Posted by: Hannah | 01/25/2013

on why puzzles are from the devil

I have never enjoyed jigsaw puzzles.

I remember one year for Christmas, when I was maybe ten or eleven, my grandmother bought me one. It had 500 pieces and featured a windmill sitting in a field of yellow tulips under a cloudless blue sky.

I hated that thing. I don’t think it ever did get assembled. Stupid sky. Stupid tulips.

If I like a picture, I’ll buy a print. And hang it on the wall. I will not buy it when it’s broken into 500… or 1000… or more, because people are insane… pieces.

My kids do not share my aversion.

From a very early age, they enjoyed puzzles. So I gritted my teeth and bought them some. I wouldn’t help them, though. Helping children with puzzles is ridiculous, in my opinion. How will they ever learn how to do them if there is always an adult to bail them out?

Besides, I learned very early on that helping children with puzzles is the most frustrating way a puzzle-hating adult can spend their time.

“The pieces with one flat edge always go on the outside. No, the outside. No, flat sides always have to touch. No, you can’t beat them into submission if they don’t fit right away it’s not the right piece stop that OH FAH GAH I CAN’T EVEN HEADSPLOSION!!!”

So instead, I tell myself that letting them figure it out on their own is helping develop their spatial relationship ability and manual dexterity. And then I get as far away from the activity as I possibly can.

The dayhome kids are also all fascinated with puzzles. However, they are not all good at puzzles, which leads me to this week.


Pixie has developed a fascination with a 24-piece puzzle. It features Winnie-the-Pooh standing on a Heffalump’s trunk to reach a beehive. She runs for it as soon as she arrives, dumps it out, and quickly assembles the main features. She then fiddles with the tree & grass pieces for UP TO NINETY MINUTES. Seriously. Yesterday she fought with it for so long that she burst into tears. “Pixie,” I said gently, “maybe it’s time to do something else for a while”. The quiet sobbing immediately turned into full-volume high-pitched wailing. I finally bent my no-puzzle-helping rule to give her a hand. “I DID IT!” she yelled, thrilled… then took the christly thing apart and said “I’m doin’ it AGAIN!!”

You just can’t help some people.

Today she’s spent half the time here building the same puzzle. There were no tears today, until I suggested that she get down out of the chair and play a game or something – then we had the meltdown again. So whatever. It’s Friday. If she wants to spend the entire day fiddling with that puzzle, so be it.


And then there’s Louis.

With his favourite playmate occupied with puzzles, he figured he should have one, too. Puzzles are awesome! Clearly. He chose one with 24 pieces.

Which was totally beyond him. He couldn’t even find two pieces that went together. I took it away and replaced with a 15-piece. Nope, still no good. Finally went to a 12-piece that is just Thomas the Tank Engine’s big dorky face. And the pieces are huge – a good four inches across each.

He’s been working on it now for TWO DAYS.

He just can’t figure it out. After a solid day of effort, he managed to put together the actual facial features, but the outline of the train is totally defeating him.

It’s both incredibly frustrating, and also quietly validating, because I said all along that not everyone can do puzzles, DAD.


In the meantime, though, I really want this cold snap to end. We’ve been trapped indoors all week, and it shows. Cabin fever is a real thing, and we’ve all got it.

Is it spring yet?



  1. Oldest was one of those kids who loved puzzles and totally kicked their asses. I mean at 4 that kid could do puzzles better than I could. Of course I’ve been well aware for 30+ years that my spacial relations skills are total crap. I bought him a ton of puzzles when he was younger because they kept him happily busy in the same way he is kept busy by ginormous Lego sets now. Doesn’t ask for my help, doesn’t want it because I’m really no help at all, etc.

    Youngest also loves puzzles but seems to have sadly inheirited my complete lack of skill in that area. She is 3.5 and still cannot understand the concept of an edge piece, visualize how pieces might fit, and is frustrated as hell any time she tackles a puzzle. After several issues with the many puzzles laying around from when oldest was 3-4, I finally just put away the puzzles because I couldn’t handle another hour long period of her attempting a puzzle, freaking out in frustration, being coerced into “helping” with the puzzle, and basically just wanting to burn the entire thing in a fire. She has lots of other interests and skills that don’t make me want to hit the booze at 2 p.m., so I’m going with it.

    • If *all* the kids hated puzzles, I would put them away until they’re older – but some of them really, really enjoy them, so I’m kind of stuck. And it is handy to have them available for the kids who like a quiet activity, especially on a rainy or too-cold-to-go-out day.

      That said, just watching other people put puzzles together makes me want to grind my teeth in rage. HATE.

  2. What is your problem with puzzles, HANNAH? Judgy much?

    My kids really loved puzzles, which was good in a way, because they would be occupied forever, like Pixie (not like Louis. They could generally figure out how the Backyardigans should be assembled). But then they received for Christmas a puzzle with – I think – Cars characters on it that was a huge floor puzzle and mother of god that was too much. It was slightly old for them but SOMEONE (cough cough, butterdish) thought they were child geniuses. So.Much.Frustration. Tears, the tears that went with that puzzle. That puzzle had to go bye-bye because otherwise I would have become an alcoholic.

    For a long time my in-laws did puzzles for fun. They would fight over the pieces. So fun!

    • Oh, the floor puzzles. Ron loves them but in the dayhome they are kind of nightmarish, of course, because some little greeblit is always coming along and wrecking them.

      My dad used to do puzzles for fun – the biggest one he ever did was 3000 or 4000 pieces – I can’t remember which. It was a very dreary scene of a street in Dickensian London. Everything was brown or grey, including the horses and the people, and they all looked miserably unhappy. Took him all winter, that puzzle. And even at my tender age I thought WHAT WILL HAPPEN IF HE LOSES A PIECE?

  3. I love puzzles. When I’m frazzled and all my nerve endings are sparking visibly, I put on my ipod and do a puzzle on the dining room table and it blisses me out. But watching kids do puzzles? I was always convinced that, although five minutes ago they were bright, normal, reasonably intelligent offpsring, they had suddenly become irretrievably stupid.

    • I actually find it strange that I *don’t* love puzzles – my mild OCD is normally very satisfied by making order from chaos.

  4. Owl loves puzzles and I admit happily to encouraging it. Puzzles are one of the VERY FEW things that he will do for five minutes or so without needing interaction more another human being, which means that sometimes I can set him up with a puzzle and blog for a couple of minutes.

    My mother gave him a set of four twelve piece puzzles for Christmas and he is obsessed with them. He has the memorized which is good because he understands the concept of fitting shape to shape much better than actually completing the picture/looking for what’s missing.

    We’ve been trying to teach him puzzle skills rather than actively helping him – we teach him to set up corner pieces and usually set the first one himself.

    • Hey look, if kids actually enjoy puzzles I’m all for it – it’s why we have so many. It’s when they *think* they enjoy puzzles but actually they don’t – or they get too invested in it – that they suck. The tears! The frustration! The angst!

  5. I like jigsaw puzzles, but they don’t hold my attention for long enough to finish them. It’s something nice to do with my family when I go to visit that isn’t argue about the washing up or watch TV, but all day, for several days? Those kids have some staying power!

    • TWO DAYS FOR A TWELVE-PIECE PUZZLE OF THOMAS’ HEAD. But he can’t focus long enough to poop in the potty.

  6. I only buy the wooden puzzles from Melissa & Doug. The ones with the cut outs for each piece and there is no real work involved because puzzles want to make me bang my head in to a wall…I know, I’m terrible! But I figure if we did everything they loved here, then there would be nothing to look forward to about going home!!! 😀

    • I bought both Pixie and Louis that type of puzzle for Christmas. My only quibble with those types of puzzles is storage. I like having neat stacks of puzzle boxes. Because I’m a weirdo.

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