Puzzle People

Puzzle People

There are puzzle people and there are puzzle people. Eric and I are the latter. I started doing puzzles with my sister a long time ago, but our puzzling was sporadic. We’d do one, look at it for a couple hours, box it up, and then it might be six months before we’d do another one. When she moved in with me the last year of her life, we resuscitated our interest in puzzles and even designated our dining room table as the “puzzle table.” From there out, there was always a puzzle going. Corina didn’t like the TV because she found it energetically disruptive. I think she enjoyed puzzles because they’re play as you go. No pressure to finish within a particular time constraint, unless you self-impose one. You can listen to music, or have a conversation, or just get lost in thought.

I steered clear of things Corina and I did together for at least the first six months after she died. To this day, every time I go past the freeway exit that took me to the last house she lived in before she moved in with us, I think of her – and I never go that way. But the puzzles were a different story, for some reason. In fact, I went the other direction and became something of a puzzle maniac. I got so good at them I was doing a 1,000-piece puzzle every other day, at minimum.

I bought most of them at the thrift store, opting for $2 to $4 per puzzle, rather than upwards of $20 each. This is a risky enterprise if you’re a puzzle purist, however, in that you never know whether all the pieces will be there. One puzzle I got for less than a dollar – a picture of crayons – must have been missing 20 pieces. It was rather comical, and I always thought that was part of the fun. Not so with my friend Andrew Greess, who lost a single piece from one of his favorite puzzles and actually painted a piece of cardboard to fill in the spot. As it turns out, Eric informed me there’s a company that will do this for you! Of course, there’s an enormous amount of trust involved, as you must send all of the surrounding pieces of the actual puzzle to The Jigsaw Doctor so they can make a mold for the replacement piece and match the colors as closely as possible. I didn’t check the price because I’d never bother – but clearly there must be enough people who will bother for them to have built a business around it.

jigsaw doctor

My biggest solo puzzle, to date, has been 1,500 pieces. I have maybe two or three 2,000-piece puzzles, but I haven’t started any of them yet because I’m not sure my old puzzle table is large enough. And, I haven’t done a puzzle since moving into our new house, because I know the addictive nature of the things – and I’m not sure I want to go down that rabbit hole again. I see them in the garage every now and then, though, and I’m always quite tempted.

Eric’s biggest solo puzzle was a 9,000 piece beast. He said it took him nearly 10 years to complete it, but he made a big push on the last half over one six-month period. He has his eye on another one, similar in size. He’s just waiting to live in a space large enough to accommodate it. The map of the world is still on the floor in a spare room adjacent to his parents’ garage.

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Who knows what will happen after I return from my trip, as far as my own puzzle practice goes? I’m sitting at the kitchen table in the house where my son grew up. Kathy is out on the deck. The dog is at the groomer. Bruce is a the dentist, and Eric and his girlfriend are still sleeping. The puzzle we started yesterday afternoon – probably the hardest one I’ve ever done, personally – sits on the dining room table about three-quarters finished. It’s the blue sky that’s the problem – with no clues other than shape to go on, it’s a matter of trial and error, trial and error, trial and error until you get one piece. Then repeating that process with the next piece. This puzzle came from the local thrift store – and so far all of the pieces appear to be here. We may yet meander around and find a newer, easier – more fun! – puzzle, or we may move on to a board game.

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Regardless of what we do, I’m amazed and grateful and blessed to be sharing this time with Eric and his family. I don’t know if he gets how special it is. He’s very communicative, but not terribly demonstrative, so it’s a little hard to read him.

I love watching him with Meaghan, though. They are cute together – and, I believe, good for each other. There’s no visible competition – just cooperation. I bought them each these metal puzzles – the goal is to pull them apart, and then put them back together again. Meaghan solved both of them! The infinity one had all of us going, at one point. I went into New York City to see a Broadway show with a friend from Phoenix, and received a text from Eric while I was at the show: “Meaghan got it!” He was eager to share her success with me – if there had been that ugly competition that sometimes brews between couples, he never would have sent that text.

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Through the puzzles and games, we’re getting to know each other a little bit better and just spend some time together. I couldn’t ask for anything more.

ADDENDUM

The New York City skyline puzzle was completed about 5 hours after this post was published. Thank goodness all the pieces were there! Eric glues and hangs the puzzles he likes – I feel privileged that this one passes that test! Now, we’re onto a 1,500-piece job, albeit perhaps a somewhat easier one. Goal is to finish before he takes off for Boston on Friday morning at 10.

ADDENDUM 2

Irish cottage

Puzzle #2 was NOT easier than the first one. Just difficult in a different way. We got it about 3/4 complete before we moved it onto a large poster board. Eric promises to finish it next time he’s home, which should be next weekend. We shall see…

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Laura Orsini
 is an author, speaker, and consultant who coaches other authors to make and market exceptional books that change the world for the better. She is birthmother to Eric, who is finishing college in Boston this summer. Their adoption has been open for the better part of Eric’s life. She continues to toy with the idea that these posts will one day become a book. In the meantime, you can learn about her novel in progress, Stan Finds Himself on the Other Side of the World.

When You Hope You’re Nearly as Smart as Your Kid

When You Hope You’re Nearly as Smart as Your Kid

When I was pregnant with Eric, I expressed concern to my social worker that the adoptive family might not be able to keep up with him, as he was bound to be a very smart kid. “You don’t know that for sure,” she said every time I raised the issue. Yes, I knew that – more or less for sure. Yogi Berra’s quote comes to mind: It ain’t bragging if you can back it up. I had my reasons for believing this: I was always at the top of my class and in various gifted programs, and Tony was the smartest person I’d ever met. Actually, that record still stands – he is still the smartest person I have ever met. Intellectually, anyway. He didn’t ace the SATs but was in the top ½ percentile. Point is, our kid was very probably going to be of above average intelligence. I’ve long thought the reason Mary tried to caution me was in case something went wrong and he was born with a disability of some sort. She needn’t have worried.

I don’t remember Eric’s Apgar score – Kathy probably knows it. But I watched that baby – maybe 15 minutes after he was born – roll himself over on the examining table. He was close to 2 when he figured out how to unlock the baby gate. And he was 2 when he told Kathy his first joke. She asked him where he’d put his socks. His response: “In the refrigerator. Ha, ha, ha!” In my January 9 post, I mentioned that he was also loading his own software on the computer at 2..

I’ve always been grateful that he attended a Montessori preschool. When he moved to a traditional grade school, the teachers had a hard time keeping him occupied. Kathy told me he would finish his assignments before everyone else. So when a child on the other side of the classroom would drop a pencil, Eric would run over to help them pick it up – he was done with his work; what else was he going to do?

At his high school graduation, his sister told us how frustrating it was that he was so good at math when she struggled with it. She’s 10 years older than Eric, but said that when she was in high school, Eric would offer to help her with her math homework. She might have been joking – but the point is taken, nonetheless.

I don’t remember exactly how long it took him to solve the Rubik’s Cube – but it was measurable in minutes, just like his birthfather. I saw a logic puzzle at a seminar one time, and to date, three people I’ve shown it to have figured out the answer: Tony and Eric were among the three. And the third person came up with an alternate answer that, while technically correct, is not the answer that is the “easiest” to spot. Here’s the puzzle:

card challenge

Moving only one card, make 2 rows of 4.
Answer at the VERY end of this post.

So when Eric proposed playing a board game while my husband John and I were visiting him and his family last month, I was hesitantly enthusiastic about it. Which board game? How much logic would be involved? And how much did prior experience factor into things?

The first night we played Scattergories, a word game where each player has to name 12 objects (provided on pre-printed lists) that all begin with the same letter of the alphabet. Objects we had to name included: World Capitals, Female Celebrities, Models of Cars, Things in the Ocean, Things with Tails. If the letter for a particular turn were “A”, we might have come up with Addis Ababa (worth 2 points!), Adele, Alfa Romeo, algae, and African spider monkey as our answers. You get the idea.

This was a word game – I am a writer. Should have been a piece of cake, right? Not really – because the timer was ticking, naming some of these objects was challenging, and I was trying to outsmart a very smart kid. I’ll admit, it was an interesting source of pride when Eric and I would come up with the same answer for the same object (neither player gets credit for their answer in that case) on numerous occasions. We played three games: I won one; Eric’s girlfriend won one; and Eric won one. So we played a rubber game for the match, which I took by a hair.

sequence game

The next night, we played a logic game called Sequence. Chess players may take offense, but it reminded me of chess, in that you have to watch the whole board and plan a number of steps ahead. As a result, you also have to consider what your opponents’ probable next move(s) will be. I don’t remember who won those games, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t.

Lastly, we played a game John and I had received for Christmas, called Exploding Kittens. It’s another strategy card game – ridiculous, really, as if the title weren’t enough of an indicator. I won the first game and Eric won the second. He was really excited after the second game because he felt he’d figured out the strategy, and hence, how to win. We left that game with him, assuming he’d get a lot more use out of it than we would.

One of the things that really impressed me was that this 22-year-old college senior and his friends sincerely enjoy hanging out and playing board games. Make no mistake – Eric and Meaghan spent a lot of time on their phones, too. But Meaghan also pointed out that Eric has seen surprisingly few movies. I’m guessing he was occupied with school? So you know what you do while you’re playing board games with your friends? Drink beer, of course. And you also have conversations, typically without the TV or other distractions pulling at you.

puzzle of the world

Another thing Eric and I share is a love of puzzles. He’s far surpassed me in his mastery of the jigsaw puzzle, though, having completed a 9,000-piece puzzle of the world over a recent visit home from college. He’s found the next one he wants to tackle; the challenge is finding space for it in his small Boston apartment.

Dots

Lately I’ve been playing a logic game of my own on my iPad. It contains multi-colored pairs of dots on a black background. The goal is to connect each dot to its partner, filling in the entire field. Whenever I complete one of these levels on the first attempt, I congratulate myself and think, Yeah – I can still keep up with the kid.

the answer