Puzzle Projects Present Perplexing Pastime

Seniors are encouraged to continuously exercise their minds and bodies. We’re supposed to cut back on TV, read a lot and at least go for regular walks. That’s the bare minimum.

And I thought doing nothing was always an option.

But since retiring I’ve noticed a push to get seniors to try games and puzzles to keep their minds sharp. Busy work, I thought. You start doing that at 65 and the next time you check, you’ll be 85. I exercise my mind and body enough in my own way. So there.

Well, having said all that, and with this winter getting old, I decided to try some new mental stimulation – jig-saw puzzles. I was certain we had a shelf full of them someplace. But I was reminded that we got rid of them in our last move. I think we donated them to a jigsaw puzzle enthusiasts group called The Missing Pieces.

Catherine soon presented me with a brand new 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle of about 50 old postcards from tourist stops all over the US. The last time I worked on a jigsaw puzzle was with our kids when they still paid attention to us. So it’s been a long time.

This puzzle has a rainbow of colors which are, of course, repeated in multiple places. Many of the pieces are nearly the same shape and colors. It has a border making it easier to stay within the lines. Many of the postcards include a lake or ocean. Many have woods. Many have blue sky. Some are paintings, some are photos. It didn’t help that many include the phrase “Greetings from” followed by the name of the location.

There’s actually a jigsaw puzzle glossary. Pieces have “blanks” and “tabs.” A blank is where a tab from another piece goes. The bulbous tabs are “interlocking” so they’ll stay in place. “Frenemies” are pieces that technically fit together but aren’t the right match. The “Final Countdown” is that bittersweet feeling of getting down to your last 10 pieces.

You need a large table that can accommodate both the puzzle and all the pieces for it. And it should be a table you can dedicate to the puzzle until it’s done. Don’t start a detailed puzzle on the dinner table or you’ll have to take it apart at supper time. Also, try to keep your cat from pushing pieces onto the floor where your dog will eat them.

With my confidence up after finishing the first puzzle, I bought a new 1,000-piece jig-saw puzzle called Hawaiian Food Truck Festival. It’s a detailed painting of seven food trucks at a beach, viewed from about 50 feet in the air just off shore. It said “14 and up” on the box, so I’m allowed to try it.

It uses vibrant colors. Purple seems to be a popular color theme in jigsaw puzzles, including every nuanced shade. The pieces for this one are much smaller. I wore my prescription computer glasses for closer inspection. I definitely need better lighting.

This puzzle has no border unless you count the sky at the top and the ocean at the bottom. I found the last edge piece when I was nearly done. The odd thing about this puzzle is that it includes a lot of people in it, almost all of which were smiling at me with huge toothy grins, similar to the creepy Burger King mascot.

This thing even included puns you’re supposed to find such as the food truck names like “Up In Smoke BBQ,” “Some Juan’s Tacos,” and “Holy Crèpe.” There are 21 tacos in the picture that you’re supposed to find. And in a nod to “Where’s Waldo?,” there’s a hidden Sasquatch. But wait, there’s more! You’re also invited to log into their website for even more activities (probably to buy).

I need a chair mat because rolling the office chair back and forth from pieces to puzzle is wearing out the carpet. Pieces sometimes fall on the floor. I found one that the chair rolled over many times. It will never be the same.

There’s a science behind designing challenging puzzles, from nuanced colors to nearly identical pieces and repeated scenes. There are even timed contests with no picture for reference. Each team is just handed a bag of pieces. That’s a step too far for me. I need the picture even though Catherine says that’s cheating.

When starting a new tabletop puzzle, the recommendation is to turn all the pieces face up, build the frame with edge pieces, then organize pieces by color, pattern and section. Sounds simple enough. It takes an average of nine hours to finish a 1,000-piece puzzle. It takes me that long just to sort the pieces and build the frame. Jigsaw puzzles are even available on computers but I’m not desperate enough to work on a puzzle on the tiny screens of my phone or tablet.

A relative of mine worked on a puzzle for weeks only to discover that one piece was missing. He threw the whole thing in the fire. Assisted living centers don’t want 1,000-piece puzzles. The limit seems to be about 300. I can see why.

I took photos of each finished puzzle as proof of completion. Now Catherine suggests I try a puzzle that’s all one color.

Nope. It would probably be one shade of purple.