Jigsaw puzzles are one of my loves – at the secondary level. Each of us has both skills and skills we clearly lack: it often intrigues me that I am one of those people who has an eye for jigsaw puzzle pieces that fit together. I have never been able to work out what is needed for this skill and what else it can be useful for – but it’s still fun to have.
As a migrant family, we grew up with very few and even more basic toys, but my parents made sure that they had brought a selection of jigsaw puzzles to their new homeland to ensure their young brood’s problem-solving skills were trained. There were no iPhones, iGames and remote-controls in the 1950s.
After the usual elementary jigsaw puzzles I graduated to love two in particular. I have since realised that my parents would have chosen both these puzzles because of the kind of things they came to mean to me.
One was a photo of a European forest scene. The key to putting this moody picture together was of course to match the great variety of greens, browns and gold. Is it any wonder that I love the colour green, and the wonderful richness of colour and texture, light and shade of the world of plants and trees? It’s surely no surprise that my mother and I both love(d) gardening, nature, art and photography.
The second puzzle I cherished was even closer to my parents’ undoubted plan: a large map of the Netherlands, showing the main cities and large towns, the landmark buildings and other structures, and icons representing the industrial and rural products of each region. And, as if to anticipate a more united Europe, the puzzle edges were lined with the city names and outstanding buildings of the continent, from Athens’ Acropolis to Zurich’s Grossmünster. My family genes include streaks that love maps and cities, and this puzzle quickly became my No. 1 favourite. And it’s done more than that: touring in the Netherlands last year, seeing the place name “Barneveld” told me I should look out for the poultry and orchards. And Voilà, they were everywhere! I felt connected.
In our family years we introduced our children to the joys of serious puzzling, again with images drawn from different parts of Europe but now also including significant art works. I discovered at this time how relaxing it is to delve into a large puzzle: after a difficult meeting, a few hours of innocent problem solving is far healthier and a more effective nightcap than most alternatives! Good for marriage and family bonding too!
Jigsaw puzzling is a recognised way of keeping the brain active and supposedly of slowing the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. Ironically, this malady started to take away my mother at a relatively young age, and as her skills were failing, it intrigued me to find that her puzzle skills were among the last to leave her. Not only that: she somehow continued to sense that I had the same skillset and allowed me near her jigsaw puzzle whilst warding off others.
In our age it’s expected that every new year we’ll have something better, bigger, and more amazing. Even the humble jigsaw puzzle hasn’t escaped progress: we now have puzzles with redundant pieces, 3D puzzles, both-sided puzzles, imageless puzzles, and (of course) puzzles for your iPad.