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A couple winters back, I bought a jigsaw puzzle from a yard sale. The picture was of one of those hot air balloon gatherings, with lots of bright colors and patterns to match together. When you’re staring at a Virginia winter out your window with hardly any snowfall to motivate going outside, it’s one way to pass the time.

Of course, the hazard of yard sales is that they’re full unwanted stuff, like the baby clothes that no longer fit, the coffee table books that turned out to be easily-wrinkled coasters, or the Easy-Bake Oven that caused one case of food poisoning too many. In my case, it was the jigsaw puzzle that was missing 23 pieces. But what some might have considered “useless and incomplete,” I thought of as “challenging.” At any rate, I learned that you get what you pay for.

I have a friend of mine who likes to put together jigsaw puzzles and then laminate them. As hesitant as I am to adorn my living quarters with pastoral examples of what might be regarded kindly as “waiting room art,” I have to admit that she — among others, I’m sure — has alighted upon a reasonably clever means of interior decorating. It’s cheaper than art that comes all in one piece, it lets you customize the art on your walls piece-by-piece, and it’s still better than blank walls. It’s not quite like painting your room yourself, but it’s also considerably simpler. My geeky side still prefers secondhand movie posters, but I have to admit that a two-dollar poster for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull doesn’t really send the message I want.

It seems that everybody likes puzzles in some form or another, with Sudoku and crosswords the dominant forms these days for short-term brain-bending. I’ve been trying to do crosswords in ink lately — unfortunately, “unwarranted optimism” is too long to appear on most non-Sunday puzzles. Sudoku and its related number puzzle, KenKen, are popular among the mathematically minded, although I like the trivial knowledge challenge of crosswords. (It helps to have a healthy tolerance for failure.)

Your approach to jigsaw puzzles says a lot about your approach to life. The obvious approach, paradoxically, possesses elements of both elegance and brute force. It requires patience, time, and considerable trial and error. You can sort the pieces by pattern, by color, by shape — or, if you’re like me, assemble all the bits on the border first so you know how much space it’ll take up.

Then there’s the alternative approach, suitable for either the creative soul or the workaholic ­— it strikes me as perfectly viable, assuming you have on hand a magnifying glass, a pencil, graph paper, and the picture on the front of the box. I’ve never tried that method myself, but if I’m ever going to resell those hot-air balloons, it seems only fair that I plot where the gaps are for future reference. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a fresh puzzle that demands my attention. The bleak wintry landscape and barren trees probably aren’t going to make it on to my wall any time soon, but at least I broke the seal myself, so I know all the pieces are there. As a matter of fact, I think I have two extra. Hmm...