19 April 2011


V got this puzzle for Christmas from our friend Nancy. This is the third time we've done it: we discuss the Addams family while we work, and it's really fun.
And it brings up memories I had long forgotten. When I was a girl, my family LOVED puzzles. Every holiday, all winter, and just about any time was a good time for a puzzle. I have few memories of my grandfather, who died when I was 6, but many of them involve him hovering around a dining room table, working on a puzzle. We had three or four puzzles we did every Christmas, and it helped us bide our time while we waited to open presents.

But it wasn't enough to just do puzzles, for some reason. My dad had all kinds of elaborate rules for puzzles, and puzzle doing was serious business. These rules were non-negotiable, and though I didn't enforce them with V(except for #1), I felt bad for breaking each rule.

Dewey's rules for puzzles:
1. No food or drink on the puzzle table. At all. Ever. If you need coffee or a snack, get a TV tray and put it up next to the puzzle table. Then consume it over the TV tray, not the puzzle. Also, you'll have to listen to the story about when Grandpa Art spilled coffee on a brand new puzzle one year.

2. When we open a puzzle, and dump out the pieces, we have to flip over all of them before we put anything together. Every piece. When I was too little to really do much else with puzzles, this was often my job, and my family was all about the 1000 piece ones. It took for freaking ever.

3. If any of the pieces were left together from the last time this puzzle was done (my aunt Barbie was notorious for just folding a puzzle up to put it away) everything must be taken apart and spread out. Just two pieces together? One on each end of the table. More than that, and we had to mix them in. 

4. Everyone gets to look at the cover of the box once. Just once. When someone new comes to start work on the puzzle, they get to look at, but the rest of us who've already seen it are expected to avert our eyes. And then we talk about those crazy people who use the box to place individual pieces, and don't follow the other rules, either. Heathens.

5. If, when the puzzle is finished, there are pieces missing, we look around carefully to see if there're any on the floor. If not, we take a slip of scrap paper, slide it under the puzzle, and trace the missing piece. Then we write on the slip a description of what's missing (i.e. blue hippo eye, or Santa's left elbow). This precious slip goes into the puzzle box so we know what's gone for next time.

I sure wish he was here to teach these to V, though.  I'm a pushover when it comes to made up rules, it turns out. Somewhere he's hollering at us everytime we look at the box, I just know it. I hope he understands.


Tom said...

Regarding #5...you should also check your elbows and forearms (if you're wearing short sleeves). Those puzzle pieces like to stick!

Jennifer said...

You're right, Tom. And in the interest of full disclosure I should admit that more than once I dropped a piece into my footie pajamas, so that I could put the last piece in (the following morning). My parents were not amused.

basketballwannabe said...

Very sweet blog. Enjoyed reading about his rules. I've learned so much about him through your blog site and your mom and yet I never got to meet him. I enjoy the stories, though.

Anonymous said...

I'm afraid this is where I need to apply some shame, cousin. As Colleen pointed out to me, it's only tradition if the tradition is maintained, and I think our family's puzzle tradition is worth maintaining.

Our parents didn't spare us from the rules when we were wee ones, and we are clearly better people for it.

In fact, your post has inspired me to seek a cat-free room in which to do puzzles in the house we rent in Kentucky. I've been away from it for far too long.

On a lighter note, don't forget the lesser known rules, one of which you hinted at in your earlier response: hiding a piece so you can be the one to put the last piece in is severely frowned upon.

Putting the last piece in, of course, is an honor, and there is usually a bit of a scramble at the end when the remaining pieces are obvious.

Declaring that you are looking for a particular piece does not grant you any special claim to that piece and will, more often than not, inspire the other puzzlers to try and find it before you do.

Similarly, you can't hold key pieces (like eyes) where the other puzzlers can't access them, but you can work on your own section of the puzzle apart from the main puzzle. In that case, you get first chance to integrate that section into the full puzzle, but if someone else can see how to do it before you, they can do so.

Some people claim that you must start by completing all of the side pieces, but that is just poppycock.

It's all very complicated.

Rule #1 confused me a bit, probably because I don't have kids of my own. Of course there is no food or drink at the puzzle table, what are we, barbarians?

Love always,

Jennifer said...


I want to do a puzzle with you somethin' fierce. Damn.

Anonymous said...

I am totally one of those irritating people that looks at the cover for every piece. Well, almost every piece. It even drives me crazy, but I'd never get a puzzle done otherwise. We all must accept our limitations. -Meagan

Emily, Scott, and August said...

I have august flipping the pieces, and separating. And she doesn't really want to look at the box. Funny, though, I must have got the habit of doing all the edges from Gma N. I remember those rules fondly!