COVID renewed my interest in jigsaw puzzles. After the smaller home project list was complete and I wanted something different, I remembered puzzles. My sisters and I did puzzles as little girls starting with 50 pieces, then “ooh 100 pieces.” We became more discerning moving up to 750 pieces, and then eye rolling and head shaking at anything less than 1000. 1000 pieces was where it was at. And so it has remained into adult life and pandemic home activities. 

I like doing puzzles. There’s something quiet and peaceful about it. It’s always colorful. Making things fit appeals. Having a finished product gives me a sense of accomplishment. In one of my early apartments, the one with orange crate boxes for book shelves, an interlocking 1000-piece puzzle of a snow-capped mountain scene complete with lake and fishing boats was my decorating accomplishment, hanging on the wall over my small sofa. 

Establishing a starting technique for doing a puzzle is a personal thing. When I taught little kids, I demonstrated ones I knew. The edge method, finding corners first. Or you could sort by colors. Noting the shape of a piece, loops or the empty space where a loop would fit. 

Getting into the heart of the puzzle, matching to the cover picture was a help. ”This piece will go somewhere along the top/bottom or on the left side/right side.” All excellent spatial relationship experiences. It was interesting to see which kids stuck with it, which kids sorted colors then left for other games, and which kids took a piece to hold onto ’til  the end, exclaiming, “I had the last piece. I finished it!”

Puzzlers, do you find that your beginning strategy is often influenced by where the puzzle will be laid out? The varnished wooden table at the vacation house at Lake George was big enough to spread out all 1000 pieces of the week’s endeavor. 

My friend A. has one table in her apartment. It serves as her work table, meal table, and puzzle table. She checks measurements first  for spacing. When complete, the edges are kept in a baggie for next time. “I have to do that first for space allotment,” she says. Makes sense.

Hank “doesn’t do puzzles,” but the island in our kitchen is my current puzzle table. He has to pass it to get food from the frig, clear the table, or go to the pantry for a snack. So he’s apt to stop by and peer at the whole setup. He’ll pick up one piece and put it in the exact right place. My puzzle ego is ruffled. “You’re kidding me, I’ve picked up that piece a million times (ego always calls for exaggeration) and it never fit.”

My friend CB does the edges, then leaves the rest for someone else. 

So during the height of the pandemic when we were home pretty much 24/7 except for the weekly out in the world loop to Safeway, Ace, and CVS, I  pulled out the stack of puzzles and began. By the time Thanksgiving 2020 came I had done all twelve of mine, was trading puzzles with A. (complete with edge pieces in a baggie), and lining up the Christmas and winter scene puzzles. Five of ‘em lasted quite a while.


Yes, it’s soothing and passes the time. Lots of time. On the recent bookstore puzzle I got the edges done and needed just a bit of time to do some sorting. Hank goes to bed. I’ve sorted colors, faces of seven, no eight people, maybe more. I can see where a certain section will fit just to the right of the girl in the striped shirt.. Maybe I’ll just do enough to get pieces to meet all the way across, kind of the like the forming of the First Transcontinental Railroad meeting at Promontory Summit, Utah. Activity or addiction? No matter, I’ve got to do it.

Sorting the laundry the other week, I found a puzzle piece in the pocket of a long-sleeved shirt. Which puzzle does it belong to? I haven’t worn that shirt in ages. It’s in a little plastic bag on the bulletin board. Someday I’ll find its home. Or A. will call me and ask about a missing piece.

My sister gifted me a Beatles puzzle depicting 100 Beatles songs. That’s our era! I know all these songs. Well yes, knowing the lyrics helps and there is a printed song list. But this puzzle was 3000 pieces and had lots of details. Finding corner pieces, sorting the edges, easy. Whoa, this sucker is four feet wide. I actually had to measure our kitchen island. The dining room table could be a fall back place but then we’d have to put in one of the extra leaves.  

A realization: I didn’t want to dedicate that much time to a puzzle. 3000 pieces is a lot of sorting, picking up, putting down, looking at pieces. A magnifying glass was in use far too often. Even my post-cataract surgery eyes couldn’t help with tiny details.

Dick at the puzzle table

I regifted it to our friend Dick. He’s got the edges done. Well, who wouldn’t? It’s a solid white frame for the whole puzzle. His table looks plenty big. It’s been about week since I got this photo of him. He has a determined look. The blurb on the puzzle box does say something about “Eight Days a week.” It’s time to check in and see how he’s doing.  I’ll let you know.



Comments welcome about your puzzle strategies, your most challenging, your most beautiful, your most satisfying puzzle. 

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and the writing life. She’s retired from professional writing gigs after 30 years of teaching, coaching, editing, and gathering writers to publicly share their work. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. In retirement she writes to inspire, to connect with folks, and for the pure enjoyment of it. Ethel enjoys sharing stories at Odyssey Storytelling, Zoom gatherings, and anywhere there’s a mic.