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January 28, 2012

On the Go: Why do puzzles have to be so darn puzzling?

Daily Star

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Life isn't always easy. We are mere humans, trapped in this game we call "life," just trying to make our way through relatively unscathed.

So wouldn't it be nice if someone somewhere sat down and said, "You know, life can be difficult. So I'm going to invent something calming and relaxing, some sort of easy activity that families can do together when they're trapped at home for their college winter breaks."

That sort of thinking would be so pleasant. However, it doesn't seem as though we were that lucky. Instead, apparently, this person clearly stood up, sat back down again, and said, "Just kidding, I think I'll invent puzzles."

Every year, it is an Adamo family tradition that, for Christmas, the family gets a new puzzle to finish before winter break is over. The intention is seemingly pure and moral _ it does get us to spend time together when we otherwise would be holed up in our respective corners of the house, waiting for the snow to melt enough that we can at least pry open our front door. However, seeing as we seem to be lacking in the snow department this year and could easily have ventured outside and away from quality family time, it was decided that the puzzle this year would be 1,000 pieces, to ensure that we would still be finishing this puzzle until approximately our grad school graduation.

It's not that I dislike doing puzzles. Really, it's not! It's just that they are so (for lack of a better word) puzzling. Honestly, you can stare at a single puzzle piece for hours upon hours trying to get it to fit into that little space that you know _ you just know _ if you keep going back to it, maybe one time it will fit into. Listen, I'm going to let you in on a secret here. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but try as you might, it is never going to fit into that little space. I know, because I, too, have been a victim of the jigsaw puzzle curse.

I will admit it, I'm really not superb at puzzles. And it's a shame really, because spending time doing them with my family and my extended family is always really entertaining. It's the actual process that is my downfall. You see, I could spend hours upon hours trying and failing to get the pieces to match up.

I promise you, none of them will. I just have bad puzzle judgment, I guess.

And after about hour three of nonstop letdown, one of the pieces will finally fit with another. And somehow, that alone is enough to instill a burst of confidence so dangerous that I will continue on, forever forgetting the hours upon depressing hours I spent laboring over the others.

The reason puzzles are so dangerous to my health and well-being is that they're so addicting. Puzzles may be one of the most competitive activities out there, because the only person you have to blame for not succeeding is yourself (Yes, I suppose this theory could go for other activities as well, but I actually endorse the blaming of others for the majority of life's problems, so we'll just glaze over this detail for now). You can try to walk away from a puzzle, but you know it will be there, taunting you with its unfinished picture and its box declaring that ages 10 and up can complete it … Why can't you? And if by some miracle of God, or the help of a much more geometrically intelligent person, you happen to finish the puzzle, the sense of gratification is so great that you cannot help but buy another.

So, as long as I'm going to continue on this destructive puzzle path, I just have a few requests for the puzzle-makers of the world. Maybe when you finally get a few pieces to fit together, you could make them so they spell out a little motivational speech bubble with sayings like "You can do it!" or "Don't give up yet!" or something. It would be nice to feel like the puzzle is cheering you on, and not sneering at your progress from behind its jagged edges.

Secondly, please, please, please, double, triple and quadruple check that every piece is in the box when you send them out.

One time, we put together one that took us a week, and there was a piece missing. I still have not forgotten this. I probably never will.

And lastly, for me, just try to figure out a way to differentiate between pieces of water and pieces of sky.

If you were wondering, we did finish that 1,000 piece puzzle. It only took a few hours each night for five straight days. All in all, it's a great family tradition, but next year, I'm bringing home Monopoly.

Adrian Adamo, a 2011 graduate of Oneonta High School, is a freshman at Emerson College in Boston. 'Teen Talk' columns can be found at