Monday, December 12, 2005


Each year Hub and I get together with our neighbors for a fun evening. And each year after a festive meal, we bust out Hub’s 40% fortified Rhubarb Wine and settle down with a jigsaw puzzle at the dining-room table—Mr. Nearby, his wife, the kids, and our family. And every year, Mr. Nearby also brings his hammer "for slamming in the pieces that are a bit tight" according to him.

Now we have the best kind of neighbors. I can not over-emphasize how kind, sensitive, funny, and caring they are. But jigsaw-puzzling can radically alter these good qualities.

Take fair warning, if you are going to assemble a jigsaw puzzle with some friends you need to know there are things you will have to ignore, things you will have to put up with, and things you will have to fight for. And although it is always hoped that all will abide by the rules, most seldom do.

Rule number one is when the box is first opened, any pieces that are still intact must be separated, but someone will grab them and separate them by a microcosm and set them right in front of them so they can slam them together as soon as assembling begins. Just to give the rest of us a hopeless sense of inadequacy. And at the same time to give themselves the appearance of utmost efficiency and puzzle-making magic.

And once the puzzling is underway, there are those who will hog all the pieces, or those who will take a piece, that you selected with diligence, to their side of the table for examination and then leave it there rather than giving it back.

And then there are the sloppy souls that leave pieces strewn about on top of the puzzle where they blend in and cannot be seen. And there is also the chaffing business of others who allow their long sleeves to continually skid and disperse pieces that you have painstakingly sorted. And will they properly roll them up? Not. They just scrunch them up about the wrist and two seconds later their blasted sleeves are back dragging and destroying another’s hard work.

And then there is the disruption over the piece that two discover in the same moment. It is blue. One is certain it fits in the sky, the other certain it fits in the water, and so a feud of sorts develops. And in the end it fits in neither place. It fits between the branches of a tree that were cut off in the picture on the box lid.

And there are more wrangles because two people on opposite ends of the table have taken ownership of the red barn roof. Each unwilling to give up their collection of red pieces to the other. And then the annoyance of those who would start in the middle when everyone knows full well that the proper way to do a puzzle is by completing the edge first.

And then there are the rituals. One of our long-standing rituals is this. If you get a piece nicely placed, you tap on it loudly with your fingers to announce to all that you are making good progress. Which is all well and good but then when someone is really on a roll, really moving along, we get the deceitful one that taps loudly when no one is looking. And truth is the wretch is so busy sipping their 40% Fortified Rhubarb Wine and eating chocolates that they haven’t found a piece that fits for more than forty minutes.

But most annoying of all is the Smart Ass (SA)that pockets the last piece because that is the most self-fulfilling move – a move of grand importance – the thing we all aspire to and for.

Usually the identity of the SA is revealed by the invigoration of each participant once the pile of pieces has diminished to a mere fifteen or so. At this point, the Smart Ass will tilt back his or her chair and sip his Fortified Rhubarb Wine while the rest of us plunge our arms and heads and shoulders into the fray sometimes until our skin is even scraped and bloody to get the thing finished. This is a time when puzzle pieces are rudely ripped from your grasp. Some palm as many as five pieces in tightly clenched fists. And then, as we all gasp with dismay and disappointment because there is a piece missing, that is when....

With much arrogance and a broad flourish, Smart Ass puts in the missing piece!

Come to think of it, maybe my neighors are kind, caring, sensitive, funny 364 days out of the year, but come jigsaw puzzle night, all that flies out the window.


P.S. You know how every board game has that little slip of paper with the rules stashed inside. I think I might make a condensed list of jigsaw-puzzling rules for puzzle manufacturers to slip in the puzzle boxes. Just to clean up the confusion and to settle the many disputes.

By the way, did I miss any rules or rituals?


Anonymous Jordana said...

My mom always palms the last piece. It drives me nuts.

9:57 AM  
Blogger Roberta said...

You have my sympathy, jordana. Granddaughter is usually the guilty party here -- she thinks it's hilarious (makes we wonder where she learned it from) ;)

11:37 AM  

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