Tag Archives: puzzles

Can Timmy Come Out and Play?

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I just made a batch of play dough. Green. With glitter. I’m 59. I don’t have kids. I can’t wait to play with it! For those of you worrying about my mental health, it’s not really for me. It’s for a group of kids I read to at our library. But I will not lie to you. I WILL be playing with it, right along with them.

So what is it about some of us that makes us still love to play when we are probably way too old to be considered a kid? For me, it’s not just play dough. It’s games, toys, crafts and using my imagination with abandon. I’ve always lusted after kids’ toys and games, and I’ve always encouraged creative play. Fortunately, I’ve spent most of my life working with kids, so I’ve been able to get away with lots of playing. But I’m sure there are others out there who may be closeted players.

But nothing is closeted at my house…when you come over, you will find shelves filled with games and toys in full view. I have quite the collection of antique games I’ve gotten from garage sales and thrift shops that bring back childhood memories, along with some of the new-fangled games and contraptions that kids play with. And some of my own toys and games from when I was a kid. Yes, I kept them all these years. And I dearly miss the ones that my parents gave away along the way.

And these things do not just sit on the shelves. I get tingly all over when someone comes over to play a game with me. And I find myself toying with puzzles and games on my own, whenever possible. Brain teasers, Sudoku, jigsaws, crosswords…puzzles of all kinds just thrill me and I can become quite addicted to them, given enough free time. I’ve branched out from the good old board or card games, and now also play electronically on my iPad or computer.

I really believe that play is healthy at any age. I know quite a few people who would benefit from a bit of play. Maybe some charades, a dress-up contest or a few rounds of Boggle! Because you can’t play a game and not smile or laugh at some point. And playing keeps your brain engaged. I’m sure there are studies somewhere that show that play makes you live longer, but I really don’t have time to research…I’ve got fresh play dough to squish!

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Puzzling Behavior

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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!