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Creating My Own Problems to Solve

I want to understand human psychology when it comes to solving puzzles–jigsaw puzzles, specifically. Imagine explaining jigsaw puzzles to someone completely unfamiliar with them. Here’s my explanation.


Life is difficult–full of unexpected and unpleasant problems at times. Moreover many people have jobs in which problems are tackled throughout the day. So for fun, here’s what many people CHOOSE to do as a FUN hobby….

Many people like me work at a job at which we solve problems–whether it be financial, relational, medical, marketing, operational, retail, etc. etc. In exchange for our efforts we are compensated with money. We exchange some of that earned money to purchase a box filled with tiny pieces of a broken image–sometimes a photo, a drawing or a painting–really could be anything. Some people like to provide the puzzle manufacturer a photo of their own choosing, say a family portrait. What’s important is that the image has some variation in color. To be a really fun puzzle, the less variation in color the better. So, like a photo of a cloudless blue sky is FAR more fun than a photo of a crowded subway station.

So, anyway, we choose to exchange money for a box filled with pieces of an image that the puzzle manufacturer has systematically sliced into a myriad of similarly-sized pieces. Again, if a manufacturer wants to make a puzzle that’s more fun, they divide the image into more and more pieces. A 1,000 piece puzzle of an uninterrupted white sandy beach is WAY more fun than a 100 piece puzzle of a bag of colorful marbles.

The making of fun is not yet over. The manufacturer has carefully carved out the pieces to be interlocking. Some of the ways they connect are pretty obvious–like a large knob fitting into a large socket. But, sometimes they interlock in very similar ways with just minor differences. Having five variations of a knob-and-socket connection that can be easily confused with one another is SO much more fun than just having one. It provides the pleasure of pieces almost appearing as fitting together, but not quite.

As one might imagine, choosing to exchange earned money to buy a box of broken pieces of an image, and carefully reassemble all those pieces into the original image, could take some time. Similar to exchanging money to have the opportunity to work on a problem the puzzle manufacturer created, time is being exchanged for non problem-solving activities–such as napping.

Frequently, these puzzles don’t get completed in one sitting. Especially when there’s hundreds or thousands of pieces. During the entire process of reassembling the image, it’s tremendously delicate, can’t be moved, and takes up at least twice as much surface area as the final image. The whole time, the pieces are very small–thus making them easy to lose. (There’s nothing nearly as FUN as being on piece 999 of a 1,000 piece puzzle only to realize that a piece got sucked up by your Hoover 3 weeks ago.)

Once all the pieces have been properly reassembled to reflect the original image, the puzzle is complete. This experience–paid in both money and time–is complete. At least temporarily. Typically, in far less time than was required to complete the puzzle, the puzzle is summarily destroyed. The image is manually decomposed back to its atomic structure of individual pieces. No pieces must be left attached to one another, lest the puzzle be somewhat be simpler to complete on a subsequent experience. All the pieces are returned to the box, and then the box is placed on a shelf, awaiting to be completed again.

Finally, I find it interesting that individuals who theoretically have the most significant problems to tackle in this world also choose to complete puzzles. I recall learning that the President of the US spent time with some cabinet members at Camp David to work on jigsaw puzzles. Are there not enough problems in the country and the world? During “downtime” the President and associates need to find recreational problems to solve? Interesting human psychology indeed.


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