Puzzled

by Brad Nelson   4/16/14

I’ve been into making jigsaw puzzles lately. I got roped into this by volunteering as an unofficial eBay-store buyer for my brother who finds gems for 99 cents at Goodwill or St. Vincent de Paul and resells them, sometimes for ten times what he paid. Not a bad little business.

Puzzles are one of the things he sells so I keep an eye out for good used ones at second-hand stores, especially ones that are sealed. Ones that aren’t sealed need to be tested (aka “put together”) to see if there are any pieces missing, which I volunteered to do a time or two. And counting the pieces would just be too simple and no fun (and absolutely no guarantee since many of the 500- or 1000-piece puzzles don’t actually have that exact number of pieces).

It’s tough to get anyone to buy a puzzle if they know there are pieces missing, although that part doesn’t bother me anymore when I run across one. A missing piece or two adds character. And it’s as if you’re making use of a toy that had been cast off on the Island of Misfit Toys. You’re giving new life to old things, something anyone over the age of 35 can probably appreciate.

So I got hooked. And the more you do them, the better you get. And it helps to have good color vision, which I’m fortunate to have. This helps in distinguishing the subtle shades. It makes putting together, say, a big blue sky a lot easier. But one thing I do avoid are those puzzles which have large repeating patterns to them — like a puzzle I saw the other day which was mostly made up of M&M candies. Some like the challenge of those types of puzzles. But to me, they aren’t puzzles because there is little or no strategy to them. One is reduced to a brute-force technique of matching pieces that all pretty much look the same. No thanks.

But a little of that in a puzzle is more than okay. It’s the variety that is fun. And I’ve started my own collection of puzzles now. And once these puzzles are put Titanictogether, that’s not necessarily the end of it. I’ve learned how to glue them together for hanging onto the wall, and have already done so with a couple. I recently completed a Titanic ship-themed travel-like poster in puzzle form that I put on the wall today.

I use Modge Podge matte for the glue. It’s probably just a glorified Elmer’s Glue — which would probably work just fine too. But the matte finish of this glue has some advantages. It reduces glare. And, if you try to put a gloss glue on a naturally matte-finished puzzle, it might make the puzzle cracks stand out inappropriately.

Gluing a puzzle is inexpensive and pretty straightforward. Put wax paper under your puzzle so that any edge-spill doesn’t glue it to the table. Flatten the puzzle as best you can and sort of “squish” in the puzzle toward the center to make sure you have a fairly tight fit. Pour a small pool of the glue in the middle of the puzzle and then trowel it out fairly thin and smooth using a straight edge such as a business card. You’re basically squeegeeing it on so it doesn’t take that much glue.

Because it’s difficult to squeegee right to the edge, I use a small foam brush to do the edges. It’s tough not to leave a few brush strokes (or business card strokes) but that’s a minor detail and they are not easily noticed. But one thing I have yet to try is to perhaps water down the glue just a teeny bit so that it any ridges or brush strokes will naturally smooth themselves out.

If you plan on then mounting the puzzle, or both mounting and framing it, then you can stop there with one coat. But what I’m doing now is avoiding that hassle and expense of mounting/framing and instead am using stick-on hangers to hang the puzzles directly to the wall. And one coat of the glue isn’t probably going to be enough for that. So I normally put two coats on both the front and the back. This makes them very rigid and hopefully durable. I have yet to test whether a week of 80 degree weather will cause them to stretch apart or if the glue will yellow over time (let alone offer any UV protection to the puzzles). We’ll see. But this Modge Podge is like Elmer’s glue and that stuff dries fairly hard.

Here’s a small history of the jigsaw puzzle. The first puzzle was apparently a map. Here’s some more interesting info.
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Brad Nelson

About Brad Nelson

I like books, nature, politics, old movies, Ronald Reagan (you get sort of a three-fer with that one), and the founding ideals of this country. We are the Shining City on the Hill — or ought to be. However, our land has been poisoned by Utopian aspirations and feel-good bromides. Both have replaced wisdom and facts.

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5 Responses to Puzzled

  1. Timothy Lane says:

    I do a lot of puzzles, but not jigsaw puzzles. Of course, we don’t have anywhere we could keep one around. They often have a puzzle available for anyone to work on at SF conventions (such as at Concave this year and InConJunction last year).

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Well, all it takes is an empty table. And I’m sure the puzzles you do are a lot harder. And yet I find it fun to engage in pattern-matching, which the brains of guys are particularly good at…but legions of grandmas are equally skilled in their own way.

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