COMMENTARY

Ruth Bass: Jigsaw puzzling absorbs many hours for stay-at-homes

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RICHMOND

One of the bones of contention in my family concerns jigsaw puzzles. Several close relatives insist that a puzzler must start with the outside edge. Their vehemence implies that some unknown amendment to the Constitution requires this, but they’ve provided no proof. I claim freedom of puzzling and never — well, almost never — start with the edge.

When they argue that my method not only doesn’t make sense but also makes it harder, I counter that getting the puzzle done quickly isn’t a goal for me. What if it ties up the dining room table for three weeks? No one’s coming for dinner, and if they did, we’d eat in the kitchen. As a stay-home activity, it’s right up there with reading and virtual happy hours.

These days, gifts from friends and family include puzzles that are harder and harder and harder. While I managed that one with dozens of yellow and green No. 2 pencils lined up side by side, I wasn’t ready for 1,000 pieces with two bright yellow goldfinches in a sea of bright yellow sunflowers, surrounded by 15 shades of green?

And then came the brown, white and black owl in a brown, black and white setting with no defined edge. When that was finished — well, not done, but I was finished — a patch of white lacked five pieces, and five dark pieces were still on the table. No one solved that problem. It warranted a query to the maker, but then, few want to admit they can’t finish a mere jigsaw puzzle.

The edgiest of my critics admitted that one of her gifts might have been a little mean. Filled with gorgeous birds, tumbling flowers and pretty butterflies, it was shaped like a birdbath. Not a squared-off edge in the lot. It took weeks and had a 3-D look when done.

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A friend who often talks about doing puzzles and rarely does them admitted last week that she had bought and finished a puzzle during this trying time of staying home to avoid vicious microbes. She’s with puzzles like my son-in-law is with golf. Plays little and plays so well. It’s a little annoying that she can walk up to the table, see one of those holes and immediately reach for the piece I’d tried for days to find. It’s also incredible how many pars son-in-law gets.

Some say Sudoku and crossword puzzles and jigsaw puzzles are good for the brain, but others posit that physical exercise works better. Nevertheless, the great thing about 1,000 colorful cutouts on a table is that they relieve the stresses of the day, except for uptight folks who merely substitute a new stress for the old one. Those little chips require concentration and distract from thoughts of wipes, rubber gloves and six feet of separation. They also have a magnetic quality — it’s hard to walk by.

Not starting with the edge is interesting. I have discovered I tend to look for red pieces first, even though red isn’t my favorite color. Perhaps it’s because they stand out in the melee. When colorful pieces are gathered, a clump develops, and the edgers love it when you slide a 12-piece glob into place. So while others arrange their pieces like soldiers on review, my corner has a bunch of little families, brown or red or blue or yellow, growing until they’re wanted.

Just finished is a round puzzle of 40 women suffragettes, plus Frederick Douglas. Familiar faces include Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, the Grimke sisters and Lucy Stone, enveloped by a slew of suffragettes I never heard of, like Margaret Foley, Jovita Idar and Gertrude Foster Brown. Fortunately, a sheet of bios provided the history lesson.

It would be hard to be six feet apart while doing a puzzle, but they are good company for loners. Public libraries, if they’re open, have selections on loan and excellent local sources are Rare Books and Baldwin’s Vanilla, both in West Stockbridge. Or you can order online, and the box will come — neither snow nor rain nor heat nor viruses stays our UPS and postal drivers from their rounds.

Ruth Bass is an award-winning journalist. Her website is www.ruthbass.com.


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