Where Do I Begin?
Whether you buy your puzzles online (visit Puzzle Warehouse for an amazing selection), get them as a gift, or find them in a local store, you’ll eventually find yourself at home with the box on the table and a question in your mind: Where do I begin? It’s a question every puzzler asks, and one that has almost as many answers as there are puzzles.
Let's take a look at a specific product, and see how a puzzler might get started….
This is a beautiful 1000 piece puzzle from Galison, called State Birds. There's a lot going on in this image, with 50 birds of different sizes and colors arrayed across a map, mixed with an occasional bit of greenery. Where some puzzles have big, easily identifiable elements taking up large swaths of real estate, this is a more complex picture, with delicate intricacies requiring a more thoughtful plan of attack. Here’s what it looks like out of the box…
The first step is obvious, of course. You’re going to have to try to sort them out, thus breaking the puzzle down into smaller, more manageable sections. But with a thousand pieces in a pile on the table, staring at you and daring you to make the first move, what kind of sort makes sense?
With some styles of puzzle, like collages, or landscapes with snowy mountains and rustic cabins (example: Mountain Hideaway - 1000 pieces, from All Jigsaw Puzzles) the sorting is generally straightforward. In these puzzles, you can tell which pieces are grass, which belong to the mountains, and which are going to build the chalet. But with the birds? There are no large elements to give you a start, and no obvious sorting method to use. What is a puzzler to do?
The answer is to work with what you have. What do you see when you look closely at the image? The straight line around the border might stand out. Or the words at the top. Or maybe the pops of color in some of the birds. Any of these can help make headway on the solve. And of course, most puzzlers will also sort the border pieces into a separate pile, maybe to do them first, or maybe just to get them out of the way for now.
As you sort, you’re going to need somewhere to put the piles you end up with. If you don’t already have something similar, perhaps a collection of sorting trays would help. These can keep your pieces from mixing back together as you work, and can keep a clean, organized workspace for the puzzle. Or, if you work better in a casual setting and have the extra room, you might just push the piles off to the side until you need them - there’s really no one solution, just find what works for you & run with it.
Once the pieces are properly sorted, in a way that makes sense to you, it’s time to jump in and start hooking them together. For a puzzle like this, with a jumble of similar elements fit tightly together, you might choose as I did - to solve the border and the pops of color first. It doesn’t look like much, but it’s progress, and it brings the puzzle closer to its finish.
As you work, keep in mind that “first sort” does not equal “only sort” or “final sort.” With any puzzle, it’s almost guaranteed you’ll discover additional sorting you can do along the way. Closer to the end, or with hundreds of pieces of similar color, you might sort by shape, and solve by finding slight variations in size or length. Don’t be shy - push ahead and organize things to fit your own unique style. And if it isn’t coming together after one sort, try another. There’s no right or wrong in puzzling, there’s only doing what works for you.
As for the rest of this puzzle, here’s what worked for me…
My next sort was “anything with bird or plant” vs “plain old map pieces.” Once I had them separated, I spent a lot of time referencing the poster as I assembled the browns & greens, piece by piece. The final step was the small pile of map pieces I had, which went together easily to finish it off. Then a sigh of relief, and a big TA-DAA!
This puzzle was fun for me. It was a touch frustrating because of the amount of poster studying I had to do, and the fact that all of the pieces were the same shape. But the pieces were solidly made and had a great finish, and they fit together well. Despite my minor frustrations (or maybe because of them) it sure felt good to snap that final piece into place!
So when you’re sitting at the table, with that ominous pile of pieces in your face, don’t let it overwhelm you. You’ve got this! Give them a good sort (and maybe another, and another), and get to solving.
Phil (aka Puzzle Buster)