My title of “Greatest Jigsaw Puzzle Solver in the World” is a lonely and burdensome moniker. The notoriety and adulation from my adoring public, while fulfilling, masks an internal struggle that I’ve been having with myself for decades.
“That’s the puzzle man,” complete strangers whisper to each other, as I browse the puzzle selection of my local hobby shop. “That’s the guy who solved a 1,000 piece monochrome puzzle in under 34 minutes, back in 1996.”
People don’t often see the dark side of competitive jigsawing. The late nights under the intense heat of a buzzing spotlight, with your top competitor at the table across from you, eager to take your throne. The copious amounts of Red Bull mixed with coffee in order to keep you focused on the task at hand. The double vision and fatigue that is created by staring at tiny little puzzle pieces, all needing homes. My fans just see the riches I’ve accumulated and the publicity I’ve deservedly garnered. No one pays attention to the blood and sweat that goes into making someone the greatest of all time.
It all started in the late 1980s, on a family vacation to the Carolina shore. As I stood over the waist-high counter top, the pieces scattered about in front of me, the smoke of my Grandmother’s cigarette hovering overhead, I found my calling. As my sisters could be seen frolicking in the ocean waves through the bay window, I was finding end pieces. As my parents relaxed on the front veranda, with mixed drinks and classic rock bounding out of the cassette player, I was inside, connecting those end pieces. By the end of the week, a puzzle of a Swiss mountain range was complete and a star was born.
To say that I created competitive jigsaw puzzling would be understating things. There was an underground movement afoot by the time I came of age, but it wasn’t until I entered the fray that things really began taking off. In a sense, I was the Hulk Hogan of competitive jigsawing, turning a minor competition into a global event.
The accolades of being a 22-year consecutive champion are fraught with peril. Sure, my riches have allowed me to accumulate a plethora of possessions, such as a lifetime supply of puzzle glue and a gold-studded puzzle table, along with an immense number of jigsaw trophies. With enough money in a variety of bank accounts, you’d think I’d have enough to sustain me for the rest of my life.
However, this business can strip away as much as it gives. I’m starting to feel the health impacts of a life spent hovering over a puzzle table: the neck stiffness, the inability to focus my retinas, the puzzle-related arthritis in my hands, colloquially known as jigsaw arthritis.
The voices of my family emanate from the rooms beyond the puzzle area of our home, where I hone my craft. This has led to resentment. While I’ve technically been there the whole time as my children have grown into young adults, I haven’t actually seen it happen. One cannot focus on a puzzle and something else at the same time. Therefore, I’ve only heard my children growing up as disembodied voices from afar. Frankly, my wife would probably leave me if I weren’t so handsome and wealthy.
Struggles? Sure. Even the puzzle man has had his struggles. There was this one puzzle, back in the late 1990s, that nearly led me to quit the business forever. It was a photomosaic of Abraham Lincoln. Essentially, it was 1,000 pieces of black and white photos from the Civil War era that made a portrait of our 16th President. After several failed attempts at piecing things together (pardon the pun), I nearly reached my breaking point. As I attempted, in vain, to connect the pieces through a frustrated mind and teary eyes, I angrily wiped half of the pieces onto the floor with my hand, as my cat looked on in horror.
Eventually, I picked up the pieces, both literally and figuratively, and conquered Abraham Lincoln. Without adversity, we cannot grow stronger.
Life is like a puzzle. Each piece represents a story and, in isolation, the pieces may not make sense. Put them all together, and they paint a perfect picture.
If you see the puzzle man at your local hobby shop, give me a wave of your hand. I may not wave back because of this damn jigsaw arthritis, but I’ll appreciate the kind gesture anyway.