Thursday, January 11, 2007

Article: Puzzling fascination

During the course of our New Year’s celebration this year, I brought out my trump card--possibly the most beautiful jigsaw puzzle in the world. I placed the box on the table and waited for my family to cluster around, awed at the vivid image of a classical Japanese painting depicted on the front. We, in the course of a few hours, could recreate that magnificent artwork out of a jumble of irregularly shaped pieces of cardboard. How could anyone resist?

I’d like to say that all settled in and brought the incipient masterpiece to fruition in one glorious display of family unity and shared interest but, to my complete surprise, the assembled crowd quickly dispersed. Some moved off to get something to eat, others to refill their drinks and, sadly, a few just sat down to watch TV. I broke the box open and splayed the pieces across the table. No one remained. Dejected, I rejoined the party that seemed to have moved to a room without a puzzle.

Over the course of the next several days, I completed my gorgeous Japanese puzzle, virtually alone in my efforts. As I placed the final piece into the last hole, I was overcome with a feeling of accomplishment. I stood back to admire my creation. Beautiful! So much bigger and brighter than its portrayal on the box.

That feeling drives me to complete jigsaw puzzles. All I need to do is spend a few--read that many--hours pouring over a thousand or so pieces and I know I can capture it again. I can sit back and admire a work of art that I have created. And it’s not like creating real art, which is a hit or miss affair. As I worked on my puzzle, my son struggled to create a mosaic tile picture frame. He didn’t complete it before he left but I could tell he was already disappointed in it. Real art is like that, it requires talent and perseverance and even then might not live up to expectations. Jigsaw puzzles never let you down.

I did a 3-D puzzle last year. It was a small globe. Although I’m pretty familiar with what the Earth looks like, that was about the hardest puzzle I’ve ever done. Never mind just trying to make it all hold together! If the pieces weren’t numbered, I’m sure I never would have completed it. The two-thirds of the world that’s water all looks pretty much the same on a globe.

Once I did a map-of-the-world puzzle where the pieces were shaped more-or-less like the countries or states they depicted. I’m not sure if that qualifies as a jigsaw since the pieces were not interlocking which definitely added to the difficulty. And some of the pieces were tiny. Those eastern states don’t amount to much even when several of them are combined on a single piece.

The Japanese understand the appeal of jigsaw puzzles better than most Americans. The stores where they are sold often have large displays of jigsaw puzzle frames. In the US, I think most people laugh when they see a framed puzzle.

I left my completed Japanese puzzle out for about a week before I realized no one was going to come marvel over it. When I opened the box to put it away, I found a foil packet and a sponge. I couldn’t read the directions but I assume the packet contained special puzzle glue so I could immortalize my work in the Japanese tradition. It was a temptation.

Pulling apart each piece of my puzzle hurt. How painstakingly I had created this beauty! With such effort I had tried each piece, eager for it to find its home. Now they were so much flotsam adrift in a plastic bag. I closed the lid on their pathetic state of increased entropy. As always, chaos wins.

Photo: Detail from the beautiful Japanese puzzle I recently completed.
Photo:The completed Japanese puzzle in all its glory along with a couple of more memorable puzzles from my past, stored as jumbled masses in their boxes. The Rosetta Stone puzzle was purchased at the British Museum in London where the real Rosetta Stone resides.
Photo: 3-D globe puzzle given to me by my son. Without the numbers you can see on the backside of each piece in this photo, I never would have been able to complete the puzzle.
Photo: This puzzle currently sits on the mantel in the livingroom of my home. It might not look like much to you but it was a major accomplishment for me.
Photo: The map-of-the-world puzzle I did. Luckily it depicted native animals from each region, including the seas. That made it much easier to piece together.
Photo: Detail from the animals of the world puzzle.

1 comment:

Gary G said...

I've often wondered about puzzles. About the only time that Kris and I ever do them is on Vacation. Not sure why. I guess that's the only time that life seems to quiet down enough to allow working on things like that.

It seems strange - one would think that a short vacation (as vacations are always short) would make time more precious. Hmmm. Perhaps that's why we puzzle.