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Date: 01/10/16

One Man's Dreams, Another Man's Nightmares

As I mentioned at the end of my last jigsaw piece (geddit?), the next challenge was to be a puzzle based on the characters and stories of Hans Christian Andersen.

Although this - unlike the Moving Puzzle - was a return to the standard jigsaw pattern, there was a difference. It said so on the box: "Hans Andersen's Dreams - Painted in brilliant colours on metal foil". "Shimmer, shimmer", I thought as I up-ended the polythene bag which held the pieces. Sure enough, when held up at various angles, each tile showed a different facet of itself. I wish that I had realised at that point precisely what that meant in practical terms.

I started with my usual tactic of picking out the edge and corner pieces. Despite the fact that these pieces were easy to spot from any angle - in that they had a wide silver band to them - it still took me two or three 'passes' to collect up all that I could of them.

Lining them up correctly presented a couple of quandaries: firstly, because they were all so similar (at least, without near-microscopic inspection), it wasn't easy to get them in the right order (a task made more difficult still by the suspicion that I still hadn't managed to get them all out of the box); and secondly because there seemed to be an arithmetical problem - if there were 700 pieces, then the only set of dimensions which would give that number was twenty-five pieces across and twenty-eight pieces up. I managed to figure out that I had ended up with just twenty-four tiles on the x axis and twenty-nine on the y. I scratched my head over this, working out (in my head, but confirmed by the calculator function on my mobile phone) that this would total only 696 pieces. I did manage to put together part of the bottom border, but only because it contained the copyright and artists' credit (Janet and Anne Grahame Johnstone, if you need to know), albeit in different locations to the ones shown on the rather inadequate picture on the box-front. Beyond that, and somewhat discouraged, I walked away from the whole thing for a day or so.

I then decided that obsessing with the numbers was not going to get me anywhere, and so my next move was to find the pieces which had little silver bits on the end of the prongs, as these would fit into the border tiles. This, too, proved to be an abortive strategy, and I once again retreated in despair.

I suppose that it was my customary bloody-mindedness which compelled me back to the kitchen table; a determination not to be beaten by a bunch of small pieces of thin card. My new tactic was to try to put together tiles which related to particularly obvious sections of the whole image. The pair of red shoes (remember, this is Andersen's dream we're speaking of) was one of the first parts to be assembled in this way, along with some of the accoutrements on Hansie's desk, like the candlestick.

It was still slow progress, though. Not just because of the fact that each 'pass' through the pieces in the box took time because of the number of the tiles involved, but also because that Unique Selling Point of painting the image on metal foil meant that each piece looked totally different depending on how you held it up to the light and upon the quality of the light you had to start with. Now, my kitchen table sits next to the side window, which faces south. I usually keep the curtains closed on it because - an intervening large forsythia bush notwithstanding - it's only four feet or so from the pavement, and I have constant visions of my coming downstairs in the middle of the night toute bollock nue, switching the kitchen light on and thereby making an exhibition of myself. I found that if I opened the curtains, the glare from the sun made the pieces change their shading and texture in a thoroughly disorientating way. Besides which, I've got the roofers in (or, rather, on), and on Monday and Tuesday they were tearing slates from the roof as if they were members of the Strangeways Riot Re-enactment Society, and I didn't fancy being gawped at by them as they went up and down the ladder. So, I had to rely upon what light filtered through the curtains plus the light coming in through the large, frosted pane in the adjacent back door. Evenings weren't much better, in that the bulb (incandescent, directly overhead) made the pieces look different yet again.

Square centimetre by square centimetre I plodded through it, finding a house wall here, a face there. There was a substantial area towards the upper left which was largely shades of silver, and these were a particular sod to figure out. In time though, the elements slotted into place: the Mary Poppins-type figure upper right; the soldier sitting precariously on a thin branch; the mysterious woman who seemed to be growing out of a bunch of flowers themselves growing in a rather ornate po; the princess who could - as Alberto Malich put it - pee through a dozen mattresses...

(I apologise for my failure to identify the stories depicted by most of these: I've never knowingly read Andersen's tales, much preferring the authenticity of the Grimms; after all, they collected theirs, whilst Andersen largely invented his and - in my view - drew the nerve from them, leaving them like an invalid's gruel rather than a good, strong broth. It is said that Andersen was once a house-guest of the similarly over-rated Charles Dickens; when the Dane finally left, Dickens is said to have gone into the room that he had been using and scrawled on the walls, "Hans Andersen stayed here for three weeks. Oh, it seemed like forever!")

The end was nigh. Except, that is, for much of The Man Himself. I'd managed to figure out his head and arms from their positions in relation to the other elements (the desk especially), but I knew that his jacket was going to be a killer, composed as it mostly was of various shades of brown which would have made differentiation difficult even if the confounded thing had been printed on bog roll rather than metal foil. I was eventually forced back onto the old standby of desperation; namely, taking each remaining piece and trying it in every suitable gap. Even then, this didn't entirely work, because if you put one tile in the wrong place, then that is at least two spaces that you've cocked up. Combined with the illumination problem, this caused even more head-scratching until I finally figured it out.

However, by this time something else had become apparent. I had no more edge pieces left, but two gaps in the border, one at the top and one at the bottom. One piece of the silver sky in upper left was also conspicuously missing, as were one piece upper right which should have had the corner of a cabin trunk of some kind on it and a piece of the edge of Andersen's desk. There had been a sixth piece missing as well, but I had found that amongst the loose tiles in the box of another puzzle.

So, there was no shout of triumph when I slotted in the last piece which I had; more a sigh of annoyance, especially as it's quite a clever image when viewed in the round (or, rather, the rectangular):

Photo of a jigsaw puzzle (incomplete) of a painting of Hans Christian Anderson and his characters

I had a desultory look in the boxes and bags of the jigsaws I haven't yet come to, but nothing came to light. So I will just have to accept that this one is - 'ow you say - knackered. I'll keep it for the time being though, just in case the missing tiles do turn up.

But I did solve the mystery of how 24x28=700. There were some odd-shaped pieces in the puzzle, like this one:

Photo of an odd-shaped jigsaw puzzle tile

These had the effect of creating two pieces in spaces which would normally be one piece wide and, with the addition of a couple of narrow but normally-shaped tiles, this allowed the manufacturers to escape sanction.

I'm not sure if I'm going to carry on with these, to be honest. The ones remaining seem to have an awful lot of off-putting sky in them, and the rather nice-looking one of Annecy in France is too big for the kitchen table anyway. I suppose it depends on how bored I get.

Oh. and since we're on the subject, here's a video of the song which kept going through my head as I was trying to complete Hans' dreams and end my own nightmares: