When I’m down and out, all I want to do is shut out the entire world. You know, metaphorically roll the rock in front of my man-cave. That doesn’t mean I sit in the dark, muttering to myself, peeling off my skin, or pulling out my hair (wait, scratch that – I do pull out my hair), because that would imply I actually like being depressed. Well, I don’t. That’s why the jigsaw puzzle is the most powerful weapon in my anti-depression arsenal. I put on my earphones, crank up the tunes, and throw myself completely into a new puzzle. There’s something very therapeutic about starting a project and finishing it. I don’t get that kind of gratification from knitting (most projects take me forever) or writing (it involves too much thinking). With puzzles, I get to disappear into mindless occupation – the hours pass quickly, I forget the garbage that’s pissing me off, and when I’m done I have a new, pretty something to look at. Or if it’s not pretty, I can destroy it, which is fun, too.
Little known fact about me, I’m kind of a puzzle shark. Since that isn’t something you brag about at parties, I’m not sure if I’m any faster than anyone else, but I feel like I’m fast. That’s because I have a strategy. Ah yes... a strategy.
No big secret: the trick to getting a puzzle done quickly is all in the sorting. I’ve found that if I spend a good chunk of time getting to know the puzzle before I start putting it together, the whole thing comes together like lightning.
The first thing I do is sort out the border, which… duh, right? But as I’m doing that, I’m also looking at each and every piece of the puzzle body, mentally sorting them all into different categories. Once the border is put together, which we can all agree is the easy part, I then roll out the rest of the pieces – turning them all right side up and spacing them across my puzzle surface. Once that’s done, I can look at the big picture. I can estimate how many pieces are caught up in all the various components of the puzzle, and from there, plan my attack.
For example, if I’m doing a seascape or something, odds are a lot of the pieces will be blue or watery, so there’s no point in sorting that crap. Rather, I’ll look around the entire surface and see if I can’t organize them into different groups of fishies or plants. If there’s a small item like an anchor that only involves 10 pieces, why not go ahead and throw it together? By tackling the smaller, obvious things first, and getting them situated within the border, you’d be surprised how quickly the pieces start to fly together.
Of course, if you’re a masochist and have picked up one of those puzzles that doesn’t have borders and/or features hundreds of similarly colored animals or flowers or babies or trees or whatever, then you really do have to sort – and quite methodically. Otherwise you’re just trying each piece randomly against the next, which isn’t really doing a puzzle so much as slowly losing your mind.
The hardest traditional puzzle I ever tackled was a mountain scape of the Rockies. It was all white-capped majesty and rock and snow and sky. There was nothing to attack right off the bat, so I spent the entire first evening sorting out the sky from the mountain bases from the snow-covered trees, and that took care of a little less than half of the pieces, but then I was stuck with the other half which were distinguishable ONLY by slightly different gradients of white and gray. That puzzle nearly killed me, it’s true, but I still knocked it out in about three days. Why? Sorting.
Anyway, for this bout of melancholy, I found a most intriguing challenge: a photomosiac puzzle. I’d seen these around, but had never attempted one, mostly because I thought it would be incredibly frustrating to deal with a big picture and thousands of smaller pictures to boot. But I got suckered in by the finished product, quite understandably, because it was Snoopy.
So here’s the play-by-play…
One more puzzle after the jump...
A little bit later, I totally killed this puzzle. There's no play-by-play because I knocked it out in one night. I sh*t you not. 1,000 pieces in one night. I was very proud of myself, but my eyes wouldn't focus for about two days after.
This one was easy, admittedly. There were very obvious ways to attack it. First I sorted out all the pieces that made up the element banners on the sides. Then I took care of the words along the top. Since the four paintings on the corners were kind of hard to distinguish from one another, I tackled the map next, starting with the different colored continents. The ocean took the longest, because a lot of the pieces were exactly the same. But once I'd put together the Tropic of Cancer and Capricorn, it was breezy from there.
God, I need to get out more.