And now, an interview I conducted this evening while sitting on the hardwood floor in the hallway, a few feet away from where serious jigsaw puzzling was taking place. Present and puzzling were my mother, my step-dad Mark, and my brother-in-law, Jack; my sister Rebecca sat on a bench nearby. There were glasses of wine on the table, as well as a bowl of Cheetos. My questions in boldface.
Note: In my family, we have a reception desk bell we put out when we do a puzzle. Every time someone finds a piece, they get to ring the bell.
So, gang: What do you like about puzzles?
JACK: For me, a puzzle is appealing because it’s a closed system. It has an answer. Most things in the world move toward entropy and chaos. Puzzles are the opposite. They’re one of the few things in the world that start off as chaos and become whole.
MOM: With a puzzle, you get immediate gratification with every little piece, every bite — and zero calories!
JACK: Well, if you’re eating Cheetos, it’s different. (Ding!)
Do you have a particular method or approach to beginning a puzzle?
MARK: Well, sure. (Ding!) Most people approach a puzzle the same way: Do the frame first. Because the straight edge pieces are easy to find and fit together. And having the outside edge then gives you a structure. After you get your edge in place, you move to your subassembly: Pick a color or shape within the puzzle and take it one bite at a time.
JACK: “Subassembly.” I like that.
MOM: I pick up a piece and find the location on the picture, then I place it in that general vicinity. If it can’t fit anywhere … Well, then, sometimes I put it back down.
Mother, you said earlier today you didn’t like puzzles.
MOM: I think they’re a waste of time.
JACK: The plot thickens. (Ding!)
MOM: One could be making something useful, like a quilt. Putting a puzzle together is the antithesis of making quilt. But I will admit, it’s nice for a little relaxation during the holidays. You sit together and eat salty snacks and drink alcoholic beverages. It works.
REBECCA: I hate puzzles.
You hate them?
REBECCA: Make ’em and break ’em. That’s all they are!
Can you say more about that?
REBECCA: Puzzles are boring, for one thing. And the satisfaction of finding a piece is never enough, it never lasts long enough. Besides, there’s this weird … Like, everyone’s searching all the time. (Ding!) Then, when you finish a puzzle, you’re like “Cool, we made something that looks exactly like the picture on this box. Now let’s break it.” And if you’re doing a puzzle on the dining room table, it’s like, “Oh, we can’t eat at this table because there’s a puzzle here.” And then there’s the horror of finishing a puzzle and seeing there’s a missing piece.
MOM: I found a puzzle piece up at Sunrise Cottage. I couldn’t figure out which puzzle it went to, so I taped it to the puzzle cupboard with a sticky note. One day when I’m dead and gone, a grandchild of mine, maybe a great-grandchild will find where it goes and they’ll say, “Oh, Gramma Fons. She was so caring, so thoughtful! Just think, she cared about where this little puzzle piece would end up.”
JACK: Yeah, like, “Gather ’round, kids. Do you know what OCD is?”
(Everyone laughs. Ding!)
Last question: How many puzzles do you think we have in our family?
MOM: Oh, we give them away. We never do a puzzle twice.
But like, over time.
MARK: Probably a hundred. Probably more. (Takes sip of beer and then almost spits it out.) Geez, what’s a puzzle cost? Twenty bucks? Think of that money! My grandfather thought puzzles were the devil’s work. He just couldn’t stand them.
MOM: That was his mother’s side of the family. His father’s side of the family — what a bunch of no-counts!
MARK: Honey, that side of the family was no good. Horse traders, every one of ’em.
Can I put that in the interview?
MARK: (Ding!) I don’t care.
MOM: Mark’s the first to say it!
I’m glad we had this talk, you guys.
MARK: Yeah, puzzles. It doesn’t make much sense. But it gets in your blood.
[end of interview]