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Jigsaw Puzzles



 

I used to have boxes and boxes of jigsaw puzzles. I was an addict. I would sit in my chair in front of the TV, with a piece of cardboard on my lap, and sift through the puzzle pieces; sorting shapes and colors, and finding patterns in the chaos. I used the box tops from discarded puzzles to help me sort puzzle pieces into categories, and I would “watch” TV for hours, with the comforting voices going on in the background as most of my attention was focused on fitting the pieces together.

Blue puzzle pieces

Blue puzzle pieces

My standard jigsaw puzzles are the 1000 piece puzzles. I used to have some 750s but they went too fast. Anything bigger than 1000 pieces, though, ends up being too big for my puzzle board.

Puzzle, resting.

Puzzle, resting.

The jigsaw puzzles were an obsession, but a calming one. I never glued them to a backing and framed them on the walls. In fact, I especially liked dismantling and redoing the same puzzles, time after time, seeing how much faster I could do it as I learned the particular code of each puzzle.

Each puzzle maker has a different idea about the thickness and stiffness of the puzzle pieces, the sizes and shapes, the complexity of the color. Being able to differentiate between three shades of light blue was satisfying. And I think this accomplished something. I think it helped me rewire my brain, but I can’t prove that.

I started doing jigsaw puzzles in my late teens. I vaguely remember a picture of Golden Retriever puppies and a barrel of apples. I would put a puzzle board down on the floor of my bedroom and stay up all night, sorting pieces and putting things together, instead of sleeping. It was a step up from coloring books, which I had dabbled in for a while too.

My dog at the time, Dina, was not a fan of the puzzles. She would walk through the open boxes of puzzle pieces and turn them over “accidentally.” If she was really annoyed, or maybe lonely, she would stretch out on top of the puzzle and ask for scratchies. She didn’t understand why I was up all night, but she liked the company. Often, she would fall asleep on my bed while I sat on the floor, watching CNN and doing puzzles.

Once we moved to the other apartment in my early twenties, I didn’t have a TV in my bedroom anymore. We watched TV together in our tiny living room, me and Mom and Dina. I couldn’t fit the puzzle board on the floor anymore, and there was certainly no room for a puzzle table in there, so I balanced the board on my lap.

Dina was only a lap dog when there was thunder and lightning. The rest of the time she would stretch out on the floor, hanging her head into the hallway for extra room. The only time she disrupted the puzzles was when I stored the board on a shelf under the TV, and she knocked it with her hip as she passed by.

Dina guarding a puzzle

Dina guarding a puzzle

She seemed to understand my need for the puzzles. As long as I remembered to take her out for walks, very long walks, my puzzle time was okay with her. And it was better than fidgeting with scissors, which I also did when I needed something to do with my hands; inevitably, I mishandled the scissors (tiny silver nail scissors, but still) and they flew across the room, dangerously close to her head.

Post -puzzle walking

Post -puzzle walking

When Cricket came along, she wanted to help with the puzzles. I could no longer rest the open box tops on the floor or on a chair, or else she would slap them with her paw and turn the whole box over, or she would chew the side of the box until the pieces leaked out from the corner, or she would just jump up on my lap and push everything else to the floor in a rage. Laps belong to Cricket. She was even more insistent on that when she was little. She thought I should spend three hours scratching her instead of doing puzzles or anything else. She was jealous and impatient, and if I stuck to my plans, she would sit on Grandma’s lap and glare at me.

Grumpy Cricket

Grumpy Cricket

I always think of the Curious George story where the doctor takes an x-ray and finds the wooden puzzle piece inside of the monkey. I’m sure Cricket has swallowed a few puzzle pieces over the years but they are small and made of paper and she probably pooped them out easily enough.

I’ve been struggling with my eyesight lately. The eye doctor diagnosed me with Convergence Insufficiency that she thinks resulted from whatever neurological problems I’ve been having recently. I’ve always struggled somewhat with computer screens and 3D movies and fast food menu boards, but now I see faces doubled or moving around inexplicably and I struggle to read text on a screen.

I started doing jigsaw puzzles again recently, maybe to fight against the blurriness and double vision, or maybe just to return to the company of an old friend. When I take out the puzzle board, Butterfly sits in front of the puzzle and waits, assuming there is hidden food on the board, and if she waits long enough she will get some. Eventually she gives up, and stretches out on the floor next to Cricket, and they both listen to the tap tap of puzzle pieces on the board and fall contentedly to sleep.

Butterfly and Cricket, waiting.

Butterfly and Cricket, waiting.

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About rachelmankowitz

I am a fiction writer, a writing coach, and an obsessive chronicler of my dogs' lives.

65 responses »

  1. I love puzzles and, if I start one, I *have* to finish it. It becomes an obsession! I’ve had to stop because otherwise, I’d be at them all day, every day.

    Reply
  2. I have gone through phases where I am obsessed with puzzles…I too love the 1000 piece ones. It is such a relaxing hobby. 🙂

    Reply
  3. I haven’t done a jigsaw puzzle since I was in my early teens. I did enjoy them – there’s an obsessiveness to fitting them all together. At one point I bought a couple at a garage sale. My idea was that somehow I would integrate the puzzle with my paintings, but when push came to shove, it seemed a silly idea.

    Reply
    • What I like about the puzzles is that I can get a small window into how a painting is made, how the shades blend and where the lines go. If you can actually create those things yourself, you’re all set.

      Reply
  4. I used to do them all the time. Then I had kids. Maybe I ‘ll start again.

    Reply
  5. Beautiful essay – loved reading this.

    Reply
  6. There’s always a puzzle in progress at my sister’s house and my mother-in-law’s house. When I visit, we sit with coffee chat and put pieces together. I might just have to start a puzzle table at my house too.

    Reply
    • It’s such a reassuring thing for me when I know I have a puzzle in progress. Unless it’s an incredibly frustrating puzzle, then it’s just a battle I have to fight, to the death.

      Reply
  7. Hope the doctor is able to help you with your neurological and sight problems

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  8. There’s a lot of comfort in working jig saw puzzles– that satisfying silent click when the pieces fit together.

    Reply
  9. I enjoyed your post.

    Reply
  10. Never a jigsaw puzzle around here. I gather that’s a bad thing.

    Reply
  11. Great post. I enjoyed reading it. I have to say that I have not touched a jigsaw puzzle in years. I agree they were a source of satisfaction. When I was a child we didn’t have a TV and we did these things as a family. The girls loved them,

    Reply
  12. Enjoyed your post, as usual, Rachel.

    I occasionally enjoyed putting together a puzzle, but haven’t done it in years.

    Actually, it’s a wonder that I never developed an attachment to jigsaw puzzles–at times, I tend to be relatively detail-oriented, and often rather compulsive.

    Instead, I was a serial reader when I wasn’t “practicing an instrument.”

    BTW, I much enjoyed seeing the pictures of Dina.

    She was a pretty girl–and wore her little “white whiskers” well.

    😉

    Reply
  13. I understand that addiction. But we have a lion of a cat who chews them and throws the pieces around ‘sigh’.

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  14. Funny that you would post this today. Such similarities! My husband and I just finished a puzzle Friday night, and discovered a piece missing. This has been the case with our last 4 puzzles! First, we blamed it on the puzzle manufacturer, but now I am pretty sure it is Darby. Even though we watch Darby very carefully, each puzzle “loses” a few pieces, and I am sure they get pooped out in the yard. I have also been having eye problems, but have been ignoring it and blame it on too much “puzzling.”

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  15. anything that would take the attention away from the most important doggie in the house.. I totally understand

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  16. been years since I did a jigsaw puzzle

    used to do a lot of them when i was a kid at home

    most of our living room was carpeted but there was a section near the bow windows that was just linoleum where my sis and I used to lay out our jigsaw puzzles

    and every day when we came home from school we’d find someone (our dad) who mocked our love of jigsaw puzzles had not been able to resist adding a few pieces to the puzzle while we were at school 😆

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  17. Have fun with the puzzles, Rachel, and I hope your vision improves sooner rather than later!

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  18. I love putting together jigsaw puzzles but have not in many years. I stopped when I had no room to keep a puzzle completion in progress. One day I may get back to working them, it is very rewarding and fun. So sorry about your eyes, can anything be done about the problem? Keep enjoying puzzles, obsession or not. Hugs

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  19. Rachel, I’m sorry about your eyesight troubles! Puzzles are a great stress reliever.

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  20. The Puzzles!
    What are you doing, requires precision and require good visibility space. Surely you are very thorough and detailed. 🙂

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  21. I used to be very keen on jigsaw puzzles, too, and I’d be happy to start up again if time permitted. 🙂

    Reply
  22. Hmm, my human says she likes puzzles but only does them when we visit her mum… She says she is going to dog one out now that you have reminded her how much she enjoys them and I’ve been told I’m NOT allowed to eat any bits that happen to fall on the floor 🙂

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  23. Oh, I know…jigsaw puzzles truly are an old friend…I truly enjoy them with their quiet company…I like wolf ones…I love how Cricket just claims you and says laps are hers and hers alone….sweet!!!! Enjoy your current puzzle and may it bring comfort and calmness…Bless your eyes as well…Hugs

    Reply
  24. I love puzzles, if I were to do one, though I am sure that Jack would be walking and sniffing all aorund the puzzle. lol

    Reply
  25. That Ruby, Sugar & I very much enjoyed your blog….is Not puzzling at all! Thank you for stopping by to say hello. I’m pretty Jurassic with blogging stuff, but we’ll learn….maybe we’ll even learn how to put a picture to our name!

    Reply
  26. So sorry to hear you’re having trouble with your eyesight – the last thing a writer wants! I hope it’s sorted out soon.

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  27. Rachael, I love your dog stories. I’m convinced they know us better than we know ourselves.

    Reply
  28. Hi, Rachel! My friends have a dogi(you may find pix on my site).Dogi lost hair and some parts of his body becam bold. You know very well dogs and , can you give some advise how help him. Thank you! kind regards Alla

    Reply
  29. My daughter and I enjoy putting puzzles together, together.

    Reply

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