Column: A puzzle, wrapped in a box, inside a tradition

Great Outdoors by James Murray

Over the years I have whiled away many an hour putting together the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.

For me, the process of doing a jigsaw puzzle is as much a form of relaxation as it is a diversion. It can also be a way to be focused or, at times, allow my mind wander. I have solved many of my life’s dilemmas while assembling the pieces of a puzzle, not to mention come up with the idea for more than one column.

Once the pieces of the puzzle are spilled onto the table, I at least know what lies ahead of me for the next week or so.

I suppose my affinity for jigsaw puzzles started way back when I was a kid growing up on the Prairies. It was one of those winter activities that allowed us to to stay indoors where it was nice and warm. It was also an activity that allowed our whole family to take part, especially in the evenings.

I tend to be drawn to puzzles with a nature-themed image, and have never been one to shy away from ones with 1,000 pieces. Obviously the more pieces and more detailed the image, the harder the puzzle. Ah, but there in lies the challenge.

Different people have different techniques for putting their puzzles together. Most start by separating the outside ‘edge pieces’ which are easily recognized by their one straight side – while keeping an eye out for the four corner pieces with their two straight sides. Once the outside pieces are put together, the dimensions of the puzzle become more defined as does the challenge ahead.

I have a habit of sorting and separating pieces in piles. I look for pieces with similar image design such as blue sky, branches of a tree or something that looks like part of a specific image, like the logs of a rustic cabin or a canoe tied up at the dock on the edge of a lake.

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Some people start by filling in the whole of the image by working away adding to the edge pieces. Others put together pieces that form a segment of the puzzle and then work to join the segments. I am happy when I find two pieces that join together. I take slightly greater satisfaction when I can add to those pieces to form even more of an image that will ultimately fit together to form a larger segment of the puzzle.

The real excitement/satisfaction comes when you have enough segments assembled that you can start looking for those pieces that join the larger segments together. After that, it’s simply a matter of time as the final few pieces fill the last hole.

About 15 years ago I came to work one morning and there were three jigsaw puzzles siting on my desk that had been dropped of with a note saying a friend of mine had passed away and that she had bequeathed the puzzles to me in her will. When I eventually got around to start one of the puzzles, I noticed she had recorded in pencil on the inside of the box top the dates when the puzzle had been both started and complete. There were a number of similar inscriptions, some of them with initials beside the dates. It became obvious that over the years, a number of people had completed the puzzles, dated them and then passed them along to someone else. I now do the same thing with my puzzles, some of which I have kept for sentimental reasons, others I have either passed along to someone else or donated to one of the local seniors residences where I know they have always been much appreciated.

By definition, tradition is the passing along of something from one generation to the next. Hauling out the jigsaw puzzles all those many years ago became sort of a Christmas tradition, one that I have maintained.

I really do believe that an integral part of the whole process of doing jigsaw puzzles is passing them along so that others can enjoy them – part of the tradition.

The thing that makes the tradition of passing along jigsaw puzzles so unique is that you can pass the tradition along all neat and tidy in a cardboard box – complete with a picture on top.

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