Jigsaw Puzzles

Birds of the Back Yard 1500 pieces

Wintertime is a perfect time to slow down and do a jigsaw puzzle.

What could be cozier than a puzzle “going” on a table in the living room or
by the TV or wherever you have some extra room to spread out.  Sometimes a
dining room table is perfect—no holiday dinners in sight–

All you need is a good light and a good system.
A good system you say?  Yes, a good system–I’ll tell you all about it.  (Bring a lunch.)

One winter years ago when my mother was living with us,  I persuaded her to start a puzzle.  It was a Christmas present from my husband—of birdhouses.  She loved feeding
the birds, so great subject matter.

I doubt if she had done a puzzle since she was a young girl, some 80 years ago.  I had started one myself on one side of the dining room table–and there was plenty of room
for her to do one, too.  So there were two puzzles going on the table.

She dumped all of the pieces out (leaving a few that were stuck together, as is, instead of
diligently pulling them apart and setting them far apart from each other as I would have done.)  Then she spent her next puzzle time turning over the pieces.  It’s been a long, long
time since I attacked a puzzle in that fashion, and I smiled to myself at the elementary approach.

We spent about two weeks working our puzzles–I had finished two and was starting a third, while Mom patiently worked on hers.  It’s interesting that a New York Times Sunday crossword puzzle was no challenge for her, but the jigsaw had her confounded.

When I glanced over at her puzzle, I was appalled at the disorder.  Her edge was nearly complete, but the inside was packed with assorted pieces!  All puzzle pieces were on her half of the table—turned right side up—jammed together.  It looked like hopeless confusion to me.

I am reminded in the middle of this story to tell you about “Aunt Vi”, a babysitter we had when the kids were little.  She lived next door and was a loyal sitter.   Even in those days we had a puzzle going and she would “work” it while we were out for the evening.  The next day we’d discover some work to this day known as an “Aunt Vi piece”.  It seemed to go in that spot, but didn’t quite fit.  There would be several pieces like that and repair work was usually necessary after Aunt Vi had worked the puzzle.

Anyway, one day I removed about forty pieces from the center of my mother’s puzzle–to clear out a little breathing room.  But I saw the next day that they had all been put back in the corral “so I could see them.”

So I continued on my own side of the table, doing my puzzle my way.  And to this day, this is the order in which I do puzzles:

First of all, in doing a puzzle, whoever (usually me) finished the puzzle last time SHOULD have broken up the pieces before putting the box back in the closet upstairs in the sewing room.  If they didn’t, that’s a very boring beginning to a new puzzle, BUT it has to be done.

Then, edge pieces are selected from the box . . . only edge pieces.  Usually, about the third trip to the box, I allow myself to start culling interesting pieces of specific patterns—what looks like blue sky, or American flags, or the checkerboard in the picture, or best of all, words.  But I’m pretty strict about completing the edge before doing any FUN pieces.

Once the edge is complete and the true puzzle-doing has begun, I’m allowed to sort through the box and remove 10 interesting pieces at a time–sometimes 11 if at the last moment a tantalizing piece turns up.  And you know what?  so often, the most interesting teasers are # 9, 10 or 11.  It might be a piece that’s shaped just like a lightbulb, or one with a “little hook”, or the “sidey-slanty piece”.  Or one that’s ALL YELLOW—surely that will be easy, or with just a dot of red . . .

Then those (10) pieces are offered the chance to fit in.  In the beginning, some of the misfits are left around willy-nilly and often they join a milling crowd of not-quite-readies to the big picture, but quietly attach to build that piece of sky, or checkerboard or word, whatever.

But, there comes a time after several trips of tens to the box when we must call for a clean house.  At that time ONLY those pieces who are AT LEAST a TWOSOME are allowed to stay inside the framework of the puzzle.  The others, the hermits, loners, must leave and be outside looking in.  I don’t feel sorry for them as they understand the routine and they each have potential.

Still with me?

The trips of ten continue.  As time goes on, supplemental groups of oddball pieces gather in clumps outside: little “could have been edges” (handy to keep together for the end of puzzle work).  Another group might be the wavy edges types, or the big loopy heads or little heart shaped nodules or else the heart shaped openings.  The guys with a sloping shoulder, or little skinny heads.

And so it goes, building, building, building.  Finally, only the most miserable colors and shadings are left in the box and outside the scene on the table.  One of the final steps here is to gather up all of the loners on the table.  Each gets a brief time to go around the inside of the puzzle as a second attempt to fit in (the first time was when he was selected in a bunch of ten a long time ago.)  At this point you can make a time limit for their perusing by chanting a quick nursery rhyme or whatever, or it can be done silently.  The bottom line is:  IF the piece cannot find a home within the framework, it must return to the outside, but this time, a regimented line is formed—-and the 2nd-try pieces line up carefully in order along the side of the puzzle.

Now, after all the loners have had a try, I return to the box and reach in BLINDLY for 10 pieces.  They get a chance—and discards line up outside behind the 2nd-chancers.  This is a frustrating time because no fun patterns are left.  But, each piece that fits means the end is closer.

The box is empty.  There are about 90 pieces or so lined up outside.  This part is exhilarating.  Each piece in the long line gets another chance ONE BY ONE to fit into the puzzle by running around trying heads or loops or matching colors, patterns.   It’s good to have a different, slower-timed theme song here–maybe “One less bell to answer, one less egg to fry”.

If the piece still won’t fit in, he must go to the END of the line outside.  It usually only takes about three of these sessions of this activity to finalize the puzzle.  Of course some pieces are third and even fourth triers by this time, and it is mortifying for them, but everyone knows puzzle doers are not likely to make fun or tease pieces.

Once the puzzle is finished the box liner should be dated and any notation of missing pieces (!!) noted.  Then someone else in the house should be told that the puzzle is done!
Or it can be left, finished, on the table in case everyone’s already gone to bed.

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