Puzzle December 2020

I don’t know whether it is the thrill of finishing something or the comradeship that comes from doing things together. On our recent vacation in Colorado, my son and I completed a jig saw puzzle of the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park. There are very few things in life that are quite that perfect in terms of accomplishment.   These puzzles are simple when done, complicated while in progress. I was curious about something that my son said, “Other families do the border pieces first and then work on the middle.”  

So I posed the question to my neighbors on the website NextDoor. “How do you start a jigsaw puzzle and what happens next?”   Most of those who responded said they also started with the edge pieces. The second most popular start was to sort the colors. Third was to find a central feature and work on that.   I loved some of the answers like, “I find a really unique piece, like a face, and work out from there.”   One fellow informed me there are only twelve general shapes of pieces, which I thought was impossible, but he was right. Even in a 1,000-piece version there are still only 12 shapes for pieces. Yet from just these 12 come all the amazing complexities made even more so by the variety of colors and subtle changes in the way the shapes are cut.   People have a lot of characteristics like a puzzle.

If you have only a few pieces of the story, folks are hard to figure out. The complications of the pieces around them are the context that form who they are. The borders of their life can be limitations which curb creation or comfortable boundaries which warn of confusion beyond a certain edge. Those edges can be morals, spirituality, work ethics, or just the reassurance of knowing your limits. How many times have we heard, “He goes outside the envelope,” referring to the adventurous, the entrepreneur, or the artist.  

When one person’s knob fits perfectly into another person’s slot, the foundation for a great relationship or a great business partnership has been laid. The inventor needs an accountant. The tough, driving manager, needs a human resources professional.   The spendthrift husband needs a wife who knows how to save.  

God loves each of us despite our shape, color, haircut, centrality, or edge. He loves us no matter whether we fit into the finished product or are so far out that we will never be part of the big picture. He loves us even when other people cannot find us in the picture on the cover of the box.   Unlike a jigsaw piece, we have the capacity for extraordinary change. We can become a knob or a slot at will, depending on the need or the situation.  

My son and I “finished” the Stanley Hotel puzzle, and to our dismay, there were two pieces missing. AND they were edge pieces.   That almost ruined my vacation.   I think God was just reminding us that despite our efforts, there are things that we will never complete and others that we won’t understand.  

(((  Twelve shapes of pieces:   4 knobs   4 holes   opposite 2 holes, 2 knobs   side by side 2 holes, 2 knobs   three holes, one knob   three knobs, one hole   flat edge, two holes   flat edge, two knobs   flat edge, one hole, one knob   corner with two holes   corner with two knobs   corner with one hole, one knob )))

(((  Names for protrusions on pieces:   knob   tab   bobble   tongue   dog   outie   tenon       Names for cuts in pieces:   mortise   innie   blank   grove   slot   hole )))

There is no unified lexicon on these terms. A book on the history of jigsaw puzzles declared just that. It seems to be a personal choice, unique to each family.   A family activity it is, and during these days of isolation, it seems a great way to experience the teamwork and small joys of a simple job done well.

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