Puzzling Puzzles

On Christmas Eve I spent hours bending over the coffee table trying to see the difference between pieces as alike as these. I know, I know – you can see plainly that the one on the left has a little bit of dark on its top outie.


If you’ve ever done a jigsaw puzzle, you know that the difference is not so easy to see when the table looks like this.

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The pieces below give you a little more to go on because clearly the very pale green (which makes you want to have a stern conversation with the artist who painted this picture or the marketing person who decided that it would make a good puzzle) – if you can see the very pale green under artificial light when people are walking around making intermittent shadows – is going in two different directions. Do they fit together?

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It could be hours before you discover that they do. In the meantime there are several hundred other puzzle pieces competing for your attention – Pick me! Pick me! – and you can look through all the as-yet-unplaced pieces a thousand times and not see the obvious. Of course they go together.


Sometimes I think I have a disorder, you know, the kind that has to do with not being able to sit still. I keep pretty active in general and have been known to forget what I’m doing because I get distracted doing something else. Is this a human characteristic or a disorder? I don’t know, but I have also been told that I should relax more.

For the record, doing a puzzle like this is totally relaxing for me and I did not jump up and down away from it every time I thought of something else I should /might be doing. In fact it was so relaxing I forgot about the scalloped potatoes I should have made, which in the end Samuel made and which were fabulous. And now he knows that this is a recipe.

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He made this dish on Christmas morning (with some supplemental verbal instruction), and naturally we were doing a bunch of other things, and I forgot how we did the onions last time – on top or mixed in – so we thought it best to put them on top, which trust me was a very good decision. This is how it looked on the table — that white dish between the wine bottles with the golden brown, soft, sweet onions on top. You will have to imagine how good it tasted.

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My point is that I was so absorbed in the puzzle on Christmas Eve that we were scrambling to do the scalloped potatoes (which were none the worse for the scramble) on Christmas Day. Does this sound like a person with a disorder? Okay, maybe a disorder of forgetfulness rather than a disorder of distractibility. Never mind about the disorder discussion!

Puzzles are challenging! Why do we do them? For me and my family they are a holiday activity, and I do not remember ever keeping a puzzle in its finished form beyond a few weeks. Sooner or later we break it all up and put the pieces back in a box. All that work! All those hours! Why do we take time to do something that in the end goes away? It reminds me of what my mother used to say about Thanksgiving – you do all that food prep, days of food prep, and in ten minutes they’ve eaten it all up! My Airbnb cottage guest, Rob, was saying last night that the different sweeteners you use in mixed drinks react differently (and make a different drink) depending on the temperature of the liquid. There is a whole chemistry behind mixed drinks that he is clearly an expert on, but why does he take the time to study this?

Why does Trish make amazing little appetizers like this to bring to a holiday gathering? Why does anyone take time to make food look like adorable little mice? We don’t eat mice! But when they look like this and we know they are sweet, we eat them!

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We do these things because they bring a certain kind of satisfaction. We use our brains and our hands and put them to work alongside creativity, competence, curiosity and confidence. We love knowing we can do a thing that not everyone can do — even if we couldn’t do it ten years ago and had to learn. Rob had a succulent turkey going inside a foil pan inside my gas grill. He showed me. I smelled it and knew that he and Kelsey would be having a fabulous Christmas dinner. He said he loves to cook but can’t bake anything. Kelsey, on the other hand, can bake! Why? Who knows?

Does it matter? We share our strengths and in the end there is both entree and dessert. There is both passion and reason, strength and flexibility, activity and rest. We need all the components that make us human, but we don’t each need everything all the time. The unboring joy of life includes a little of A, a little of B, some of R sometimes, some of Q another time, learning M this year and N the next, one person doing X, another person doing Y (and it all gets done somehow!). It’s like one big puzzle in which no two pieces are exactly alike yet they all fit together to make a satisfying, wonderful whole.


2 thoughts on “Puzzling Puzzles

  1. No, I don’t think you have a disorder, Patricia, and I so enjoyed the descriptions of the mice, puzzle, and observations of spending hours doing things that go away or have to be put away…
    And how wonderful that you had B&B guests in your charming cabin over Christmas!


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