Column

Putting the pieces together

We’re now one month removed from Christmas. At my house, however, one gift from that morning continues to have repercussions several weeks later.

Prior to the holidays, I spent a good chunk of time trying to pick out gifts for my wife and son. The lockdowns had made our lives dull and repetitive, so I wanted Christmas to be an especially exciting event.

Like most modern shoppers, I traversed Amazon to do a large portion of my shopping. I’m a proponent of supporting local businesses (and try to whenever possible), but the convenience and search mechanisms of Amazon makes it hard to resist, especially when you’re looking for ideas.

At some point, I got it in my head that I wanted something for the three of us to do together. I looked at every board game in existence, thinking that was the answer, but they all felt like one-off events and I was really looking for something with more staying power.

By serendipity (or Amazon’s crafty algorithm), one of the suggestions that appeared beneath a selection I was perusing was a jigsaw puzzle.

In an instant, I knew I had my gift.

I then spent the next couple of hours trying to decide which puzzle to purchase.

I was most concerned about the image. I knew a lame looking puzzle would get tossed into the cabinet, never to be seen again. Therefore, the puzzle picture had to be inviting and interesting to both a 50-year-old and a 16-year-old.

I looked at puzzles depicting winter scenes in the mountains and summer scenes at the beach; I looked at outer space puzzles and puzzles that featured sea life. I even contemplated puzzles about popular breakfast cereals.

Unfortunately, every time I settled on an applicable selection, Amazon would report that it was either backordered or no longer available. I would have expected this closer to Christmas, but I was shopping weeks prior to the holiday.

I did a little online news sleuthing and discovered that the Covid-19 pandemic had caused a major run on jigsaw puzzles. People all over the world were turning to this antiquated pastime as a way to combat boredom, and in the process made puzzling hip again.

Unfortunately, with so many people puzzling, getting one was not as easy or as quick as you would think.

I finally settled on a puzzle that featured old postcards from popular locations (sort of like Bruce Springsteen’s “Greetings from Asbury Park” album cover). But while it was available for purchase, the shipping date was in a range between December 17 to December 28, which meant my great idea for a family Christmas gift might arrive after the holiday.

I decided to take a chance because I liked the puzzle so much. Luckily, it arrived several days before, so it was sitting under the tree on Christmas morning. I wrapped it in special paper and wrote a card that said: “To the Cioffi Family from Santa.”

When Christmas arrived and we were plowing through our gifts, I played stupid when my son asked about the strange box addressed to all of us. I told him to give it to his mother and let her open it, which she did.

Well, the puzzle didn’t have quite the reaction I was hoping for. In fact, it was more of a non-reaction. They both smiled and thought it was interesting, but you could tell it might as well have been an old donut or bag of pennies.

Regardless, that afternoon I spread the pieces out on our dining room table and turned them all upright.

And then something interesting happened.

Over the next few days, all three of us started congregating around the puzzle, sometimes in a group, sometimes solo. We’d jump in while having our morning coffee and after dinner with a glass of wine. My wife and I were the primary puzzlers, but our son engaged in spurts that made it feel like quality family time.

We finished that puzzle, and I am proud to say we’ve completed three others since and are now working on our fifth. Puzzling has dug its claws into us and we’re enjoying every minute!

This week’s feature, “Border,” is a cinematic puzzle that will twist your mind with its unconventional and bizarre tale.

Made in Sweden and heralded as the best film from that country in 2018, “Border” is an odd quasi-love story that delves into some taboo subject matters while highlighting how some things can be both grotesque and beautiful at the same time.

Check this one out if you love the craft of filmmaking. The storyline is challenging, but the approach and execution are artistry in action.

A puzzling “A-” for “Border” (available for rental on several streaming services).

Got a question or comment for Dom? You can email him at [email protected]

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