A few years ago we inherited a whole room full of toys from some friends whose house we rented while they were overseas. Among the treasures in the converted double garage / playroom was a 500 piece Map of the World jigsaw. It remained in its box for almost 2 years before launching the Eat, Drink and Jigsaw tradition that began the following Christmas holiday.
It turns out the world is a big place. There are lots and lots of oceans. It took hours to complete. In the end the kids went to bed, everyone who didn't live in the house went home, and Keith and me sat up to three in the morning until we finished it - all bar a single piece of Turukhansky District in Northern Russia which was missing. Anyway, we glued the almost finished thing to a rectangle of cardboard and ManChild had it above his bed for a couple of years (in 4 different bedrooms in 2 different houses). (Another story).
The following Christmas holiday we turned our attention to a second hand 500 piece jigsaw of some trees and a lake purchased at the school Christmas fayre. As already proven, second hand jigsaws can be a bit of a risk, but we knew this one was complete as it was already finished and cling-filmed to a piece of cardboard. It didn't have a box, but we could see what the thing was supposed to look like. We took a photo of the puzzle, printed off an A4 copy of what we were aiming for, then crumbled the puzzle back into its component parts.
But we used a flash to take the picture. And the layer of cling film came out better than the detail underneath. So the only copy of the finished picture was not that helpful. The rebuilding effort lasted several futile hours, during which time such little progress was made that everyone lost interest and the project was called off (although the eating and drinking continued so the evening wasn't wasted).
Christmas 2013: Fire works at Tower Bridge (500 pieces)
OK - this puzzle was technically similar to all previous attempts, but as 90% of the thing was either black sky or black Thames river, the overall percentage of one colour was higher than 71% blue ocean of the whole world with a missing bit of Turukhansky. Worse in fact - because the oceans at least had latitude and longitudinal lines on them. Black was just black. This took ages to complete- although spurred on with additional help from more mates and the older children among us, it was completed within the evening.
The last few pieces were a bit of a challenge as previous misplaced pieces meant what was left wouldn't fit into the remaining space. We ended up reversing the whole thing and using the pattern of the manufacturer's logo on the back to correct the mistakes. No one could go through all that again and remain of sound mind, so this jigsaw was glued down onto cardboard too. (Then spray painted white and made into a birthday present for a mate a few months later).
Christmas 2014: The Wild Wild West with Where's Wally (1000 pieces)
We upped the stakes this year with this one, but this was counterbalanced by the detail that exists in Where's Wally. Despite doubling the puzzle pieces it took only an evening and an hour of the following day to complete. Yay! It's still on our kitchen table right now because no one has the heart to crumble it back into the box and Jackson doesn't want it glued down and sprayed white or any other colour. The Wild Wild West was completed by 6 adults and no children (who were Minecrafting, devising an intruder alarm with technics lego and playing mums and dads with Build-a-Bears)- which was fine because progress was quicker without them. Crucially, progress was also much quicker when in possession of the box lid.
There's just too much going on in Where's Wally to guess at what goes where without it. With a sea of characters and at least a dozen of them wearing blue trousers or a white waistcoat or a brown stetson, any suggestion of just one of these things could potentially belong in over 30 places. Without the finished image for reference, a piece of wooden paneling could be a wardrobe, a wagon, a goldmine entrance or part of the town jail house. And without seeing the image in the first place you don't know these things even exist and are part of the picture anyway.
With the box, everything changes. The basic structure of the frame is easier to form. A strategy can be formed and pieces grouped. Whole areas can be delegated for efficiency or put to the side temporarily to clear the work space until they are needed. With the box lid in your hand or looking over the shoulder of the one who has it, you could select a bit of jigsaw at random, scan the lid for 30 seconds or so, and pretty much identify exactly where it went and (in the later stages) click it right into place.
With the box, the confusion that exists within one little puzzle piece is given context and it makes sense. It belongs.
• Building and grouping and clicking pieces together in the belief that the finished picture will make sense when it's complete.
• Trusting that none of the bits are missing.
• Trusting the advice of the people around you who have also seen the lid of the box.
• Having the stamina to continue building when nothing has clicked into place for a while.
• Trusting the manufacturer of the puzzle when you don't have the box lid yourself.
• Removing / adjusting an individual piece placed in error in order to keep the overall picture correct (and not getting arsey if someone else on your team notices the mistake first).
• Not abandoning the whole project when the pieces don't make up the picture you were expecting.
(The random lake and some trees from 2 Christmas puzzles ago was dull beyond belief anyway- the one you're making now will be much better. Honest. And... Hey - THERE'S WALLY!!!)