Puzzles: Peacing it Together with Friends

Random Observation/Comment #404: I live a life of metaphors. Puzzles make me whole.

see lemons puzzle

There’s nothing better than finding that 1-in-1000 piece that connects perfectly to another. I feel my heart’s pace rise and pupils dilate from that joy of feeling those notches line up and sink in. By themselves, they’re all just meaningless blobs of ink, but together, they tell a story. It’s not the story of the completed picture I will remember, but rather the story of the journey.

Our journey started during that crazy polar vortex cold snap in January. It was too cold to leave the apartment, so my roommate cracked open a $2.50 1000-piece kitty puzzle at 9PM on a weekday. At first, I just thought, “I don’t think I’ve ever done a puzzle in my life. I’ll just help him with the borders for 30 minutes and go back to blogging.” Approximately 30 hours over the course of 3 weeks and 10 different people working on this puzzle, I think I have a new obsession.

It’s so much more than just piecing things together – it’s actually being together that makes it all fit. Sure, there were moments where I yelled at an individual piece “Where do you go?!?!” or at no one in the room in particular “Did someone hide a piece?!?!”, but it was all so gratifying just hanging out. I’ve been trying to understand myself better from this experience and I think I worked out psychologically why I became engrossed with this puzzle.

In all my goal setting and 30 day challenges, I have a common theme of visualizing a measurable goal and completing it.  In many cases, I try to make this an objective point of view by analyzing different aspects of the goal with engineering measurements. In this case, what’s more clear than a straight line path with Finite contribution?  At any point, I may not know how much time is left to complete my goal, but I always know exactly how much is left.  I always know how far away I am from being complete: I know the end because I can see it and it’s so much easier to map out my route when I can clearly see the goal.

Here’s what I learned from puzzling:

  • Visualizing the End State. When I get lost in the task, I often try to step back and imagine where my piece goes in the bigger picture. In life, know where you’re going and how each task you do will get you closer to that target state. Realize each task does add up to a larger contribution.
  • Measurable progress. Similar to how I can count the number of unconnected pieces, our progress should be accurately defined. Think about how each task can add up to that final picture and think about how completing one task can make your picture more complete.
  • Breaking it down. When doing puzzles, the main strategy is to build the edges/frames first, next building borders between objects in the pictures, and lastly grouping colors/areas that may connect within the same area.  In the case of large projects, it’s very important to break it down into smaller manageable tasks or you’ll be overwhelmed with looking within 999 pieces to find that one other piece (rather than looking for one piece within an already filtered number).
  • Delegations. Puzzles are so much better in groups, but usually people work better when they’re doing different parts of the puzzle. Sometimes it’s important to dissect the project into different parts and ask others to work on them. This is part of the divide and conquer mentality and really helps with completing larger goals.
  • Stepping back. Puzzles are addictive and time surely does fly when your head is in the game, but sometimes you start seeing a set of blurred shapes and corners. You swear you’ve seen a piece that fits exactly this other one, and yet it’s gone.  This is a good time to step back and do something else.  Large projects will take time and just because you see how close you are, doesn’t mean you can rush getting it all done at once. Step back and take a deep breath to look at it all again with fresh eyes.
  • Bring in new perspectives. Having the puzzle in the living room was great when other people came to visit. They’d look and immediately want to contribute just one piece. In larger projects, sometimes it’s a good thing to have your goals transparent to other people so they can help. You’d be surprised, some people are really good at making that one connection that can pull the whole picture together.

~See Lemons Pieced Together