Puzzle Mania

Susan Manzke
Grandchildren Eli, Arianna and a very active Wyatt, join Grandma Susan and Grandpa Bob.

The long dark hours of winter take a toll on Bob and me. We are tied to the sun and as soon as it gets dark we want to go to sleep.

Since we can’t hibernate for six months, Bob and I look for things to keep ourselves awake. Movies don’t do it. Unless the flick is enthralling, one or both of us are off to snooze-land after half an hour — Bob’s head can bob forward in minutes.

The best activity that keeps us awake past seven is jigsaw puzzles.

Bob grew up in a home that always had a jigsaw puzzle going during the winter. I hadn’t. The few times I tried one, I failed and put it away, never to try again.

My husband taught me to start a puzzle by finding the edges first and to assemble the outer perimeter before anything else—up until I understood his directions I had just charged ahead with no plan of action.

Most of our puzzle boxes have 1000 pieces. Since we hadn’t put one together in over a year, I wanted to start out with an easy jigsaw. A friend had given us one with 410 pieces. It said it was for ages 3+. That seemed perfect as a warmup act.

We dumped out the pieces, flipped them all right-side up, and looked for the edges.

There were no straight edges with this puzzle as it was in the form of a cat playing with a ball of pink yarn — Bob put the ball of yarn together before continuing with the cat.

The easy puzzle didn’t go together as expected. In fact, it totally frustrated both of us. Edges were all black, and one could match up with maybe five others. Getting the outer edge proved to be impossible.

A stack of puzzles at columnist Susan Manzke's home tower over her grandchildren Eli, Arianna and Wyatt.

I looked at the box again. I had read it right...the suggested age was 3+.

We both thought we had lost our puzzle making abilities. If we couldn’t do this supposedly easy jigsaw what would we do to stay awake? Take up tap dancing?

Instead of struggling with the cat pieces, I boxed them back up and brought out a 1000 piece puzzle we had done in the past.

Bob groaned, but started looking for the edges. Soon he had the perimeter in place. The crazy-character seed packets weren’t any easier than the last time we had worked that puzzle, yet it was going together — we hadn’t lost our touch after all.

The seed packet puzzle took a couple days to complete. We left it up on the table a few days to admire our work before taking it apart again — for the first time ever, we took the edges off and bagged them separate from the rest. Next time we redo this puzzle we won’t have a long sorting time to find the edges. We’ll be able to start assembling it without wasting time.

Soon our fingers were itching for another puzzle. The second one was of an outhouse. It was only 750 large pieces — even though we had done this one before, it still took many evening hours before every piece was in place.

Since this wasn’t an extremely large jigsaw puzzle, we slid it over to the end of our expanded dining room table and dumped out another one on open table top. That way we can see our own past accomplishment as we struggle to begin the next one.

One particular farm scene went together okay until we got to the section of brown corn stalks. Working it wasn’t fun anymore and we started to avoid the table. So we boxed it back up and started another.

Over the winter we completed 27 jigsaw puzzles — that doesn’t include three unfinished ones. Our last 1000 piece winter scene took two weeks — a lot of moaning and groaning went along with it but we finished it!

Now all our puzzles are packed away waiting for another snowy season. Bob and I are finished with winter activities. Spring is here. Yay!

Susan Manzke, Sunnybook Farm, N8646 Miller Rd, Seymour, WI 54165;