John Grindrod: Lady Jane and the Ultimate Puzzle
For me, Lady Jane has always been her own kind of puzzle, which of course is part of her charm. And I think that’s something she’s aware of. His Valentine’s Day card said as much. He read: “I know sometimes I do things that drive you crazy, drive you crazy, or make you want to scream, and since it’s Valentine’s Day, I just want to say (open card)…don’t be Aren’t you glad it’s fair sometimes?”
So what can happen when the casual human puzzle comes face to face with the ultimate puzzles? Well, that’s the subject of this week’s rhetorical wandering.
Last August, Jane received a birthday present from her Sunshine State son, John, a Tampa resident and professor of engineering at the University of South Florida, who had the good sense to marry the one of my favorite former students, Betsy Pierce. Over my life and time with his mother, I’ve come to know John as a pretty nice guy. However, I think he did his dear mother a dirty job by sending her a 1,000 piece jigsaw puzzle featuring Sanibel and Captiva Island and its surrounding ocean.
As for puzzles, which never fascinated this guy with less than a thimble of patience, well, they’ve been around for a while.
While who made something first is sometimes a difficult decision for historians, most agree that the first puzzle was created in England around 1760 by engraver John Spilsbury. Her first was actually quite similar to Jane’s. Spilsbury took a map of the world and fixed it to a sheet of hardwood, then used a handsaw to cut around country borders.
Calling his product Dissected Maps, he then sold the labeled pieces of each he made as teaching aids to help teach geography to young people. Others took note of Spilbury’s efforts and several other makers began producing their own puzzles, continuing after Spilsbury’s death in 1769. In the late 18th century the treadle jigsaw was invented, increasing the share growing market of puzzle enthusiasts.
Jane’s puzzle, according to the box, measures 26.4 by 19.8 inches and was made by XPlorer Maps. According to the company’s website, there are several other regions, such as Lake Tahoe, Catalina Island, and Badlands National Park, depicted in other puzzles.
The website also provides biographical information about the two brothers whose dream eventually turned into a business. They are Chris and Greg Robitaille, whose recipe for business success includes a love of travel, artistic abilities and a keen interest in geography to create their antique-style map puzzles of national parks and other regions. The philanthropic brothers also donate a percentage of their profits to the conservation and preservation of public lands.
On the side of the puzzle box is the embryonic anecdote explaining Chris’ first map he ever drew. Whether apocryphal or factual, the story goes that when Chris was just 6 years old, his exasperated mother, tired of his shenanigans, told him to go take a nap. Chris thought she said, “Go make a map,” and he went to draw his first map, one showing how he got from his bedroom to the kitchen and the cookie jar.
As for why Jane’s puzzle stayed in the box from last summer until just a few weeks ago, Jane has a simple explanation.
“I was busy mowing, cycling, walking and traveling. Oh, and trying to keep a certain Sunday paper columnist in line.
While most people who puzzle, I think, tend to do all the edges first and then look to fill in the middle, my puzzling girl takes a little different approach. Checking his progress each time I make the short trip to Mercer County, I’ve noticed that the side bezels are much smaller than the 19.8 inches listed, while the top and bottom bezels seem much closer to their 26.4 inches correct.
Jane explains, “I like to find the words in the middle and, of course, the cards always have a lot of words. I’ve always loved maps and spelling. I’ll end up going around those side borders.
Jane worked on her puzzle for a few hours a day in cold weather. She says a good session might find her nested up to 10 pieces. But don’t expect this pace to continue. As the temperatures rise, the time spent working on Sanibel and Captiva will certainly decrease, she will tell you.
“I love being outdoors, and all that mowing, biking, and walking stuff will always take priority over indoor activities. Who knows? It might take me three years, but I’ll get there eventually.
As for what she will do once her quest is complete, she has no doubts.
“I’ve heard some people who complete a difficult puzzle glue the pieces together and then frame it. I’m pretty sure John sent it to me just to drive me crazy, so I’ll put all 1,000 of those little pieces back in the box and send them back. Let’s just see how long it will take him to finish it!
I’m not sure if finishing your first 1000 piece puzzle qualifies you as a dissectologist, but if Jane can actually seal that puzzle, I’m sure to put her in that circle of puzzle lovers.
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News, freelance writer and editor, and author of two books. Join it at [email protected]