By Michael Howlett
August 20, 2014
I don’t know how popular jigsaw puzzles are with the general public nowadays, but I know the Mistress of the Manor and I do like us some puzzling. These miracles of design provide hours, days, or even weeks of entertainment for a low price, and you can do them naked if you so desire.
In doing some research on these miracles of design, I found that, surprisingly, jigsaw puzzles were immensely popular during the Great Depression. Groups of homeless, disheveled, hungry people would gather around a puzzle with one goal in mind, that being, finish that damn puzzle of Monet’s “Water Lilly Pond” or die. They were gluttons for punishment.
However, this fact also begs the question, how in the world could people afford jigsaw puzzles when they didn’t have jobs, or homes, or tables, or anything really? But there’s an old adage in jigsaw puzzling that goes “puzzling brings one closer to God.” Besides, after completing the puzzle, they could always drop the pieces into a boiling pot of water with some dirt and rocks, and have some delicious jigsaw stew. You had to make do in those days.
Anyway, the Mistress of the Manor and I got involved in jigsaw puzzling while living through two Alaskan winters. Don’t get me wrong, we did our share of outside activities like skiing and wildlife photography, but when the temperature hits -44 degrees and the wind chill is at -98 degrees, it is best to stay inside. Since TV was in its infant stages in Alaska at that time, we turned to jigsaw puzzling.
Following a completion of a puzzle, we would tape the backside in order to preserve the puzzle as a poster. Alas, the only puzzle we have still intact to this day is Peter Max psychedelic puzzle. The completed puzzles of landscapes, portraits, castles and famous paintings are all lost to time.
In doing research on the history of the jigsaw puzzle, I found that this miracle of fun was invented by John Spilsbury, a London cartographer and engraver, who is credited with commercializing jigsaw puzzles around 1760. I also came across a type of jigsaw puzzle I never knew existed – naked women jigsaw puzzles. Yes, it was by accident. Really! Hey, I’m telling the truth here. I did, though, suggest to the Mistress of the Manor that she and I attempt one of these, and the chill factor in our house immediately dropped to -98 degrees. I took that as a “no.”
I also found out that jigsaw puzzling is a great way to ward off Alzheimer’s disease. Since the Mistress of the Manor and I have tried crosswords, sudoku and scrabble in an effort to keep mentally sharp and they don’t seem to be working, we thought we could recapture our youthful brains by puzzling once again. Time will tell.
Since our reemergence into the puzzling world, we have completed a 500-piece puzzle of historic American flags, a 1,000-piece puzzle of book covers and a 2,000-piece puzzle of an American map. Those went on so well that the Mistress of the Manor decided we needed to increase the difficulty level, so she ordered a 3,000-piece 1650 map of the world. This is where puzzling went from fun to hell on earth.
This puzzle, or as I refer to it, the Devil’s sphincter, is still uncompleted three weeks later. Now, it’s not because we have neglected it, nay, we have toiled and sweated over this monstrosity of torment each and every day. Now, some puzzles contain a poster of the puzzle, so a person might be able to better distinguish between pieces, but not this one. No, you have to go by the photo on the box and with all the colors being muted and similar in hue, it’s like trying to decide to which identical twin does this nipple belong.
Thankfully, we are nearing the stretch run. We figure we have somewhere around 300 pieces left, which would lead one to believe that finishing the puzzle would be easier at this point, but not so. The maker of this puzzle is obviously a madman or a sadist, because even at this stage the puzzle remains an item that could have been used with great effectiveness during the Spanish Inquisition.