Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Puzzling Over Escher

I found an old jigsaw puzzle in the garage when I was decluttering.  I'm not a jigsaw puzzle person.  I figure they are just time sinks without much gain.  In a time when there was no radio or television, not to mention internet, maybe they might have been a way to pass the time, but I'm much too busy to need a jigsaw puzzle in my life.

According to puzzle warehouse,
The origins of jigsaw puzzles go back to the 1760s when European mapmakers pasted maps onto wood and cut them into small pieces. John Spilsbury, an engraver and mapmaker, is credited with inventing the first jigsaw puzzle in 1767. The dissected map has been a successful educational toy ever since. American children still learn geography by playing with puzzle maps of the United States or the world.
Yes, I learned the 50 US states that way.  That's a great use of puzzles.

But I do like MC Escher.  So I pulled the puzzle box upstairs and started putting the borders together.

So I came to this as jigsaw novice.  But it did seem to me that there were certain difficulties in this puzzle"

  • black and white
  • white border
  • lots of similar features scattered throughout the picture

 I can imagine that a Jackson Pollack would be a lot worse, but this one seemed more than enough of a challenge.

So, if you can't group pieces by color, what do you use?  Starting with the border, I found I had to group pieces by shape, since all the pieces were simply white.  This was back in June I think.  Because then my daughter arrived for several weeks and she got us past just the border.  But it was clear there was one missing piece.  There simply was not another piece that had one totally flat edge, yet there was a missing piece in the lower right hand side.

At some point I decided to take pictures of the puzzle each night, just so we could remind ourselves that we did actually make some progress.

This is August 18 with some of the loose pieces in the middle.  We got to a point where we stopped trying to add to what was already in the puzzle and try to work on pieces that had similar images.  I say images because they weren't all that clear.  You can see the hole in the lower right hand corner on the border.  Even when there were no pieces left, that was still a hole.

Here's August 19.  We've taken the extra pieces out of the middle of the puzzle, mostly.  There is progress from one day to the next, but you have to look closely to see it.

Somewhere along the way I tried to count how many pieces were already in the puzzle and how many were left.  The box said there were 551 pieces and my numbers were far short of that.  So in addition to the problems I mentioned above, we also had an undetermined number of missing pieces.

But by this point we were going to push all the way to the end.

Here's some more jigsaw history from puzzle warehouse:

"Puzzles for adults emerged around 1900, and by 1908 a full-blown craze was in progress in the United States. Contemporary writers depicted the inexorable progression of the puzzle addict: from the skeptic who first ridiculed puzzles as silly and childish, to the perplexed puzzler who ignored meals while chanting just one more piece; to the bleary-eyed victor who finally put in the last piece in the wee hours of the morning.
The puzzles of those days were quite a challenge. Most had pieces cut exactly on the color lines. There were no transition pieces with two colors to signal, for example, that the brown area (roof) fit next to the blues (sky). A sneeze or a careless move could undo an evening's work because the pieces did not interlock. And, unlike children's puzzles, the adult puzzles had no guide picture on the box; if the title was vague or misleading, the true subject could remain a mystery until the last pieces were fitted into place." [emphasis added]

Well, we did turn into those folks addicted to getting this thing done.  How long would this have taken if there was no picture on the box?  That's something they wouldn't even allow at Guantanamo. I ended up looking at the cover picture very closely trying to figure out from the background, which piece of pillar fit in which part of the puzzle.

We kept switching from grouping the pieces by shape and then by content (as hard as that was to figure much of the time) and then by shape again.

Here's August 23.  Some days we only got a few pieces added.  But if you look closely, we did fill in some holes and filled in along the inside edges.

August 26 and things seemed to be moving faster, after all there weren't as many pieces to choose from any more.  And it seemed like there were far fewer missing pieces than I had thought.

And then, on August 27 we were out of pieces.  There were only nine missing pieces.

So, now we have to figure out what to do with this puzzle.  After all that work, just taking it apart and putting it into the box seems terrible.  Some things you make are intended to disappear - like a pie.  But it's anti-clutter season in our house, so this will go back in the box, and we'll give it a way.  And the next victim will at least know that there are nine missing pieces.

It did make me think of the assignment I had in the computer art class.  We had to digitally recreate a masterpiece.  I certainly learned a lot more about the picture I had chosen.  And in this case I got to know Escher's painting in much more detail than I ever would have.
Also learned to look at shapes AND content.  There were lots of different shapes but they fell in clear patterns.  Here's an example of three-knobbed pieces.

And I was reminded once again that slow but sure wins the race.  Well, I'm not sure about the race, but it does get the puzzle done.

And jigsaw puzzles, like other puzzles, take you out of daily routine.  The work on the puzzle seems to block out other things.  The other parts of your brain get a rest.

Jigsaw puzzle benefits lists 42 benefits of doing jigsaw puzzles.  I think this sentence gives an overview - though not the specific individual benefits.  Those are at the link.
"The educational value of doing a jigsaw puzzle is twofold: first, by building up a base of useful individual skills; secondly, by transferring these skills to other situations where they can be applied to solve new problems." 

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