And That Leaves Blue

I hadn’t worked a jigsaw puzzle for years but when  my grandchildren gave me a gift of 750 little  pieces of cardboard in a cardboard box with a stunning ocean scene on its cover, I knew they’d never let me rest until I put the thing together.

So we worked as a team at first, hovering around the card table, the kids and me. . young sharp eyes finding matches, little hands thrusting and crossing each others as they placed their round-edged  pieces into the border.    It came together quickly, and when our holiday weekend was over the picture was framed.  It would be round, as if it represented my world. And for a while it did.  The children left, but I had made them a promise and doing that puzzle was do or die.

The “big picture”, with its 750 components, was overwhelming but the smaller pictures within it made the puzzle do-able.  I sorted pieces by color, setting aside all with orange tints for the giant lobster, gray ones for the whales, turquoise, black, red and white for the fish, browns for the mountain in the background, pinks and greens for ocean vegetation.  That left blue, and blue was everywhere.

I started slowly, minutes at a time.  Then, tempted by every fish that needed just a fin or a bubble over his head, I began bringing my morning coffee to the puzzle table . . and my afternoon tea.

I challenged myself to find at least five pieces before the buzzer went off from my clothes dryer or my oven.  I stayed up a little later to finish a row of coral or a group of dolphins.   By now, you might say, the fish had me hooked.

As with most things, the really fun part, the easy part, was early in the game, singling out and piecing together objects with bright colors, sharp lines.  But then I graduated to seeking things less identifiable, like the stuff that grows on the ocean floor, the rows of tiny fish streaking about, the sunlight on a mountain slope, the foam on the crest of a wave.

Now I was sorting not just by color, but by shades.  Not just by shape but by idiosyncracies of shape that in my frustration I started to name so I could find them and fit them into  place where they belonged.

Many of the pieces looked like a body, with a head and limbs,.   But some had one arm or one leg, and I’d recognize a piece by the name of  Lefty or Peg Leg..  It was easy to recognize the shapes of clubs and spades.  But the best clue was given by the “innies” and “outies.”  After all, they had to fit together.

This helped, but seldom did I have a complete hole waiting to be filled.   I‘d be fitting one or two edges of a piece into the picture, or sometimes three (rarely four) so I needed a candidate that met at least one of the requirements.

At some point, the puzzle became less fun, more hard work.  Some days I’d move pieces about aimlessly.  Or I’d sit and stare at those little pictures, seeing no way to tie them into the big picture.  Too many pieces and they all began to look alike.

It seemed I could not move into action until I chose one specific area, defined what it needed, and set my mind to look for nothing except what would fit there in that one small spot. . even if it took me all afternoon.

Then it was BINGO, whenever a  piece fit.  I knew it fit because it almost snapped into place.  If I had to manipulate it to fit, it didn’t.

This was when I began to appreciate that the  longer I worked intently on the hard spots , the bigger the bingo moment, the greater the incentive to go on with the puzzle.

The third phase came when I had completed everything but the background.  The background was water and sky, lots of it.  And that left blue.

Do you know how many shades of blue there are? ( I looked it up online  and I got the answer “infinite.” )  Again I was forced to narrow my vision, set specific goals, and be led forward by the energy I gained from each small success.

Then one day the puzzle was finished.  Sort of.  There were no pieces left in the box, none  on the table, none on the floor.  But there were two glaring holes in the puzzle.

I searched the area, searched the house . . on hands and knees . . with a flashlight.  I didn’t find the pieces.

I smarted for a while, but finally said oh well, I did the best I could with what I had to work with. I’ll put the puzzle away and keep it just in case.  Wouldn’t it be just like me to find the pieces months later . . to find I had what it took, all the time, but had just dropped it, swept it under the rug?

Working a jigsaw puzzle is so much like doing any project.  So much, in fact, like living a life.   You learn as you go.  You tackle the fun parts first and leave the drudgery to the end.  Things that once looked impossible become possible.   You go to bed early if you can’t make a play, but you may stay up into the night after finding one wonderful key piece.  Success is addictive.

P. S.  Later I did find the missing pieces.  Guess where.  Under the rug!


There’s always someone who got a bigger puzzle than you did.  (But that takes a lot more work.)

There are always those who have prettier puzzles than you do (But look at them fifty years later!)

There are always people who have a very nice puzzle. .  but never open the box.

– Doris Markland

3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Donna Thomas
    Feb 17, 2014 @ 20:31:48

    An intriguing read; and interesting insights. What a wise soul writing these observations…


  2. Barbara Kladstrup Hostetler
    Feb 18, 2014 @ 12:10:06

    When I read what you’ve written, Doris, I either have a tear in my eye, or a lump in my throat or a giggle I’m suppressing.


  3. Kathy
    Feb 18, 2014 @ 22:21:11

    I agree with the two comments above by Donna and Barbara! Both have taken the words right out of my mouth! Ahhhh, puzzles! Such an analogy of life!


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