It’s a Puzzle

I was so surprised at being born
that I didn’t speak for a year and a half.
Gracie Allen

Surprise is at least as appealing an explanation as this likely more-likely one: That it just takes babies a year or more to separate the linguistic signal from the noise.

As I tackle a stalled 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle on our Western road trip, I consider this signal/noise issue and other life learnings from 60+ years of puzzling.

First, Find a Friend

Puzzles are like beds: more than twice as easy to make with two people.

Then, Start With the Edges

I start big puzzles by separating the edge pieces from the mass (and mess) of interior pieces. (Doesn’t everyone?) In a relatively short time I can impose some structure on the scatter of shapes and colours, even though I can’t see the whole picture yet.

Accept That Some Edges Hide

No matter how carefully I sort through those pesky pieces, I never find all the edge pieces on the first pass. Nor the second. Nor the forty-second, sometimes. When I have most of them I just have to carry on, believing that I really do have all the pieces and that the missing edges will reveal themselves when the time is right.

Corollary: Check the floor every so often: Some pieces throw themselves off the table to hide.

Follow *Some* Process, Dagnab It

Long before I can assemble whole chunks I can see rough patterns in what might go together: distinctive lines and markings, unusual shapes, rare colours. Putting these to one side as I find them shortens my search and assembly time when I do see how and where to use that sort of piece.

Addendum: Don’t fall in love with the process or with the sort. Sometimes a piece obviously destined to be part of the Hopewell Rocks turns out to be a puffin’s belly. Just as a random example.

Accept the Happy Accidents

Puzzle cuts seem designed to send misleading signals: To get me looking for a distinctive colour or marking that doesn’t actually show on the piece that actually fits. But sometimes the universe puts a piece where I will trip over it, and sometimes I swear my subconscious guides my hand in picking up or placing a piece. I’ve long since given up wondering how *that* works. I’m just happy it does, when it does.

Believe the Tipping Point is Coming

At the start, it’s a slog for sure: Progress is painfully slow. But when more pieces are placed than remain to be placed, everything speeds up: Pieces seem to fall into place effortlessly. I guess it’s that the signal-to-noise ratio increases dramatically: Even as the coastline grows, the number of ships still looking for just the right berth drops.

But I bet Gracie would have had a more entertaining explanation.

Partly solved 1,000-piece puzzle



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11 Responses to It’s a Puzzle

  1. Barbara Carlson says:

    I had a dream once that Queen Eliz. did puzzles of famous paintings in the Royal Collection and then had them glued to boards to replace the originals. LOL

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Barbara – Odd, I never think about the Queen doing jigsaw puzzles. I wonder who we can ask?

      • Barbara Carlson says:

        Her Majesty — you can write her a letter, but don’t be surprised if you get a a reply on a completely different topic, like, “Thank you for your kind wishes on the occasion of my birthday,” which is what I got —– from the Queen Mother (when she was alive) replying to MY letter to Queen E. asking what she carried in her handbag.

        It was a very polite letter & I included a list of things people here in my circle of friends and studio visitors thought she did, including the answer, “Anything she wants!”

    • Danielle Wawryk says:

      And now we can have our table back after way, way too long! Better yet, no more ridicule from friends who snickered at our lack of progress over multiple visits. Thanks for helping with our puzzle stress!

  2. Exactly!

    Except you forgot (or are not disturbed by) the distributor cutting off the edges or hiding the corners on the picture on the box.

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