One of my childhood family’s traditional Christmas holiday pastimes was to complete a jigsaw puzzle (or two). Christmas presents generally included at least one puzzle. This year’s Covid-19 restrictions on travel and socialising made it a good time to resurrect the tradition with my adult family.
There is something incredibly relaxing and therapeutic about tacking a jigsaw puzzle. You can’t rush a jigsaw; it takes as long as it takes. They are addictive too – once you’ve started you have to keep going. One evening, Mrs Chippy and I had to remind ourselves that it was 11.30 pm and we really should be going to bed. I have been known to stay up into the early hours in order to finish a puzzle.
I should point out that the puzzle we were doing had lots of bright and distinctive colours, so was easy to do under artificial light. Puzzles that contain large areas of similar colour – such as sea or sky – are much more difficult once the sun goes down (which makes it slightly bizarre that we tackle them in the darkest weeks of the year). Take this one for example – a real labour of love.
A feeling of satisfaction and achievement comes over me as the pieces slowly begin to form a picture (not always the picture I am expecting), or I find that elusive piece that completes a section, or joins two sections together. When I was very young, I was “helping” my grandmother with a puzzle. I found a piece and thought I could see where it fitted. I spent several minutes comparing the piece with the puzzle and the picture on the box before I placed it. My grandmother’s exclamation made me at first unsure whether I’d done the right thing. I had – she had been looking for that piece for days!
It’s not always easy to see what a single piece is part of. This piece appears to be either the nose cone of a spaceship or the visor of a knight in armour – neither of which appeared in the puzzle.
It turned out to be the cowcatcher of a steam locomotive. Obvious when you see it in position!
Sometimes working out which way up a piece goes is a challenge. Even when the piece shows part of a building, it’s not always clear which is top and bottom.
Maybe one of the other reasons I enjoy doing jigsaw puzzles is that there are several tactics to use, and each one comes into play at different times.
I usually start by sorting out the pieces into “edges” and “middle” and completing the border. It gives a framework to start with. Some people prefer to build up sections of the puzzle from the start and allow the border to fall into place naturally. With some designs, this approach can be better.
I then sift through the remaining pieces, looking for likely fits. Here I might be building several sections at the same time and select six to ten pieces to work with. If I have selected correctly – hooray. If not – the pieces go back to the pile to try again later.
Gradually the pieces start to form a picture, and I end up with one or more fitted pieces, plus several “probably go here somewhere but I haven’t worked out where yet”
They’ll be a silent (or not so silent) whoop of delight when I manage to link two sections together. Or even better when I build a path across the puzzle from side to side, blockbuster style
As the stack of unused pieces falls, I eventually have the space to display them all.
Now, as well as picking pieces and trying to fit it in the puzzle, I look for specific pieces to plug the holes. I might even sort them into different colours and/or shapes: one bump, three holes; three bumps, one hole; bumps and holes on opposite sides; bumps and holes on adjacent sides.
Eventually it nears completion, and almost any piece I pick will fit somewhere.
And finally – it is finished! It seems a shame to break it up after all that effort!
But I’ve forgotten to tell you the golden rule. Once you’ve started, don’t look at the picture on the box. That’s cheating. (apart from when you are very young and helping your grandmother, obviously).
The other golden rule is to keep the cat out of the room.