When it comes to finding entertainment for kids who are stuck at home, there’s nothing like a puzzle. Puzzles have been disappointing kids for eons. Because it looks like a game – you even keep it with the games – but it isn’t a game. It’s a problem to solve. And it’s not even your problem.
First of all, I don’t understand how it’s called a “puzzle.” A puzzle, to me, is something you can stare at and think about and eventually figure out the answer, like a riddle or a Rubik’s cube, or one of those things with two metal pieces that you have to try to take apart without just breaking it. But this is basically just trial and error for the most part. You try each piece in each place in four different ways. You want to figure out the answer? Every puzzle has the same answer: The answer is you start with the edges so you know how much space you have and don’t go off the side of the table. It’s not about figuring things out; it’s all about sorting – first by shape, then by color. It’s not a game; it’s more like laundry.
“Yeah,” you’re saying, “but this isn’t just a puzzle, it’s a jigsaw puzzle.” A jigsaw puzzle? I’ve seen a jigsaw, and let me tell you, there is no way they’re cutting these with a jigsaw. If they are, they’re destroying tables.
You know how I know that it’s not about figuring out an answer? Because the answer is right on the box. And yes, they have to do that, because otherwise you’d never have any idea what puzzle you were doing, and you’d spend hours and get most of the way through and say, “Oh, I have this one already.” What other puzzle gives you the answer before you even see the puzzle? Okay, Rubik’s cubes. But a paint by number or crossword or whatever doesn’t show you a picture. You get to the end, and you say, “That’s it?” And then you move on with your life. Nobody cares that you did a puzzle.
The whole thing to me seems like a waste of time. Someone snapped a picture and then cut it up. And we’re talking viciously cut it up, into a thousand pieces that all have their own unique shapes. And now you have to put it together? Why, to upset him? To have a picture in your house that the person who photographed obviously didn’t like? He clearly put a lot of work into destroying it. Way more work than he put into taking the picture, usually. Most of these puzzles are pictures that someone clearly just snapped out the window of their house because they were running late on a deadline. “Let’s just get a house and a tree near a lake. Good enough.”
Why am I putting together a picture of this guy’s house? I guess it would be creepier if I’d buy it and it was my house.
“No, no, this one’s totally different. It’s a lighthouse. It’s a bike parked on a bridge. It’s the floor of my kids’ playroom after a week with no school.”
My wife has always enjoyed puzzles. I did not know this before I married her. I attribute her affinity for puzzles to growing up in a small town in New England where literally nothing ever happens. If you grow up there, a puzzle is where it’s at. Whereas I write stories in my head. I have a more interesting time staring into space than I do trying to sort 500 pieces of clear blue sky.
“Wait, that one has part of a cloud! That is exciting!”
Baruch Hashem it wasn’t a perfectly clear blue sky the day the guy took that photo. See, every time you look up and see a clear blue sky, someone somewhere is making an impossible puzzle. It’s ruining someone’s day.
So when I do a puzzle, I’m just trying to get it done so I can go back to staring at the actual sky. The way I see it, it would be quicker to just make a photocopy of the box cover and blow it up to the size of the puzzle, and we’re done.
See? I solved it.
Whereas my wife finds the process itself relaxing. Her idea, she recently explained to me, is that she wants to play music in the background and have snacks and conversations… About what? Conversations make this take longer. Most of the conversations had over a puzzle are about the grass or the sky.
“Why is part of the sky yellow?”
“Oh, is that what the yellow is?”
That, and complaining about the room’s lighting.
Personally, I don’t know how it’s relaxing, constantly worried that pieces are falling on the floor or that kids are running off with them, with no idea when you’re going to be done. With games, it says an approximate time on the box. What’s the time on a puzzle? It doesn’t say. Though they do print the number of pieces on the side, and that number is usually pretty accurate, in terms of minutes. A thousand-piece puzzles takes a thousand minutes. A ten-piece puzzle takes… Okay, it’s more accurate with bigger numbers.
That’s relaxing? Spending hours and never really knowing if you actually have all of the pieces until you get to the end? I mean, you can count at the beginning, but that’s no guarantee.
Okay, so in some sense, every piece that you put in the right place does have some kind of motivating satisfaction before you realize you still have 998 pieces to go. How many times is this going to be satisfying?
For years, every time my wife did a puzzle, it became a point of contention in our marriage. She didn’t want to just break them up. She worked hard, relaxing. So sometimes, as a gift, I would buy a frame and some glue, and we’d find a place to hang them.
And that whole time, I had a deal with her: I got to buy her puzzles that I could live with hanging up, that were interesting to look at, and they were also more interesting to do, if I were to do them with her. Like for example, I don’t really like photo puzzles. I like things someone drew. He’s not drawing a million separate blades of grass that we then have to put together. No one draws an entire puzzle as an afterthought minutes before their deadline.
But then at some point I realized that humongous frames were getting expensive (significantly more than the puzzles), and they don’t necessarily sell a frame that fits every random size of puzzle, and we don’t have a ton of places in our house to hang humongous pictures that have no connection to our lives and then explain them to every guest we have.
There’s always one in the guest room.
So the new deal is that we don’t hang every single one anymore. My suggestion was that we take pictures of the puzzles and eventually print them out and put them in an album. Which, thinking about it now, is silly, because we already have a small, printed-out picture of what the puzzle looks like when it’s done. It’s on the box.
But in fact, why can’t we just hang the box? Because it’s small? I like that it’s small. My entire issue is that the puzzles are too big. I’d love to buy my wife a thousand-piece puzzle that, when done, is the size of a standard photo. That would combine the fun of a puzzle with the added challenge of trying not to sneeze while doing it.
Anyway, this is how we spent a day of Chol HaMoed this year – doing a puzzle that I did not buy. The puzzle we did was of an old deck in overgrown grass with two ancient, rusty chairs. I think someone spent more buying the puzzle than the photographer spent staging it.
My wife wanted all the kids to sit down with her. And I agreed, because I don’t care what we do on Chol HaMoed, as long as we don’t spend all day discussing it. So I sat down too, to encourage them. I ended up sitting at the bottom of the puzzle and staring at the grass for two hours. If I want to stare at the grass for two hours, I’ll play outside.
Literally that was half of our Chol HaMoed. We didn’t go somewhere. We slowly, painfully reconstructed a picture of somewhere we could have gone. Where, even if we went there, it would not have been a particularly fun Chol HaMoed. Sometimes, to mix things up, we switched seats, so everyone got a different angle. It was wild. We should do that with chess.
But none of the kids really helped us for that long, despite my example. They all found something else to do. So I say that if you ever have all the kids home and want to keep them quiet, pull out a puzzle. You will not hear a peep from them until it’s done. You won’t even be able to find them.
Until it’s time to put in that last piece. Then they’ll show up with it, so they get to say they finished it.