Spoiler alert: if you’re related or married or otherwise within two legal steps to me, don’t read this post until December 26th.  Otherwise, continue below the fold.

Pops was a puzzle man.  Not a die-hard puzzle man, but every Christmas underneath the tree there would be one Real Puzzle (3,000 > N > 6,000 pieces) and at some point in January the box razor would come out, the neat fold-over bit of the box label would be slit (tangent – why are only puzzles boxed this way?) and out the sucker would come.  For a while, the dining room table would be dominated by a slowly-assembling landscape or a panoramic shot of some castle in Lichtenstein or a something from the Isle of Wight or some such.

You know, like this:

Turns out my wife is a puzzle fan, as well.  We usually spend a couple of weeks in Montana every summer, and the assembly of a puzzle is part of the ritual while we’re there.  So I’m resurrecting the family tradition and getting my wife a puzzle for Christmas.

There’s a good game store just near the office, and after converting centimeters to inches I picked out one that will take up the lion’s share of the dining room table.  It was on the astonishingly low-end of puzzle sizes, they had one gargantuan whopper that was 18,000 pieces and topped out at 280 centimeters in length when assembled.  That’s monstrous, I’m trying to imagine what it must be like to assemble one of those beasts and I’m figuring it takes a patio or garage floor and a moving cart with trays just for sorting the pieces.

There are several ways to go about assembling puzzles, with emphasis on different areas of primary assembly (although the border usually works out first).  I’m a matrix guy: I find a block of pieces that are all the same part of the landscape (water, trees, what-have-you) and I make a large N x N layout of the pieces all arranged along the same axis, where the vertical rows are made up of a distinguishing feature such as “on all of these pieces in row one, the top is a male tab canted to the left”, “on all of the pieces in row two, the top is a male tab canted to the right”, etc.  I then sort the individual rows top to bottom on something like hue or lighting.

If you do puzzles, do you have an approach?  Do you sneer at the border-assembly-first folk?  Landscapes only?  Do you find them relaxing, or frustrating, or does the existence of this post confuse you as to why anyone does the damn things?  What’s the biggest puzzle you’ve assembled?


Patrick is a mid-40 year old geek with an undergraduate degree in mathematics and a master's degree in Information Systems. Nothing he says here has anything to do with the official position of his employer or any other institution.


  1. When I was a kid, I did a couple of the mystery puzzles… they were novel and cute.

    Before you pour the pieces out, you’re supposed to read *THIS* flavor text aloud. “So and so was murdered… there were three suspects and all of them were in the room. The evidence pointed to the one guy I was sure was innocent… but I couldn’t prove it.”

    Then you do the puzzle and read *THIS* flavor text. “I wanted to save the innocent guy and find the evidence that would put the other two suspects away. I couldn’t see it until I looked down and there it was.”

    Then you look at the puzzle for clues and figure out whodunnit. Then you break the seal and read the *FINAL* flavor text. “The gun was a left-handed gun! The other two people collapsed and confessed. The innocent guy walked away sadder but wiser.”

    • We did a few of those when I was a kid, too. I always thought the clues were hard to spot, but I was also perhaps not the most observant adolescent on the planet either.

      And I always do the borders first.

  2. I am a border first guy. Once that is mostly done to done, I star placing peices with similar looks into areas along the borders that have those same looks. Work inwards.

  3. Nice! My family is hugely into puzzles over Christmas. One year we bought the multi-box with like six puzzles in it and did them all.

    What I’ve found is that with easy puzzles, borders are nice to get things going. harder puzzles, not so much. I also organize pieces like you do, but not to that level of detail. For example, in uniform-color parts of the puzzle – like the sky in the above – I’ll organize pieces according to tab number: four tabbers here, three tabbers here, two tab opposite siders here, etc.

    Oh, and one other rule: no looking at the box once the puzzling begins. For some reason, this always feels like cheating to me.

  4. I’ve never had the patience to do puzzles, even though everyone else in my family loves them – especially this time of year.

    Also they prefer that I don’t help since my general philosophy is that if two pieces you thought might go together don’t, you’re not pushing hard enough.

  5. The most insidious puzzle I ever saw was 2,000 pieces, and square.

    It was two-sided. On one side, there was a castle picture. On the other side was the same picture, only rotated 90 degrees.

    Evil. Pure and simple.

  6. I’ll do the occasional jigsaw. Perhaps more often now, since my wife got me a jigsaw puzzle briefcase for my last birthday (totally out of the blue) — no longer need to worry about monopolizing the dining room table, or about the pieces becoming cat toys. Generally I prefer more deductive types of puzzle, but there’s a more meditative quality to the jigsaws.

Comments are closed.