Thursday, January 7, 2010

Puzzle Maestro

When we traveled to Virginia to visit with my mom's family, there was always a puzzle for the children to work "if they got bored." Mine was the generation where it was not my parents' job to entertain me, but my job to keep myself from getting into trouble or in other words, "out of my parents' way" who had things to talk about.... we were the children, and we were treated as children.

My aunts and grandparents set up puzzles for us to work on a card table in the living room, while they gossiped and worried about "what the world was coming to" at the dining room table over coffee and dessert.

We were dismissed. To the puzzle table we went....

We worked puzzles of flowers, the Blue Ridge parkway, animals, and one I remember pretty readily of Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel painting of the God of the wavy, long white hair touching the finger of Adam. You know the one... the painting -- not the puzzle.

The puzzles were between 500 and 1000 pieces, as I'm sure they were increased gradually in increments as we got older and faster. I really don't remember working puzzles that were less than hard. We also worked puzzles more than once -- I mean, my parents and grandparents were the "Depression" generation.


So working puzzles is a family tradition that goes back two generations, and the way my nieces and nephews are progressing -- it will go one more.

We have a system, of course, and when there were four seats at a card table, we had equal access to the puzzle, as there were only four of us, but we would argue over who got to work the edge pieces, who got to sit with the puzzle directly in front of them.

The most vehement we got with each other was -- who had to work the solid pieces like the sky? Who had to fill in the blue? As I remember it, so many of our puzzles had huge areas of sky or grass or white snow capped mountains.


We are maniacs -- in case you haven't figured that out -- and once we get started on a puzzle, we will stay up all hours to work it, or bend over it till we can't move or are so stiff that we fall when we get up .. and we have aged .. not a pretty sight -- and, of course, our eyesight ain't what it used to be either.

We have lots of unwritten rules: If you get up, you don't necessarily get your same seat back or your same puzzle offense -- you know, you might have to work defense when you get back -- which means you get relegated to working the pieces that are all the same color. As long as you sit there and claim jurisdiction, say over the pieces that have the stripes, then they are yours, but if you get up --- it's musical chairs, puzzle version.

My oldest nephew, Chapman, has made it his mission now to purchase and bring the most difficult puzzle he can find. One year, he gave us a puzzle that didn't have a picture of what the puzzle looks like on the box -- so we just had to put it together.

Another year he bought one that was a picnic scene, but the perspective was from the bear hiding in the bushes. A perspective that also wasn't included on the box.

So, conversation sounded like this:

Puzzle Worker 1: Oh, that's a piece of fruit that's fallen from the basket.
Puzzle Worker 2: There's a basket?
Puzzle Worker 3: This looks like.... uh.... I have no idea what that is? Glass? Mirror? The lake?
Puzzle Worker 4: There's a lake?
Puzzle Worker 1: What fruit is black?
Puzzle Worker 4: Wait. There's a lake?

Aside: Using Puzzle Worker sounds so Communist... you know for the good of The Party and all..


We take puzzles seriously, and we like a challenge.

Now, there are so many of us [this year at one point 23] -- so many hands involved, so many seats pulled up to the puzzle table, that it is like working puzzles with the octopus family. Arms everywhere -- picking up pieces, examining the box, moving pieces around -- and the most annoying habit we all have ....

the *tap, tap, tap* of a piece fitted into the puzzle -- so that the whole table knows that you have placed that piece in....

Personal satisfaction --- made known around the table...

*rolls eyes*

This year, my niece's fiance, Bryan, was here for the second time with the family, but the first time with a puzzle.

It was probably the engineer in him as well as the competitive spirit, but he became a fanatical puzzle worker.

He camped out in the chair, refusing refreshments, and he worked like he was on the clock.

He studied the box.

He picked up a piece.

He studied the box.

He would stare at a piece.

Then with satisfaction would announce --- "this should go there" and promptly placed the piece where it belonged in the puzzle.



Acclimating himself to the family?


He, my brother, and my nephew stayed up to 3 Am one night "getting a jump" on a puzzle of Monet's "Lilies," a crack head's puzzles of greens, yellows, and blues that would send a normal person into fits of drooling and head smacking.

But this guy.....

He did get a little blurry in the eyes, a little territorial, but he was a maestro.

*tee hee*

BTW: We worked four 1000 piece puzzles in four days.. I'm sure that's a family record. So you know what that means -- next year -- we will need to do five.

And Honorable Mention for Being a Puzzle Worker: Angie


  1. Why didn't you let Bryan work on the puzzle last year?

  2. Because Bryan is "new" to the family this year --- and, well, he figured out the drill rather quickly, being "smert" and all.


  3. I love this! You guys are awesome! It sounds like my sis and I :)

  4. If this were my family, we would be throwing the pieces at each other. We would never get everyone to sit and work a puzzle simultaneously for over 8 minutes!

  5. I think Bryan proved worthy of joining our family. Actually all of the recent family additions were nearly constant fixtures at the puzzle table this year. Thankfully all 19+ people weren't crowded around the puzzle at the same time...shudders...I think that might end up something like Go Mental, but scarier. Perhaps a giant puzzle next year...hmmm....

  6. We have a puzzle that's just dalmatians. On both sides.

  7. The puzzle putting together was intense. I stopped to watch for a bit, but I was much more interested in your book, Aunt Harriet.