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Date: 10/09/16

A Sporting Chance

Well I got that one wrong, didn't I?

After the succesful conclusion of my Alpine adventures, I expressed the opinion that my next jigsaw challenge looked as if it was going to be less fraught.

Having taken a week or so away from the kitchen table (the only flat surface available to me which is large enough) in order to do other things, I went back to puzzling last Saturday, once more courtesy of my dear friend and colleague Siân.

The degree of difficulty with this one - entitled Summersports - was that it was a one-thousand-piece jigsaw, whereas I had previously tackled nothing larger than a 700-piece effort. But still, I reasoned, two things were going to be easier about it; firstly, that the picture was divided up into ten discrete images, each portraying a different scene; and secondly, that the ten panels were separated by thick black lines. This would mean that, in theory at least, I could not only start as I usually do by picking out the edge pieces, but also by finding the pieces with the black borders on them. Once that was achieved, I thought, the job would be half done. So I set to it.

Edge and corner pieces are not difficult to spot, of course; except that I have never succeeded in finding them all at the first attempt. When you have a thousand pieces to trawl through, this takes extra time even though - again in theory - it should be marginally easier with each pass, as the number of tiles to examine decreases, if only slightly.

It took me about three passes before I had all of the edges, and putting them in the right place wasn't too difficult. But, on coming to the border pieces, I met with a problem, in that some of the black lines were not exactly apparent to the eye immediately, as they were to be found either between areas of the picture which were just as dark as the lines, or that the part of the border present on the piece was often so close to the very edge that it was in danger of falling into the cracks between. It was quite late on in the whole process before I had all of them.

By this time, I had gone about assembling the main parts. But here too lay a problem; rather than being something close to a photograph, the puzzle itself (and, hence, the illustration on the lid) had been painted in something of a Van Gogh stylee, with all the impressionistic fuzzy edges one would expect. This made identifying which piece I had in my hand rather less than easy a lot of the time, but I ploughed on.

By about the fourth evening, I had managed to complete the upper right panel, and was well on the way to finishing off the image at bottom left as well. In the following day or so, that and the middle bottom was completed too. The upper left, lower right and centre panels took a little longer (due to the fact that they all contained a lot of grass, the gradations of colour of which were not easy to distinguish one from another without a degree of trial and error). The two pictures at centre left were a little more tricky, but were accomplished eventually.

That left the centre right and top centre panels, and here is where I hit a major blockage, and for diametrically opposed reasons. In the case of the centre right box, the problem was that large area of floor. Although it may look as though there's plenty of variation in the shading, it is very difficult to make such fine distinctions when you are holding a single small piece of it in your hand.

(There was another annoying aspect to this panel, but I'll come to that in a minute).

The top centre were a reet pig for the opposite reason; it was composed of so many small areas of colour that figuring out whether the piece I was staring glumly at was an area of shirt, of hat or of background was all but impossible, especially given the painting style. I was reduced to the time-consuming expedient of trying every piece that came to hand in every conceivable position.

Finally, and with a yell of triumph which would have been joyful had I not recognised it as being pathetic as well, I slotted the final tile home shortly after 4pm this afternoon. This is the finished version (the red circle in the centre right panel isn't on the puzzle itself; I'll come to that shortly):

Photo of a completed jigsaw puzzle showing various summer sporting activities

Various thoughts were engendered in the judgely noggin by the picture itself. As I said, it's called Summersports, but my first impression was that the artist had severely limited himself in his depictions; there were no fewer than three of the ten panels showing equestrian events, three more where people were looking through binoculars (probably at equestrian events), a rowing eight, a river regatta and a similar occasion involving yachts. One might have expected a cricketing scene (the puzzle was manufactured in The Netherlands, it's true; but the Dutch are no slouches at that game), but no.

At which point I started to wonder whether the artist (named on the box as J. Jonas) had either a clichéd or jaundiced view of British society. For these are obviously the leisure pursuits of the haut monde. The picture upper right is quite obviously the dear old Queenmumgawdblesser (and in these days of obligatory hyper-patriotism - by arrangement with Rupert Murdoch - I am pleased to report that that was the section which was completed first). The nearest thing to something that the lower orders might be involved in was the ballooning, and even then perhaps only as ballast. If that is genuinely the way this cursèd isle is viewed from Zaandam, then they might understandably feel themselves well rid of us in due course.

Now look at the figure I circled in the centre right panel. Here he is in close-up:

Detail from a jigsaw showing a man in a black suit, side on

Isn't that the smuggest-looking git you've ever clapped eyes on? One can easily imagine that his day job involves foreclosing on cripples before absconding with the company's pension funds and squirreling them away in Monte Carlo in his wife's name. Unfortunately, I found that piece early on in the proceedings and had the oily bastard in my eye-line the whole time I was trying to piece the floor together.

Anyway, that's another one done. I'm now 'kicking back' with a can of Guinness and contemplating whether to start on the puzzle kindly brought to me yesterday by my long-time fiend and collage, Carl. It's a bit like a jigsaw puzzle, but at the same time isn't. He thinks that it will either provide me with hours of delight or send me around the twist at near-light speed.