enough space on the table to hold the puzzle and the pieces,” he told me. As I left I marveled that he had a plan to deal with this monstrous sized puzzle. I doubt I would have thought of that. I would have followed the only plan I know. I would have had a mess and felt frustrated when I couldn’t find pieces. I probably would have given up, like the neighbor who gave him the puzzle.

When I arrived this week this is what I saw on the dining room table – 

The puzzle was nearly finished. The only pieces left were black. He has sorted the pieces by shape on each of the cards. Now all he has to do is find the shape to fill in the holes. Brilliant I thought. I always avoided puzzles with a lot of the same color, but this process made so much sense. When I returned in the afternoon, it was together.

He thought ahead and  developed a plan. It enabled him to assemble a 2,000 piece puzzle in a short amount of time.  He is anxious to share this completion with the neighbor who abandoned the puzzle. So there will be an unveiling of the masterpiece, then back into the box it goes. I wonder if the neighbor will take it out to see if she can do it too?

25 thoughts on “Puzzles

  1. “A box of cardboard pieces all jumbled up, a beautiful picture on the cover of the box, and nothing but time to create order where chaos is currently residing.” <— Beautiful lead.


  2. You would laugh at me. I love working on our jumbo preschool floor puzzles but all that stuff you wrote about here – that I’ve seen my father and grandfather do – ugh. I do admire your passion.

  3. Michelle says:

    I’ve never completed a puzzle from start to finish – usually just jump into help somewhere in the middle. Loved this line: “nothing but time to create order where chaos is currently residing.” Puzzles and life, right? Glad he decided to give it a go! What a masterpiece!

  4. I love puzzles! I used to sit with my mom and do puzzles while we watched tv with my sister and father. It was a great way to pass the time during those snowy northern Wisconsin winters.

    I attack puzzles the same way as you. I never would have thought of the plan your father-in-law implemented, but apparently it was efficient! Thank you so much for including those pics.

  5. Paul says:

    I really appreciate the larger messages in this story! That puzzle cannot go back into the box, though. 2000 pieces? Lacquer it together and frame that baby, even if there’s nowhere to hang it! 🙂

  6. Is it pathetic that when I saw your teaser, I thought of the lesson activity “jigsaw” and not of the puzzle? lol. But since it’s puzzles… I’m not the most patient person with puzzles, but I do them sometimes. (In college I started one, gave up partway through, and my dad ended up finishing it!) I always did your border approach, but I might have to try the sorting plan — looks like a great idea!

  7. Beautiful puzzle. There is a lot of pride in finishing a project that begins feeling overwhelming and maybe impossible and then achieving success anyway.

  8. wkb57 says:

    Elsie, I loved this post. Mostly because I am puzzle challenged. I am not a visual person. My youngest son is the puzzle person in our house. My mother-in-law used to dream about where the piece was she was looking for. I thought she was puzzle gifted! I love the plan and how it was executed…it almost makes me want to go buy a 50 piece puzzle and give it a try:)

  9. margaretsmn says:

    Amazing! The last time I did a puzzle I was in high school and everywhere I looked, I saw puzzle pieces. My friend’s father recently passed away. He was a puzzle-maker. She had given him a picture of her sons in a puzzle. It was displayed at his funeral. So sweet to think of his own hands putting together the picture of his grandsons.

  10. Judy C. says:

    I’m like you Elsie, the border first and then on to the main theme. We usually get out the cookie sheets and put the pieces on them. Your father-in-law must have patience of Job. I begin sorting by color and then go in another direction. That’s how life is also – good thing we don’t all approach it the same way. Thanks for sharing.

  11. Julie says:

    I’ve always approached puzzles the same way you do – did? But I also love the approach your father-in-law took. Puzzles remind me of summer growing up when there were long, lazy afternoons to fill – the pool thing had been done, a trip to the library accomplished – down time! We’d set up a card table in the middle of the family room and spend delightful hours fitting, searching, combining pieces. Someone would ALWAYS hide ONE piece so they could be the one to finish the puzzle. Thanks for the memories.

  12. Well, I would never have thought of a system like this…which explains why I’ve had such little success with puzzles. Thanks for the tip, Elsie!

  13. grade4wizard says:

    Wow. 2000 pieces. Mimm and I are working on the 200 piece puzzles and I like them very much. A puzzle a day and they don’t take up much space. I am responsible for the borders and she likes to assemble the characters.

  14. I always have thought a jigsaw puzzle is amazing once it is finished such as the one your father-in-law did. It is gorgeous and his planning made the task manageable.

    My mother used to do jigsaw puzzles. It was always a quest for me to find the right one for Christmas. She would only do one in the winter months. Now at 91 the jigsaw puzzle table is still there…but no jigsaws are done.

    A happy memory to recall!

  15. My father loved to do jigsaw puzzles. There was always one on the go and you bet he had a system similar to your father-in-law’s. He’d separate the pieces by colour, place them on big sheets of cardboard, do the border first . . . You bring back such fond memories of hours spent in puzzle-meditation with dad. Another beautiful slice, Elsie.

  16. Amazing & beautiful. Did you know there is a whole set of little boxes one can buy just for sorting puzzles. We saw it at Barnes & Noble one day. It wasn’t cheap. We have used baggies to sort colors sometimes. Doing puzzles is such a fun thing, either together or alone. Your father-in-law is amazing to have methodically worked this out. Wow!

  17. Tam says:

    I never heard of a 2000 piece puzzle. I have a friend who loves puzzles and she works on one, looking toward a special time to finish it like before she leaves for her vacation. I have a 5 year old grandson who is so good at them already. I have them ready at my house but when I see him usually and since he’s a boy, there is no time. I like puzzles but get too impatient. I need to slow down. Maybe I’ll start one this spring and every time grandkids come over, we can spend some small time in the day, putting it together. It’s another idea instead of eating!!

  18. jee young says:

    Woah, I’ve never tried a 2000 piece puzzle!!I’m so impressed by your father-in-law. I always start with the border first and then work my way to the inside when I do a puzzle. It’s been too long since I’ve done a puzzle.

  19. Isn’t it interesting how we all approach life – and puzzles – so differently? While there may be many variations on right and wrong ways to approach either, a well-thought-out approach can make things much simpler in the end. So many analogies here. Thank you.

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