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This post is part of my 2022 Word Project. You can read what that’s about here.

Saturday, November 25, 2023

You aren’t going to believe it. Hold onto your hat.

I finished my puzzle!

This was such a momentous occasion that I had to stop all the presses, interrupt all the blog thoughts, and merely bask in the accomplishment. I mean… I actually did it. All 499 pieces, all by myself.

I gave myself a little drumroll and made Ralph stop what he was doing to watch as I placed the last piece. It was one of the most satisfying things I’ve done in a long time.

My goal was to finish it before it turned a year old, which would be right around now. And I’ll tell you, it seemed like a daunting task. Right up until the very end I was convinced that there was not one piece missing, but two. Or maybe four. Possibly twelve.

At some point tonight, with the gap getting smaller and smaller, I actually went into the bedroom and crawled under the bed where we sometimes keep the puzzle board to feel around on the floor and make doubly triply quadruply sure there were no stray pieces.

There weren’t.

Then a little later I turned on my flashlight and peered into the drawer slots of the puzzle board, just in case any had slipped in there.

They didn’t.

At some point Ralph sat on my puzzle tray and a bunch of pieces fell in between the couch cushions. So we disassembled the couch and put the pieces back. And then I disassembled the couch again, convinced that we missed some. And then I disassembled the couch a third time, absolutely positive that one had stuck to the bottom of a cushion.

They hadn’t.

The really amazing part is that there were no missing pieces at all – except the one that was supposed to be missing, of course. Because I swear I tried every single piece in the same place. More than once.

I suspect that they went into the Parallel Dimension where socks and sweaters go when you’re not looking, and then returned later to find their place.

When Ralph gave me the puzzle, I dived right in. I spent hours putting together the border, and then when I was convinced a border piece was missing, I spent more hours trying to figure out if I had misaligned something.

After a few days of this, Ralph said You should track how long it takes you do to the puzzle.

But I had already spent hours and days, so I shrugged and kept going.

Eventually, after a number of days and weeks had passed, I decided that it would be kind of interesting to know how long it took. So I started timing myself.

I’d put on the timer and spend twenty minutes and get zero pieces.

I’d put on the timer and spend an hour and get zero pieces.

Once in a while a miracle struck and I’d get TWO pieces.

Then we had friends for dinner and the puzzle went under the bed and I forgot it there. It collected dust for a while and the pieces phased in and out of existence until I rekindled my motivation and tried again.

The problem with putting the puzzle under the bed is that there really isn’t much room to get it in and out of there. So it requires a lot of pushing and shoving and maneuvering around edges and walls. So it makes sense that a piece or two or twelve could have slid off and become wedged between the carpet and the baseboard, or maybe snuck between the atoms in the wall and landed in the neighbor’s bedroom.

The other problem with putting the puzzle under the bed is that whenever it had to come out of the bedroom we had to lift it up and over the junk in the hallway which required a lot of maneuvering around edges and walls.

Once, or maybe twice, the board would tilt too far to one side or bump into a wall and pieces would fly off. In a “one day this will be funny” kind of way, Ralph once knocked half the puzzle on the floor and then spent the next couple of hours sitting on a stool putting it back together to get back to zero.

We never spoke of it again.

Almost a year passed, while I puzzled on and off. Sometimes I would put on a timer. Sometimes I wouldn’t. When I went through my “timing everything” phase I diligently tracked every second I spent hunting down another white piece. When I went through my “I hate technology” phase I stopped timing anything at all.

Total number of hours timed: thirteen.

Total number of hours untimed: one can only surmise. For the past few days I have interrupted puzzling only to eat another gingerbread cookie, make a cup of tea, or pour some bourbon.

I have picked up and turned around so many pieces that I’ve worn my fingertips right off. Pretty sure I’m still wearing the same clothes I went to bed in on Thursday night.

My puzzle solving strategy has varied. Sometimes I picked a spot and then tried every single piece in it until I found the one that fit. Sometimes I did that three or four times for the very same spot. How is it possible to try every piece in a spot and still not find it? Great mysteries of the universe.

When that strategy became tedious, I tried the same piece in every spot on the board.

If I got really lucky I could look for a piece of a specific shape, like one with a little curlicue end.

I also learned some valuable math. The number of pieces you will have to pick up before finding the correct piece is n-1, where n is the total number of pieces left.

Or in some cases, n+(n-1).

And my mother didn’t think she’d ever teach me to subtract pennies!

In the end I did it. Completed the puzzle, did it before a year passed, and somehow, astonishingly, did not lose any pieces.

I still think there were some trans-dimensional shenanigans, I just can’t prove it.

Now I’m debating what to do with it. Should I put it back in the box and save it for another try? Should I frame it and call it art? I haven’t decided, but I am going to leave it on the puzzle board for a bit and admire it to remind me that if I really want to, I can actually accomplish something. Just don’t tell that to the barrel project.

Photo, top: Accomplished! Photo, bottom: That piece? NOT the missing piece!