A Puzzling Sunday

When I was a kid, I asked my parents for a Star Trek puzzle I saw in the toy store. I think the image was taken from one of the Gold Key comic book covers. I don’t remember how many pieces it was, but it wasn’t an “easy” puzzle because a lot of the pieces were black with stars. Even as a kid, I was obsessive enough that I stuck with it until it was finished.

From that point on, every time a distant relative or family friend asked what kind of gift they should give me, my parents would say jigsaw puzzles. As a parent myself, I can see why. They often have nice pictures and they’re relatively inexpensive, so it doesn’t feel like you’re imposing on those relatives asking for suggestions. The problem is, after doing that first jigsaw puzzle, even though I stuck with it and completed it, I discovered that I didn’t especially like doing it. What’s more, many later puzzles I received had pictures I didn’t even like that much. Oh, they were often pretty enough, but I’d rather see a mountain valley than put together a puzzle with a photo of one.

My wife, though, loves puzzles. She does tell people that she wants puzzles with photos or illustrations she likes, but she is very good with any jigsaw puzzle. Even without looking at the box lid, I’ve seen her pull out random pieces and start putting them together and I’ve seen her put 500-piece puzzles together in under two hours. My daughters have also inherited some of this puzzle skill. So, when our local comic shop started having puzzle tournaments, I suggested to my wife that she should enter. Up until a week ago, she competed in four tournaments with one of my daughters and a friend or two on the team and they’ve won all four. So, it surprised me this past weekend when my wife asked me to join them for the puzzle tournament.

The way these tournaments work is that every team is given the same puzzle. The team gets two hours to work on the puzzle. The first team to complete the puzzle wins. If no one completes it, the team with the largest number of assembled pieces wins. We were given a 1000-piece puzzle featuring an illustration based on John Carpenter’s The Thing. The illustration was largely shades of red and gray. On the team with me were my wife, my youngest daughter and a friend of my daughter’s from school.

Although I’m not altogether a fan of assembling jigsaw puzzles, I’m not bad at them. I’m a sufficiently old-school astronomer that I had to become really good at pattern matching to identify star fields in a telescope eyepiece or on a computer monitor. That old Star Trek puzzle way back probably helped me hone that skill. As an editor, I look for misspelled words and bad grammar. I can see how things fit together from seemingly random patterns. I went along to the tournament for the sake of family together time.

At the end of two hours, we had 261 pieces assembled, a little over a quarter of the puzzle and we were the tournament winners. Our prize—another puzzle. This one was a Scooby-Doo puzzle, that looked a little more to our taste. My wife is now five-for-five at the local comic shop’s puzzle tournaments. She plans to return for at least a couple of more rounds and will compete in the final round at the end of the year. Whether I go back and compete again will depend on how the tournament days line up with my schedule.

This was probably the most fun I had working on a jigsaw puzzle and from what I saw, all the teams had fun. I think for me, the most fun part was spending time and collaborating with my family. I did come away realizing that the obsessive part of me that sees a puzzle through to completion (or until a time limit) is a necessary part to me being a writer. When I start a story, I need to see it through until it’s finished. Stories are not unlike jigsaw puzzles for me in that they often start with flashes of scenes and moments of characters doing something and I really want to see how they all fit together. I think the reason they satisfy me more than puzzles is because I’m the one who created the picture that appears when it’s all finished.

Another fun thing that happened on Sunday is that author Stephanie Kato interviewed me at her blog. Click here to read that interview and learn a little more about me.

A Second Childhood

Today, my wife is celebrating a milestone birthday. She’s declared it to be the beginning of her second childhood. We’re having a party and those guests who bring presents are encouraged to bring toys. There’ll be a barbeque and our daughters are baking the cake. It should be a fun time!

David and Kumie

Kumie likes to point out that although this is the beginning of her second childhood, she’s never really grown up, so the second childhood is starting just as the first one ends!

In fact, Kumie and I have always tried to keep a sense of fun and adventure in our lives. We’ve both collected toys, read books, and watched movies that appealed not only to our children but our own inner children as well. This isn’t to say that life has been all fun and games. There have been plenty of difficult times, too, and hopefully we haven’t behaved too childishly during those, but often its a sense of hope and optimism that sees us through.

I find it interesting that this particular milestone occurs as our oldest daughter prepares to embark on her college career. She’s had a lot of questions about why we made the choices we did as she sets about making her own life choices. When I was her age, I was interested in both writing and astronomy. I decided to pursue the latter, even though I arguably found math and science more challenging at the time. That said, I saw more opportunities to write with a physics degree than there were opportunities to explore space with an English degree. Since that time, technology and the arts have come together in many fascinating ways and my daughter hopes to explore that combination. I find myself wondering what choices I’d make if the choices open to her now had been open to me then.

Despite my musings, I can’t say I set myself on a terrible path. I do get to explore the universe in my “day” job at Kitt Peak. I get to play pretend as a writer. Although “free time” sometimes seems a rare luxury, both avocations do afford me a measure of fun. Here’s hoping you’re having fun, whether you’re on a first or second childhood, or somewhere in between!