Best Beach Puzzle

I love a good puzzle. I love the innies and outies of varying size, bulbousness and depth, and the super pointy corner spades you get sometimes. But I was not prepared for these pieces. Do you see what I see?

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One piece near the middle looks fairly normal – more or less rectangular in shape with two innies and two outies opposite each other. And then there are lots of nonstandard elements about the other pieces – curved edges (curved edges!), odd angles, random jut-outs. For example, that one with one outie, one innie, some white coloring and two straight-ish edges (bottom left area of photo) – which edge is the straightest edge and does that mean it’s an outer edge? If there are two straight-ish edges, the puzzle makers have thrown convention off the 14th-floor beach hotel balcony. Maybe one of them is an outer edge, maybe neither.

I knew we were in for it. Our Sarasota beach puzzle was a doozy.

Under the following conditions a beach puzzle will call my name. 1. A fun design that is challenging but not too challenging (the trip was five nights, not five weeks), 2. A surface to work on (let’s assume we are willing to not eat at that table), 3.  A few willing, interested and capable people (Debra, you were amazing!), and 4. The ability to break it down when it’s time to go home (the hardest part, so I say, best to let someone else do it when you are out of the room!).

Our doozy of a puzzle was a great pick by Dina: beachy theme, not too many pieces, numerous colorful and distinct objects — and “not too much sky” as my grandmother used to say – or in this case, not too much water!

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You see five starfish, two clown fish, two angel fish, two dolphins and some random other sea life – all different enough from each other to give you confidence that it can’t be that hard. (Ha!) One angelfish is more orangy than the other (I think those are angel fish), and one of the starfish is purple, one has dots, one is more brownish, one has little white mountains on it (that’s what they looked like to me) and one is, well, other.

Standard puzzling starts from the edge and works inward. I have never put one together in which we started on the inner sections and did the edging last. Until this one. You see the edge on the box cover image. Crazy!! The pieces were oddball shapes with sorta-straight or downright curvy sides – yeah, no way was the edge happening first.

Let’s do a starfish. The one with dots. And sure, a few edge pieces, but not many.

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Onward. Group like colors or patterns together, one creature at a time, one fin or flower or ill-defined squiggle at a time. Little by little connect the creatures. Now (below) you see five starfish (four connected), two angelfish and some other pretty fish in between – and only slightly more edge than before!

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But it’s okay. There are no rules to puzzle-making. You can put it together however makes sense to you. Kind of like life when you think about it. Like food. Like friendship.

I take that back. There are some rules. With a puzzle, the pieces have to fit together, duh, which is harder than it looks. With food, the ingredients have to work together and the flavors have to play off each other in such a way as the outcome is delicious and hopefully appealing. With friendship, well, we all know what happens when fun is not had and mutual benefits (disparate as they might be) are not forthcoming.

Night after night, when we all had had enough beachy sun for one day, enough fishing, enough shelling, enough exploring (note I did not say enough eating or drinking!), some of us headed to the puzzle table. It came together nicely. There is a sense of triumph only puzzlers know when a piece that has been hiding suddenly calls your name. Here I am, and I have been here all along! Kind of like discovering that someone you have been working with for years or the quiet neighbor down the street is way nicer than you ever knew, and you also happen to have a lot in common. Been here all along!

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Puzzles come together piece by piece, step by step, bit by bit, the way you weed a garden or iron a shirt or make a cake or write a poem. You start with the decision to do it, knowing full well that it will take time and patience. You pay attention to detail if you want to end up with the puzzle whole, the garden gorgeous, the shirt pressed, the cake delicious, the poem meaningful. You try and try again, sometimes the same wrong piece in the same spot where it didn’t fit before over and over. Oh, right, that one doesn’t work there! You smile a little, inside or outwardly, when someone notices your diligence and progress. Hey, looks like a starfish to me!

You keep going until you finish or you decide it’s enough or you run out of time. We all know it’s not the end of the world if you don’t finish, but there’s something enormously satisfying about finished, completed, done – even if weeds will grow again, the shirt will get wrinkly, the cake will be eaten (oh, yum!) and the poem will be unread by many who would enjoy it so very much. Even if, difficult as it is, you break apart those puzzle pieces you spent so much time putting together.

We finished!

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Debra, have fun doing it again, this time with your grandson!

2 thoughts on “Best Beach Puzzle

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