Just the Other Day: Jigsaw Puzzle

Nearly one thousand miles away, four people took on a simple task related to a town they had all lived in at one time and remain quite fond of.  It was a jigsaw puzzle with a picture of a famous local landmark.


I call it a simple task because the instructions on the side of the box say the puzzle is appropriate for people three years of age and older.  It also indicated two to three people should be able to complete the puzzle within thirty minutes.  As with any task, particularly one that is simple, many variables can and will affect the actual time required.


The ladies were the ones who opened the box, spearheading the project.  Puzzle pieces were scattered about the island top.  One by one they turned them over until all pieces were face up.  Next, they had to find the ones with a flat edge – the outside pieces.  Most importantly, were the four pieces with two flat sides – the corners.


The box in which the puzzle was packaged, was standing upright at the head of the work site.  The picture on the cover would be used as a guide to assist the assembly crew.  Throughout the process that same picture would become evidence clearly demonstrating the puzzle maker had obviously made errors.  Errors explaining why some pieces just didn’t fit where they surely belonged.


The two girls worked diligently to build the outside bordering frame.  The men occasionally looked on to assess their progress.  The frame wasn’t yet complete, when they started to put small sections together that would be a part of the main body of the puzzle.


I stood back, determined not to be drawn into this activity.  They started it and they could finish it.  Still, the challenge seemed too great for me to completely ignore.


As I peered over her shoulder, I could see the completed right side of the puzzle was at least two pieces longer than the incomplete left. There was only one piece remaining with a flat edge yet to be added.


I studied the problem from a distance until I could stand it no more.  Clearly the girls were going to need my help.  I stepped forward.


I found two pieces on the right side that were close, but didn’t quite fit.  By repositioning them to the left side and placing the single, remaining flat piece on the right side, we now had a full frame around the puzzle.  Boasting, I said, “This isn’t horse shoes ladies – close doesn’t count.”  My comment was greeted with grunts and sneers.  How’s that for appreciation?


Now committed to stay with them, the three of us continued picking up pieces, turning them over and over again in our finger tips as we pondered the possibilities – looking for the place they belonged.  Not finding it, we would set the piece down to pick up another.


It seems no one can hold out for long; remaining a spectator.  Soon, Kenny nuzzled in among the group and the four of us worked together building this puzzle one piece at a time.


Bragging rights were yours if you could pick up a piece someone had just set down, unable to find its spot, then you correctly placed it in the puzzle where it fit.  Sometimes you would boast audibly and other times silence smugly got the point across.  You didn’t want to get too cocky though, as eventually, that same person would position a piece on which you had given up on.


If I ran into a dry spell, unable to fit pieces, I would announce, “I’ve got the hard parts done, you guys can take it from here.”  But I was unable to stay away long before curiosity drew me back to the table.


Jigsaw puzzles all have a core team – the folks who stay with it from start to finish.  In this case, that team was the girls.  Other participants would come and go.


Every puzzle has a part, or parts, with a lot of pieces that all seem to be the same; a dark or a light area.  With almost no color variation, the pieces have to be fit by shape alone.  There’s always a temptation to use your thumb to push in a piece that certainly looks right, but doesn’t quite want to snap in. “It just needs a little help.” We justify.


More challenging pieces may require clinching your hand; using your fist like a mallet to drive the little booger into place.  Inevitably another player will take the troublesome piece from you, give it a quarter turn, then gently lay it into the very spot you tried forcing it into.  “I knew that’s where it went.” You would say as you picked up another piece.


Kenny stood by with a pair of scissors, prepared to trim and modify pieces that were flawed and had obviously slipped through quality control during manufacturing.  The ladies took his scissors, sending him away discouraged.


A common hazard when assembling any jigsaw puzzle is the presence of household pets.  A feline wandering onto the table top may go unnoticed by the focused players.  Mistaking puzzle pieces for toys to be chased, a quick swoosh of a paw can send pieces falling over the edge; or shooing the cat away can result in pieces being rocketed away by the force of a furry foot escaping the area.


Anything small and flat, which silently falls to a kitchen floor, is naturally assumed to be a potato chip by an eagerly waiting dog.  If you’re lucky you may retrieve a piece that is slobbery wet and slightly chewed from the jowls of old Rover. A fast dog however, may quickly consume the snack, never to be seen again…at least not in the form of colorful pressed cardboard.


Players will come and go, with more arriving as the picture comes closer to completion.  It is proper etiquette to leave the final piece for one of the core team members to place.


Everyone is then welcome to join in the applause and celebration upon laying the final piece. That we did as we all looked upon the completed puzzle; a familiar picture of the Canteen Lunch building in the alley.


The four of us discussed how good it would be to have a Canteen, loose meat sandwich right now.  That not being possible, we were left with the same dilemma every puzzle team faces.  Do we tear it apart and put it back in the box?  Should it be glued together and framed?  Should we scramble the pieces and start over?


The next day, as most puzzles do, it remains on the table top for all to view, admire and appreciate like a fine work of art.  After all, we don’t want to rush any decisions on the fate of this accomplished task…especially after spending several hours assembling this thirty-minute puzzle.