An Irrelevant Discourse on an Irrelevant Puzzle Hobby


Among the many hobbies of mine, doing jigsaw puzzles is one of my most irrelevant.

My colleagues have developed an odd misconception about me and puzzles.  It all began several years ago when I announced, as I was leaving on the last day of work before my winter vacation began, that I was going home to start the most challenging puzzle I had ever tried. I obviously did not spend the entire Christmas and New Year’s season in solitude tackling a 3,000 piece puzzle, but I had the misfortune of breaking my foot on the second to last day of my extended vacation. It appears my colleagues irrationally connected what I last said before I left for vacation and what they first saw when I returned to the office, and since then, I have come to be known at the workplace as the guy who literally breaks a leg doing puzzles.

Of course, completing a puzzle doesn’t require much physical aptitude, but there are certain personalities that are incompatible with this hobby.

Take an acquaintance of mine who is so blunt that the thought of filtering her thoughts before blurting them out has never occurred to her. Not surprisingly, patience is not one of her many virtues. One day I was showing off one of my earlier works, a 2016-piece scenery of a bridge.  As I tried to explain to her how I went about tackling the puzzle, she gave a confused look.  Then I realized that she had no idea how puzzles worked. She thought that each piece is identified on the back by some numbering system that guided me in putting the pieces together. When I told her this is not like Lego and the only guidance was the picture on the box, she became stressed just thinking about the process. Jigsaw puzzles, no matter how few in number of pieces, are not meant for people like her.

I suspect it’s not for creative minds, either.  Puzzles may not come with a step-by-step instructions on assembly, but there’s also not much art involved in the process.  After all, there’s only one way to fit each piece.

Nor are puzzles for people who are looking to exercise brain power.  Puzzles are no Rubik’s cube.  Anyone can complete a puzzle, no matter the size or picture, if only one is willing to put in the time and effort.

In fact, the only thing really required in doing a puzzle is perseverance.

But, as it turns out, puzzles take a very particular type of perseverance.

There are many talented people in the world who have the ability to create a grand scheme and execute it in the face of great obstacles.  Such commendable perseverance is not required for this hobby.  Rather, what is called for is the ability to plow through the mundane process of confirming one by one whether a piece fits with another, occasionally through times when nothing fits for hours.  And all this is done for the predetermined picture that’s right there on the box.

Most of the people are overwhelmed with the thought of so much time and effort spent on getting so little in return.

I, though, take tremendous amount of pleasure in it, having (twice) spent ten months completing a 3,000 piece puzzle that is 20 inch by 30 inch in size, composed of pieces that the manufacturer claims is the smallest in the world, like this one:

写真

I’d like to be able to say that my passion for puzzles is a manifestation of virtues like patience and perseverance, but I shouldn’t lie.  The closer truth is that I get great satisfaction for being able to proclaim that I, and only I, completed the framed masterpiece that hangs in everyone’s plain view.  That’s the reason I don’t let anyone “help” when I work on puzzles, lest I won’t be able to take all the credit for myself.

The most truthful answer, though, is, as always, much more egotistical:  while most people don’t do puzzles, many people find my puzzle experience interesting enough to turn a ear when I talk about it.  And so it is that I take every opportunity to share the fascinating fact that, contrary to popular belief, the most challenging parts of any puzzle are usually not pictures of the sky and the clouds  (because there are shades of blue that makes it relatively easy to generally place where a piece should go in the sky), but are pictures of a flower garden or a forest (because it’s difficult to identify the general location for such pieces based on color).

I remind you, as I often do, that I am available to give a lecture on this topic.

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