Wednesday, May 24, 2006
Missing PiecesIt was a 500 piece puzzle.
11" x 17".
There were two of us. We are smart, obsessive and spatially talented.
We had beer, sangria, frozen pizza, and a completely free night.
How long could it possibly take?
My friend Cindy's husband is shooting a small film (prophetically called "Missing Pieces") and in the film they needed this puzzle as a prop. The filmmaker had had a special puzzle made by an online company that will take a picture, blow it up, and then cut it into a 500 piece jigsaw. Cindy called me last week to see if I wanted to spend Friday night putting it together. Oh BOY, I thought. That sounds GREAT.
The filmmaker had done the frame and the bottom third. The picture was of a cow standing in a field under a wide expanse of blue sky. (Key words here are "expanse" and "sky.") The puzzle was 70% blue. All the ground and a couple rows of blue were done. The blue was exactly the same everywhere, with slight gradations in hue as you moved from one side to the other.
It looked somewhat challenging, but not impossible.
The problem became obvious when we pulled out the pieces. Because of the magnitude of pure blue field, Cindy had figured out the patterns that the pieces were taking in each row. There were four types of pieces -- fat with two "outies" and two "innies," skinny with two and two, ones with three outies, and ones with three innies. The rows were alternating fatties and skinnies, or alternating threes.
So we had four piles of pieces. We figured there would be a set pattern going throughout the puzzle -- so that one row would be the fatty/skinny pattern, the next would be the skinny/fatty pattern, followed by outie/innie threes, then innie/outie threes, and then it would repeat itself.
This was not the case.
More dire was our other assumption. We thought there would be a one-to-one relationship between pieces that fit. So that if you got a piece that fit with another one, you could move on and put another piece next to it, comfortable in the knowledge that these were set and done and taken care of.
This was also not the case.
We also thought the pieces would, you know, actually fit together.
Ah. Also wrong.
Two obsessives. One puzzle. NINE hours.
Here was the problem. Without the ability to know that a fit was right, we had to go through every piece for every other piece. If something fit (which happened too often, actually, because multiple pieces worked in the same place most of the time), we still had to try every other possibility and then decide -- based on color, "gappage" and "clickage" -- which was the best piece. Then, after we got a collection of contenders together, we'd show each other the various combinations and then decide which we thought was the best piece.
The part I found most interesting was this "clickage" thing. Sometimes, after trying pieces out for so long the paint was wearing out on their faces, a piece would just CLICK. Bing! It would snap into place like a long lost lover.
This was, as you may expect, an almost ridiculously satisfying moment as the hours wore on into the night. We LIVED for clickage. It felt right on all levels. Intuitively, deeply, spiritually right. It was nearly sexual it would feel so good.
But it didn't necessarily mean anything.
It could still be wrong. We would still have to sometimes take a whole section out because we'd passed up the perfect piece in our rapture over finding the first one that clicked.
Wow, I said, at about 12:30 the first night. Next thing you know, you've got kids, a mortgage and a divorce attorney.
Clickage. How much do you trust that visceral connection? How much do you rely on instant compatibility?
At about 11 the second night, I came up with the whole problem: We do puzzles to create order out of chaos. That's what's fun about jigsaw puzzles. You take a box of little pieces and you put them together to form a whole. Unlike life, there is a perfect companion for each side of every piece. Unlike life, you can take a click and rely on it fully. Unlike life, you can make things simple because you know the rules will always apply.
Except in this case.
This was the puzzle that mirrored the real deal all too closely. If we made a bad decision, not only would we never find the next corresponding piece, but we'd lose a piece out of circulation that would be vitally essential later. We began to find more and more places where we couldn't fit anything, either because of a bad choice or a piece that was buried elsewhere.
By 1 a.m. on the second night we were laughing so hard we were sobbing. We couldn't do it. We ... just... couldn't.
We gave it back to the guy with six rows left undone. Ragged stair-steps of pieces showed where we had finally ground down to a place of complete futility. Cindy jammed one last piece into the row she had vowed to complete if it killed her -- the piece was obviously the wrong color but she smashed it in there anyway, with her fist and a maniacal laugh -- and we were done.
The moral of the story: Sometimes you can't make everything fit. Sometimes life looks impossible. Sometimes it is impossible. But, if we're lucky, we can all go through this journey with a great good friend. Someone who will laugh and cry with us and understand our cryptic shorthands as we try to make sense of it all.
The point of the puzzle is not to figure it out and to make it perfect. The point is to work on it with someone else... knowing when to forge on, and knowing when to just let it sit in its own complexity without our interferance.
# posted by Katherine Doughtie Nolan @ 6:07 AM
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