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How Much of Mystery Can Be Unravelled?
I love puzzles. I love puzzling things out. I don’t have to get anywhere to be in love: though I’ll love it all the more if the puzzle finally yields.
I once bought one of those hard jigsaw puzzles. The image was a Hans Hoffman painting — a favorite anyway. The pieces were small. There were no apparent straight edges to help one find “edge.” The image had no “bottom”; you couldn’t just gather dark pieces and assume they’ll wind up fitting along the “ground.” No top, sides no different, colors distributed all over. I vowed to myself that I wouldn’t give up. I didn’t sleep. I hardly ate. Twenty-six or so hours later, there it was, every piece in place, filling the dining table.
Simplex Munditis, 1962
I had never assembled a jigsaw puzzle before, I’ve never spent two seconds with one since. But by the time I was finished, boy, did I know that Hoffman image!
Autumn Flurry, 1954
|The Hoffman painting of my puzzle was not either of these. In style it was somewhat between them: closer to the Simplex Munditis of 1962 than to the Autumn Flurry here of 1954. It had lots of color rectangles in it but the colors didn’t give much of a hint as to which rectangle a particular piece might belong to.|
I write this fresh from a trance at the Mac solving a tangle in the game Shanghai. The player is presented with mahjongg pieces stacked in a pyramid. Paired patterns at the edges may be removed. Most, but not all such stacks can be unstacked. Most patterns I’ll speed through in a few minutes; but some I’ll trance on for more than a day before either solving it or proving that it cannot be solved. Very few such games do I give up short of either solution or proof.
In college my friends were games players. I hadn’t been, but I too got into it with them, way behind in my skills but catching up. But those things are commercial puzzles, familiar time-fillers, frequently pursued to no reward but the doing of it. It will never be on TV if there’s no purse, but I don’t fit in my culture: my god may never give any rewards, it doesn’t matter: the pursuit of comprehension is the path and the “end.”
I love to fish. I love to catch fish, not always loving it quite so much if I don’t. But when I get a snarl in my line I’ll pick at it, trying to tease out the knots till it once again behaves itself on the spool. If I can’t untangle it swiftly, it would be so easy to cut the line behind the tangle, retie the lure, and get that lure back in the water; but not me. I once took a tangle home, worked on it for days, webbed my yard like a spider with loops from the snarl, devising a system of sliding weights to penetrate to the key twists. When done, my monofilament was no longer smooth. I cut if off and threw it away; but I’ve solved the snarl! My beloved fish were forgotten while I solved it.
I see lots and lots of things as puzzles: science … art. If my friends at college had grown to that age playing this and that game, nearly any game having some puzzle at its core (including chance, probability), I’d spent my youth listening, listening hard, to jazz: yes, as a puzzle, one which one must never expect to “solve.” (These days though, with my theory of Macroinformation, I’m teasing some deep patterns from complex information such as music, painting …
Newton wrote that in his science he’d merely found some nice pebbles and seashells along an endless shore. I love his attitude. Do we really want to bump into a wall and be “done”?
Regardless of what we want, mystery remains. Those rare Shanghai arrangements that I never solve nor prove unsolvable: are there any that could never be proved? Is there any god that could prove anything? Not and be truthful, not and be responsible to reality. I hope not.
Were I looking for a “cure” for cancer I might have yet another life-long trance. But I wouldn’t get along with those “sure” that we’d succeed.
2014 02 06 I now see I’d previously scribbled something on this memory:
2013 01 25 Amanda Warrington of Bristol England completed a 24,000-piece jigsaw puzzle, which has been billed as “The World’s Largest Puzzle”. She glued the project together over a 17-month period. By the time she was finished, she had a 14ft by 15ft puzzle weighing 26 pounds glued to her living room wall.
In the 1970s I bought a puzzle whose image was a painting by Hans Hoffman.
It wasn’t this particular image: but note from this sample how complex a jigsaw puzzle of an abstract composition could be: there’s no covered bridge or lighthouse or national monument to make any section recognizable. The only meta clues came from the four straight edges. The puzzle was big but did fit on the dining room table. I forget how many pieces it advertised: at least 1,000! That Hoffman was vastly more complex than this Hoffman in terms of how different any tiny bit could appear.
Point was: I became obsessed with finishing the damn thing in one session. I wasn’t a puzzle vet, it was the first jigsaw puzzle I’ve ever attempted! I did finish it, in just over twenty-four hours. Very proud.