Tag Archives: Wintertime Activity

Puzzling Anticipation

Now that the autumnal equinox has past, I have really been looking forward to getting back to puzzling—assembling puzzles that is. Earlier this year, I wrote about how I had taken this up as a wintertime hobby and had thoroughly enjoyed it. What I didn’t write about was that no sooner had I finished my last puzzle in January that I already wanted to purchase my puzzles for next winter. I even wondered if maybe was there was such a thing as a puzzle club or a puzzle exchange where avid puzzlers shared puzzles with each other.

Within days of completing my last puzzle last winter, I was perusing my favorite online retailer, Amazon looking for puzzles I would want. I focused predominately on my favorite topics—cars and beer. But then I ran across a puzzle of  Keukenhof gardens, a beautiful park just outside of Amsterdam.

I had visited this large, beautiful garden numerous times on my teaching trips to Amsterdam whenever the scheduling of my course coincided with the brief two-month period of it being open. If you are a fan of tulips, hyacinths or flowers in general, this is an incredible place to explore with an estimated 7 million bulbs in bloom over their season.

When I saw this puzzle online, I knew it had to be one of mine to work. What better way to end the cold winter break than assembling a beautiful prelude to spring?

For my second puzzle, I explored more car and beer puzzles and selected this one of beer labels.

I thought this was would be a fun one to work on while actually enjoying a delicous beer on a cold winter night.

I finalized my purchase and waited for the package to arrive.

As Amazon does so well after making a purchase by suggesting additional items of potential interest, I was “notified” of this puzzle.

It was a Christmas version of a Midcentury Modern puzzle that I also enjoyed assembling last winter.

For this puzzle I had not only enjoyed the scenes depicted, but it was like assembling multiple puzzles within a puzzle with the many individual frames, giving me a sense of accomplishment each time I completed one section.

Colorfully bedecked with Christmas décor, I thought this would be a festive one to kick off my puzzling season in December, not long before Christmas.

Then for my birthday, my sister surprised me with a puzzle gift, one that I had actually debated getting myself when I was exploring potential puzzles in January.

She knows me well; naturally it was of cars.

I stashed my “war chest” of puzzles in our upstairs playroom closet to await cold weather. Never before have I wished for winter since I do not like cold weather but every time I went in that closet for something, there the puzzles sat as if taunting me to break down and open one up. But each time, I suppressed the urge and left them for another time.

Then as if calling for reinforcements to let them out of their caged boxes, my wife bought a used puzzle for me.

Amazingly, this was a puzzle design similar to another puzzle I almost bought. My only concern about working a used puzzle is what if one of the pieces is missing? I hate investing all the time into a puzzle if I can never see it completed. So before I work this one, I will likely take on the tedious task of counting to make sure it has all 1,000 pieces.

These five puzzles are still tucked away in that closet awaiting the day when they can come out and play. Since I will be retired at the time of the winter solstice, the official beginning of winter, I know I will have more time available to work on them. I suspect with the extra time, I may not have enough puzzles with these five to keep me puzzling throughout January, the national puzzle month. In that case due to the “puzzle addiction” I am willing to admit I am afflicted, I will just have to go in search for another “fix.”

Puzzle Addiction

Earlier this year, I posted about one of my favorite wintertime activities—putting together puzzles. In that post, I postulated that the popularity of puzzles was likely due to an addiction. Well I now have to admit that I too have succumbed to that addiction.

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In my last post, I mentioned that I had ordered another puzzle as soon as I had completed the first one. Whether I did it consciously or subconsciously I picked another puzzle that had a number of individual scenes rather than one main scene, which makes it almost like a number of smaller puzzles within a larger puzzle. With this puzzle type, you can focus on finishing one scene and gain a quick sense of accomplishment even though there are still a large number of pieces remaining to be placed.

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Obviously the first step with any puzzle is to lay out all of the pieces on your work surface, trying to isolate the side pieces in one area as you remove them from the bag. As with the Door puzzle, once I began to assemble the side pieces, I found that several were missing leaving three distinct gaps in the puzzle frame. But as before, I forged ahead knowing that they would eventually turn up.

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As I was laying out all of the pieces, I noticed that this puzzle, unlike most I had worked in the past, had a number of unusually shaped pieces. The four pieces at the top are shaped similarly to puzzle pieces I have assembled before. But the other pieces were rather oddly shaped. I could see that I would have to abandon my old approach of organizing pieces by shape for easier placement in the puzzle since some of these pieces seemed almost one-of-a-kind.

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As with the door puzzle, I started working on individual scenes that had some unique colors that would make their assembly easier. By the time I had almost completed four of these, I had finally located all of the side pieces.

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One helpful quality of this puzzle was that there was a brown border around each of the individual scenes. This made framing these simpler as I could look for the pieces that had this detail. But then I noticed the center scene (the Eames chair) had a turquoise frame around it. Therefore I decided to focus on that one next since those frame pieces would be easily distinguishable from the other ones that had a brown frame.

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With the center scene complete, I then focused on the other frames that each had a unique color combination.

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And before I knew it, I had only about four incomplete frames left…

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…and my pace quickened, aided by the diminished number of pieces remaining, until I had just one scene left to assemble.  At this point I couldn’t stop and so proceeded to work until the puzzle was complete.

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This puzzle I assembled in less than a week which is pretty amazing given that I had already returned to work (although I must admit I did multi-task on my work-from-home day adding pieces while in teleconferences).

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And at the end of the week, we had a snow day from work which gave me some additional time for puzzle assembly.

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But I also recognized that uncontrollable itch, that just like a drugged-up junkie; I was looking for my next “fix” even before finishing this puzzle and so ordered my next puzzle using my wife’s accelerated 2-day shipping.

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For this purchase, I decided to go with a more traditional single-scene puzzle. Exploring the world of puzzles online, I debated between train scenes, landscape scenes, and car scenes but anyone who knows me well enough could have predicted that the car scene would be my first pick, this particular one of the famous Woodward Avenue in Detroit, home of the annual Woodward Dream Cruise.

Obviously what caught my eye on this one were the 1960s era muscle cars. What I failed to notice was that nearly one third of the puzzle was an almost monochromatic night sky.

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This realization was validated once I had laid out all the pieces into four groupings: side pieces, colorful pieces, road pieces, and sky pieces. The sky pieces, mostly in two shades of purple are to the right. I decided that part of the puzzle would have to be last and I would likely have to use my trusty tool of organizing the individual pieces by shape just like I did for the snow scene puzzle.

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I got an early taste for what this would be like just assembling the sidepieces as the road at the bottom and the sky at the top required a one-by-one trial and error approach to completing the puzzle frame.

With the puzzle framed, I decided to focus first on the front three cars. If this approach allowed me to additionally place the road pieces around them, I would have half the puzzle complete before working on the center band of color leaving the sky to tackle last. With this plan of attack, I forged ahead.

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Turns out, starting with the blue car was harder than I thought. As I looked closer, I could see that the car was not a uniform blue color but had reds, yellows, and whites throughout it. I kept plugging at it but eventually gave up when I had only partially completed the hood and the tires.

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As can be seen, I actually had better luck with assembling the road, which I thought would be more difficult. With the headlights reflected on the road in the picture, it transformed what might have been a single colored road surface into rainbow shades of purple and tan.

Sticking with my original strategy, I decided to work on the red car next. Although it had some “surprising” purple and flesh tones colors incorporated into its picture, it actually proved much easier than the blue car to assemble.

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At this point, I decided to modify my strategy and rather than working on the yellow car, I moved all of the “suspected” blue car pieces over to the right and focused on the famous Totem Pole Drive In.

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This turned out to be a very wise detour as in no time; I had the iconic structure assembled.

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And if you look closely around the famous marquee, you will see it is outlined with what I thought were blue car pieces but were actually sky pieces, brightened by the sign’s lights from the evening purple sky to almost daylight blue. No wonder the blue car had been so hard to assemble; its pieces were hiding among blue-sky pieces that repeatedly would not fit anywhere on the car.

Before returning to the blue car, I decided to assemble the yellow car, which proved a wise decision as the two cars overlap and as I added yellow pieces, small bits of the blue car on the yellow pieces helped it get assembled as well.

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Then returning to the blue car, its assembly was much easier and any piece that didn’t go to it became part of all the other cars in the background.

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At this point, I was left with about 200 pieces of various shades of purple almost evenly divided between dark and light.

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I semi-organized them by shape and jumped in.

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I started with the lighter colored purple pieces first to build the sky from the ground up. I occasionally ran across a piece with small black dots on it (bits of tree) which made them easy to place.

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Once I had finished with the lighter colored pieces, it was a one-by-one trial and error approach to complete the darkest part of the sky. This process took a while as I might try 30 or 40 pieces in a single location before finding the right piece. Some of the pieces had unusual shapes, which made them much easier. After several days of this approach, I finally completed the puzzle.

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I was most pleased with the outcome.

As I mentioned before, once you complete a puzzle, a part of you just does not want to take it apart. After all, you probably spent hours and hours working on it only to have it torn apart in just a few minutes.

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This puzzle included an advertisement on the side of the box to preserve the completed puzzle in a frame for those individuals who just couldn’t bear to take it apart. Being a car-loving guy, I must say I was briefly tempted to frame it but in the end, I knew it wouldn’t look as nice as just a framed poster of the same scene due to all the “crinkled” lines.

So I took it apart satisfied with the three puzzles that I had completed prior to the end of January, which interestingly is National Puzzle month. But I think the time I spent this January working on these three turned me into a real “puzzler” and I look forward to next winter and the puzzles I will assemble then.

Puzzling Puzzles

Puzzles are a puzzling thing. It is curious to wonder why someone would buy a box filled with many, many small interlocking pieces that once assembled will look just like the picture on the box, only a larger version covered with little crinkly lines, almost like age wrinkles. One would think that just a print of the puzzle photo would provide a superior quality image. But it’s not the image quality as much as it is the gamesmanship that continues to sell puzzles.

Unlike Sudoku, which provides a numerical challenge or a crossword puzzle that presents a lexical trial, a picture puzzle represents a visual test. And puzzles with a huge number of pieces can also test our patience. But with cold winter weather, a puzzle can offer hours of indoor fun when it is not conducive to venture outdoors.

Over the years, my wife and I have assembled a number of puzzles, typically in the wintertime starting over the Christmas holiday when we have more free time.

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One was particularly challenging due to its lack of color. In order to finish the snow at the bottom of the puzzle and the sky at the top, I had to organize the pieces by common shape and trial-fit each one until I found a correct match.

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Another was particularly intriguing as it was a 4-D puzzle. For this one, after assembling the Manhattan puzzle base, 3-dimensional skyscrapers were added in chronological order (time making the fourth dimension) starting with the earliest tall buildings and moving forward through even the removal of the Twin Towers.

So it was over this last Christmas-New Years break that I started another puzzle, a mural of city doors, and a veritable “cakewalk” with only 750 pieces.

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This was one that I had actually gotten as a Christmas present several years ago and just never had opened.

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Obviously, the first step is to lay out all the pieces onto a table. As I did so, some of the pieces that were quite recognizable, I went ahead and assembled. Next step was to locate all of the sidepieces and begin to “frame” the image. As I was removing the pieces from the box, I had tried to put all of the sidepieces in one area of my table to make this process easier.

Once I had done that, I realized my table was too small to provide a useable workspace and so I transferred all of the sidepieces to a wooden surface. Using the box top as my guide, I pieced these together but then noticed there were pieces that I couldn’t find on the box. At this point, I realized there was a reason why the puzzle had included a “mini” poster as the entire puzzle image, being a rectangular-shaped 18” X 24” size, would not fit, even in a shrunken size, on the front of a perfectly square box.

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It was at this point that I also realized that the puzzle would not fit on the wooden surface I was using.

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I looked around the house to find a larger surface that I could use that could remain undisturbed for the weeks that it would probably take to complete the puzzle. I came across my oldest son’s homemade drafting table from college that was actually made from a cutoff door. It fit nicely on top of the grey table I had been using and what better surface to assemble a door puzzle on than an actual door?

With sufficient space now available, I could layout the four sides of the puzzle. But quickly I realized that I was missing a number of sidepieces. Thinking I had already separated all the sidepieces, I went back through all the pieces and found 8 more. But I was still short. I then recalled a quality control test of an inspector’s attention to detail where the challenge is to find 15 red balls mixed in with 985 blue balls. It usually takes at least three complete run-throughs before all of the red balls can be isolated. It is amazing what you miss even when you know something should be there. I went through all the pieces four more times finding first 3, then 2, then 2 more, then finally none. But after all of this, I was still missing one sidepiece.

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I had a dreadful moment of angst that probably everyone who has ever put a puzzle together has had—maybe a piece had been left out of the box. Out of 750 pieces of which 108 are sidepieces, what are the odds that a sidepiece would be the one missing? But rather than counting to see if I really had 750 pieces, I forged ahead.

While the winter-scene puzzle I had done before was almost monochromatically white, this puzzle had a multitude of colors. I began searching for a few common colors and discovered that many doors were no more than four pieces.

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I first pulled all of the red color pieces together and was able to assemble three different doors. I continued this approach looking for common colors to try to match together. I soon found that some of the pieces I was searching for were actually sidepieces so I decided to begin to put the doors in the puzzle where I thought they should go. I did this and soon had a number of doors in place.

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But then I still had a multitude of pieces left to fit and I was running out of unusual colored ones that were easy to spot in the sea of pieces.

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But I trudged on making good progress.

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On more than one occasion, I tried to fit a piece that based on color, obviously went to a certain door only to find that the piece did not fit. Looking more closely at the mini poster, I realized that three of the doors were actually duplicated on the puzzle. Whether to make it more challenging, or due to a shortage of door photos, I will never know? But it did make it more frustrating until I realized the replication of the three doors.

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One night as I was working on the puzzle, I experienced probably one of the reasons puzzles are so popular—they are addictive. As you successfully place a piece in the puzzle and hear that satisfying snap as the piece goes into its singular location, you want to find one more, and then one more until before you know it, hours have gone by.

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And then Eureka! I found the last sidepiece; it wasn’t left out of the box after all. I don’t know how many times I might have picked it up, moved it, or glanced at it but all of a sudden, with less than 100 pieces left to place, it was clearly visible (guess I wouldn’t make a very good quality control inspector).

This motivated me to continue and before long, I was left with about 70 pieces that didn’t have unique colors to make them easy to place. So I decided to employ that same technique that was critical to finishing the winter scene and organized the pieces by shape.

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With this aid, in short order I finished the puzzle.

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Turns out it took me less than a week to finish it. And in spite of not working on a puzzle for a couple of years, it motivated me to want to do another one. But much like books you never return to after you have read them, once you put together a puzzle, you don’t typically put it together a second time.

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So I have already ordered myself another puzzle—a 1000-piece version—I guess you could say as a Christmas present to myself. Until it arrives, I will leave my newly completed one on the table to admire my workmanship until the next puzzling challenge tests my visual acumen. And maybe if you find the three duplicated doors on this puzzle, it will motivate you to assemble your own puzzle!