I’ve always loved the challenge of a puzzle. Crossword, sudoku, word find, mind benders, memory games, jigsaws…you name it, I’m up for it. But I go absolutely NUTS when someone “cheats” at such puzzles. I take my puzzles very seriously…the very definition of a puzzle is a challenge. If someone looks at the solution, tells someone else the answer, or gives someone so many clues they give away the answer, they’ve just gone down a few notches on my internal scale of character. I mean, where’s the fun in that?! It’s a PUZZLE!
I’m pretty radical about it. When I open a jigsaw puzzle and find a few pieces connected, I quickly pull them apart, trying not to look too closely, so I’ll have no chance of remembering what I saw. If there’s one of those upside down solutions under the puzzle in the newspaper, I will physically cover it or fold it under so there’s no chance of me seeing any part of the solution.
When I was teaching, and I’d give the kids a puzzle, their impatience was disheartening. They didn’t share my excitement for the challenge. They just wanted me to give them the solution. When they’d ask for the answers, my reply was always, “That’s why they call it a PUZZLE!” I’d hate it when someone would blurt out the answer for all to hear. I would have them try it alone for the first five minutes, and then I’d let them work with a partner if they wanted to. But even then, I had to teach them how to give each other clues without just telling each other the answers. There’s a skill to giving clues. I stuck to my puzzle morals, but I’m sure my students thought I was the cruelest teacher when it came to puzzles.
Recently, however, my puzzle standards were put to the test. I attempted a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle. I did my usual routine – make sure all the pieces are detached, and I had no advantage. I noticed it was one of those super-difficult puzzles with oddly shaped pieces. You know, the puzzles that have pieces that look like straight edges, but aren’t quite straight at all. Well, after an hour and a half trying to find the straight edges and corners, let alone connect any of them, I gave up. I came to the conclusion that a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle would more likely fall into the category of a lifetime achievement, rather than a fun challenge for a 4-day vacation in a dimly lit cabin. In this case, I’d have gladly left those few pieces attached, taken whatever advantage that gave me, and just never have admitted it to anyone. Puzzle morals be damned!