As a toddler, I once committed the heinous act of chewing up a piece from a jigsaw puzzle being assembled by my older brother, Brian. I know this because I was to be reminded of that deed later on in life, often enough to recognize the gravity of such egregious misconduct. Coming from a guy who works 5,000 piece puzzles, this is serious stuff.
Better men than I have sought counseling over pieces “gone missing” during construction, all-points bulletins notwithstanding. Nothing is worse than searching fruitlessly for one specific piece, fearing that it has sought greener pastures, and finding out that such is the case when you finish the puzzle and there is a gaping hole. Of course, we are assuming that someone has not actually removed one piece from the board, in order to claim bragging rights on inserting the final piece of the puzzle later on.
How much more diabolical can one get?
A family that has the ability to work together on jigsaw puzzles, is a family that has this same ability, when it comes to working together at life. Though this may seem to be an illogical conclusion, I must argue that it is true. It may not choose to exercise this ability, but it has it.
Interestingly enough, there is a commonality involved that draws all participants into the fold. There are no grand slams or game-winning base hits, so one person cannot hog the limelight. It is even possible to successfully participate in the working of a puzzle, for any length of time, without putting so much as one piece that fits.
The goal is long-range rather than short term. No one keeps tabs on how many pieces any given person puts together; that’s not what it’s about. Camaraderie, teamwork, conversation and strategy all enter into the picture automatically, unless maybe some dialogue is needed when it comes to division of labor.
Either that, or instead of dividing up the labor, labor agreements are established, forces are joined, and multiple parties help erect the barn in the center of the puzzle, before splitting up forces again, and moving on.
So many factors enter into the arena, it boggles my little pea brain. Age level, degree of difficulty, number of pieces, compatibility of those working together, and time of day all come into play. Additionally, in selecting the puzzle, was attention paid as to whether it is a fit for the participants?
If at the beginners’ level, then a puzzle with basic shapes and colors is in order. A barn, a house, a tractor, a horse in a green field and other typical props of a farm, lend themselves to a novice level much better than a breath-taking scene of majestic mountains, with copious quantities of blue sky and no clouds.
Too much blue sky, too much purple mountain action and too much sameness with anything, promotes frustration, until you reach a certain level through experience. Then you will find barns and houses downright boring, and you will long for something more challenging.
Additionally, and this is key, you must be willing dedicate some of your own time as an investment, in order to insure success. Just dumping the puzzle on the table and walking away, does not guarantee anything. You have to be willing to sacrifice some precious time to prime the pump, so to speak.
Then, as the puzzle progresses, you can check in, verify that all is well, and move on down the line, secure in the knowledge that the puzzle has hooked the workers. That’s the puzzle’s job and the kids are only to willing to accept the challenge. Your job is to get them started and then ease out of the picture.
I work one or more Christmas puzzles each Holiday season, depending on what else is going on, and then work puzzles at other times as the mood strikes. Except for a workspace and a single lamp, I need nothing else.
Over the course of her thirty-plus years up here on the mountain, my mom, Pauline, worked puzzles incessantly. She always had a thousand-piece jigsaw going and there was never a time when I did not feel comfortable sitting down at the current effort, and going to work. I specialized in zeroing in on pieces that were obviously temporarily missing in action.
Research indicates that keeping one’s brain active in later life, can help prevent the brain from losing its edge. Puzzles, reading, writing and not spending too much time in front of the tube, all contribute to brain longevity. Pauline was still playing bridge as she approached ninety, and that is impressive to me. I should be so lucky.
She was 92 when she finally moved to an assisted-care facility, where space was limited, but until that time a perfect gift for her on her birthday or at Christmas, was a jigsaw puzzle. In fact Gluten-Free Mama and I stop in at Ferndale each December on our way up to the Eureka Arts and Crafts Fair, at a little shop that features a wide selection of jigsaws, and we leave with at least two.
Inexpensive, challenging, rewarding and social, jigsaw puzzles are a throwback to a time period when people sought each others’ company for work and pleasure. Puzzles replace quilting bees, corn-husking parties and other such labor-oriented endeavors, and provide the opportunity for exchange of ideas while the hands are busy sorting, sifting and classifying.
In this day of electronics, it’s no longer a given, but if begun early and done right, jigsaw puzzles are a gateway activity to other endeavors of the brain that promote health and longevity. Just remember to keep your little ones out of the arena.
On that note, the good news is that my therapist informs me that progress on those guilt feelings, over my wanton destruction of Brian’s puzzle piece all those years ago, is simply marvelous. It would have been better had I not had a relapse, the last time I visited him, and gobbled up that piece with the chocolate truffle on it, but I just couldn't resist.
It won't happen again.