Lady Jane and the ultimate puzzle

John Grindrod Guest columnist

John Grindrod Guest columnist

For me, Lady Jane has always been her own type of puzzle, which, of course, has been part of her charm. And I think it’s something of which she’s aware. Her Valentine’s Day card said as much. It read, “I know sometimes I do things that make you crazy, drive you up a wall, or make you want to scream, and since it’s Valentine’s Day, I just want to say (open card)…aren’t you glad it’s just sometimes?”

So, what can happen when the occasional human puzzle comes face-to-face with the actual ultimate jigsaw puzzles? Well, that’s the subject of this week’s rhetorical peregrination.

Last August, Jane received a birthday present from her Sunshine State son, John, a Tampa resident and engineering professor at the University of South Florida, who had the good sense to marry one of my favorite former students, Betsy Pierce. During my life and times with his mom, I’ve come to know John as quite a nice fella. However, I do think he did his dear mother a bit of a dirty deed when he sent her a 1,000-piece puzzle of the Island of Sanibel and Captiva and its surrounding ocean.

As for jigsaw puzzles, which have never held any fascination for this guy who possesses less than a thimbleful of patience, well, they’ve been around for quite some time.

While who did something first is sometimes a tough call for historians to make, most agree the first jigsaw puzzle was created in England around 1760 by engraver John Spilsbury. His first was actually quite similar to Jane’s. Spilsbury took a world map and affixed it to a hardwood sheet and then used a handsaw to cut around the borders of countries.

Calling his product Dissected Maps, he then sold the labeled pieces of each he made as educational tools to help teach youngsters geography. Others took note of Spilbury’s efforts, and several other manufacturers began producing their own puzzles, continuing after Spilsbury’s passing in 1769. By the late 18th century, the foot-powered jig-saw was invented, increasing a growing market share of puzzle enthusiasts.

Jane’s puzzle, according to the box, is 26.4 by 19.8 inches and was manufactured by XPLorer Maps. According to the company website, there are several other regions, such as Lake Tahoe, Catalina Island and Badlands National Park, depicted in other puzzles.

The website also provides some biographical background on the two brothers whose dream ultimately became a company. They are Chris and Greg Robitaille, whose recipe for their business success includes a love of travel, artistic ability, and a keen interest in geography to create their antique-style map puzzles of national parks and other regions. The philanthropic brothers also donate a percentage of their profits to public lands’ conservation and preservation.

On the side of the puzzle’s box is the embryonic anecdote explaining Chris’s first map he ever drew. Whether apocryphal or factual, the story goes when Chris was just 6, his exasperated mother, weary of his shenanigans, told him to go take a nap. Chris thought she said, “Go make a map,” and off he went to draw his first map, one showing how he got from his bedroom to the kitchen and the cookie jar.

As to why Jane’s puzzle remained in the box from last summer until just a couple of weeks ago, Jane has a simple explanation.

“I was busy mowing, riding my bike, walking and traveling. Oh, and trying to keep a certain newspaper columnist in line.”

While most puzzle people, I think, tend to do the entire borders first and then start looking to fill in the middle, my puzzling gal has a bit of a different approach. In checking her progress each time I make the short trek to Mercer County, I’ve noted the side borders are way less than the stated 19.8 inches while the top and bottom borders appear far closer to their correct 26.4 inches.

Explains Jane, “I like to find the words in the middle, and, of course, maps always have a lot of words. I’ve always been quite fond of both maps and spelling. I’ll eventually get around to those side borders.”

Jane has been working on her puzzle for a couple of hours a day during colder weather. She says a good session might find her interlocking up to 10 pieces. But, don’t expect that pace to continue. As the temperatures rise, time spent working on Sanibel and Captiva will definitely lessen, she’ll tell you.

“I just love being outside, and that whole mowing, cycling and walking thing will always take precedence over indoor activities. Who knows? It may take me three years, but I’ll get there eventually.”

As for what she’ll do once her quest is completed, she has no doubt.

“I’ve heard some people who finish a challenging puzzle actually glue the pieces and then frame it. I’m pretty sure John sent it to me just to drive me crazy, so I’m going to put all 1,000 of those little pieces back in the box and send it back. Let’s just see how long it takes him to finish it!”

I’m not sure completing your first 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle qualifies you as a dissectologist, but if Jane can actually seal this jigsaw deal, I’m sure putting her in that puzzle-loving circle.

John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News, a division of AIM Media Midwest, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at [email protected]

John Grindrod Guest columnist Grindrod Guest columnist