Puzzling to Me

I settle into my chair at the dining room table and reach for the box.  I take a moment to admire its cover, a magnificent panorama painted by noted Civil War artist Mort Kunstler.  The cover and all four sides of the box draws attention to even the most casual observer, that this epic work of art is in 1,000 pieces.  Removing the box cover, I extract the plastic bag holding the minced pieces of Mr. Kunstler’s work. The bag shifts from my right hand to my left, then I gently squeeze it, kind of like Mr. Whipple from those old Charmin toilet paper TV commercials.  Feeling I am up to the challenge, I tear the bag open and dump the pieces onto the table. Exhibiting the eye/hand coordination of a hockey player, I fly as I begin fixing matching pieces together.  Two hours later, I lean back in my chair and admire my handy work.  I am overwhelmed with a great sense of achievement.  However, this euphoric feeling has a half life significantly shorter than the element Francium.  Alas, all I have accomplished is the assembly of the outer framework of the puzzle.  All of those pieces with one flat end.  The puzzler is now puzzled.  Where does this plumed-hat piece go now?  Is this globular shape shape a cloud? Or smoke?  Wait, if I use just enough pressure, I may be able to squeeze this anvil-looking piece into the middle of what appears to be a horse, or maybe a wagon – I don’t know, they’re the same color. Dang, now the horse looks like a boat, that piece doesn’t go where I thought it might.  Elbows on the table,  head resting in my folded hands, my eyes scan the remaining amorphous pieces of cardboard, and there are a lot of them.  To a passerby, I probably resemble statue, because it is now almost an hour since I last moved a muscle, or even blinked.  My son holds a mirror under my nose and announces – “He’s still alive.”

The cavalry has arrived.  In a matter of moments, my wife, my son and his wife have joined me.  Things begin to happen very quickly now.  Smaller, then gradually larger sections of assembled puzzle pieces, are making the dining table to disappear.  The four of us are now pondering and debating placement of the puzzle pieces.  Snacks and drinks appear, despite maintaining focus on the task at hand, we talk about things other than the puzzle.  Discussion sounds like this:

“So what are you binging on Netflix? Oh hey, here’s part of the barn!”

“Ozark, gotta love that Ruth character.  Haystacks!  I found the rest of the haystacks!”

This was great and this is the beauty of puzzles.  They bring people together, working towards achieving a common goal.  Family and friends, of all ages, are engaged with each other, trying to solve a puzzle.  Nobody is texting, or checking social media posts.  They are having a good time, enjoying each other’s company.  

In the early days of the coronavirus, when we were encouraged to avoid intermingling with large crowds, my mother began assembling puzzles.  It helped relieved some of the anxiety of dealing with a previously unknown disease and to avoid feeling isolated.  As things became more relaxed with the advance of vaccines, my mother continues to work on puzzles and as of today she has completed 102 of them since March of 2020.  Social media has played a small role over this time, but only when my sister texts me photos of my mother and siblings, occasionally nieces and nephews, huddled next to her trying to find pieces to fit.  I especially love to see my mother’s beaming smile with a freshly completed puzzle resting in front of her.

I feel word puzzles are part of this mix of bringing people together to achieve an enjoyable goal. We first played Wordle last week, December 26th, while visiting our older son and his family for Christmas.  I know the point of the game is to test your personal skills, but it was fun working together to solve the word.  You can’t totally escape the role of texting in our lives because now there is a daily exchange of messages between Chicago and the Cape with screenshots of solved Wordles.  Puzzles, bringing us together.

Ernie Stricsek

Barnstable Library Writing Group

January 3, 2022

My sister Barb, my Mom, my sister Nancy after completing puzzle #55 in the series.

2 thoughts on “Puzzling to Me

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