Let me take you back to last year: Covid-19 was taking over the world. Lockdowns were put into place, sports leagues were shut down, bans were put on travelling. It was a wild time. I went from playing hockey 3-4 times a week to sitting on my couch, every single night of the week. I needed something fun to occupy my time.

Now here’s what you need to know about me- I’ve gone through dozens of different hobbies over the years. Rarely, though, do I stick to them. There’s an electronic keyboard sitting in my closet, collecting dust. Weights under my couch. A completely empty drawing book. Woodwork tools sitting in storage. Over and over again I do this. I have this go-getter attitude that fades incredibly quickly. I’m the same way with TV shows. I’ll start a new show and randomly stop watching it. I’ve tried getting into great shape about a dozen times in my life. I’ll go hard for a few months, and then resort back to my lazy ways, time after time. I made it about half way through Zelda before giving up. I was about to start the playoffs in Super Mega Baseball but then suddenly stopped playing. There’s been countless times in my life where I decided I was going to become a reader. I have about 20 books that have yet to be opened, sitting in a box under my bed. 

Anyway, let’s head back to the start of the pandemic. My thought process was simple: What can I do occupy my time? It has to be something that can be done in an apartment since the world’s been shutdown. I’ve got it: Puzzle making! A nice, relaxing, time-consuming activity. In typical fashion, I decide to go all in- Not a 200 piece puzzle, not a 500 piece puzzle. No, no, let’s go with a 1000 piece soda can puzzle! 

The day after I bought the puzzle is the day I start to make the puzzle. My mind is set on being a puzzle maker, so a puzzle maker I will be. Quite quickly, I realize that it’s not going to fit on my living room table. The problem is, that’s the only table in my apartment. No worry, on to the floor I go. My strategy is pretty simple- start with the outside border and work my way in. So far so good. I’m able to find the outside pieces in decent time. All of a sudden, my border is complete. Now I say all of a sudden, but in reality, a couple of hours have already passed. My body is starting to ache from all that time on the floor. The parts in the most pain are my knees, and the tops of my feet since they’ve been pressing down on the floor the whole time. I do a few body position switch-ups, and now a few more body parts are hurting- my back, my hips, I’m even developing a headache. But I refuse to quit. This will not be another failed hobby. I’m in the zone, here! At this point I’m thinking I very well may be the best puzzle maker in the entire world. 

I started around noon and worked all through the afternoon. I took a break for dinner, then went back at it. My girlfriend was confused at this point. The lockdown has just started, I bought just the one puzzle, yet I was trying to finish it all in just one day? All the while complaining about how much pain I was in? It’s hard to explain my mental state at that time. All I can say is that my mind was determined to finish this 1000 piece puzzle in one sitting. It’s like when you fill your plate at Thanksgiving dinner. About halfway through you realize you took too much. All that turkey and stuffing and mashed potatoes and gravy and cranberry sauce and squash and cheesy cauliflower is putting your stomach in a world of hurt. You have to adjust your belt. You’re sweating buckets. And yet, you have to finish. You were the one who put all that food on your plate. Don’t you dare take that walk of shame back into that kitchen with even a crumb left! Finish it! Was that story at all relatable or is that just me who feels that way? 

Anyway, back to the puzzle. I’m hurting badly at this point. There’s not a body part that isn’t in pain. My eyes feel glossy. My hands are sweating. My head is pounding. I’m trying everything to battle through this, spending time on my stomach, in a catcher’s position, standing up and looking at it from afar, crisscrossing my legs but then quickly un-crisscrossing my legs as that position is absolutely brutal and I can’t believe that was the go-to sitting position for all those years in elementary school. Make no mistake about it, what started as a relaxing activity has turned into the battle of my lifetime. 

It’s now pitch black outside. My girlfriend has gone to bed. All these cans look the same to me. There’s three yellow Squirt Soda cans. I’ve never drank Squirt Soda in my life but in these trying puzzle making moments, I hate Squirt Soda! And I hate Pepsi, and A&W Root Beer, and Sprite, and Purple Passion, and on and on and on. Here’s the thing. I’ve played sports my whole life. I’ve also worked in construction. There have been plenty of times when my body has felt pain. Some of those days mixing cement, or sodding under the scorching sun, or those hockey tournaments where you play seven games in two days; those were tough days. None of them compared to my day as a puzzle maker.

At about 10, I thought I was just about to finish. But let me tell you something about puzzle making- the last 50 pieces are the hardest. The fact that your brain is absolutely mush at this point makes it tough enough. On top of that, all that’s left are the most challenging pieces to figure out. Does this generic looking purple piece go here, or here, or here? Okay, it fits nowhere, it appears as though they gave me an extra purple piece. What about this white piece when all 10 of the remaining cans have white on them? And then there’s this yellow piece that could potentially fit in any of these stupid unfinished Squirt Soda cans! I HATE SQUIRT SODA! 

In spectacular fashion, I battle through those tenth and eleventh hours of puzzle making! I fight through the mental and physical exhaustion! Right around midnight, the masterpiece is complete!

The story doesn’t end there, though. Sure, I did feel something like pure joy when placing my last puzzle piece, but that lasted no more than a handful of seconds. That’s because right after the completion of this puzzle from hell, my body goes into shock. It’s something I’ve never experienced before. I start shaking uncontrollably. I am now freezing cold. I end up wrapping myself in several blankets but my shivering continues. I crawl to the bathroom and flop onto the bathtub floor. Eventually, steaming hot water rains down upon me. Finally, after what feels like an eternity, my body finds its way back to normal. Sort of. I end up spending the next few days in excruciating pain. The tops of my feet were hit the hardest; it hurt to even put on socks. My hips and knees were also throbbing. But I did it, damnit. I finished my puzzle in one sitting. I couldn’t wait to show my girlfriend.

“Wow, nice job!”

That’s it? Nice job?! I spent 12 straight hours on this masterpiece! Put my body through hell and back, ended up lying in the bathtub, shaking uncontrollably as you slept the night away! And you give me a, “Wow, nice job”?! 

In reality, there was nothing she could have said that would’ve been enough for me at that moment. Unless she contacted the National Puzzle Association and demanded that I be nominated for Puzzler of the Year, there was just no way for her to worship me as I felt I deserved after my day of puzzling. I was exhausted every which way so even her completely reasonable compliment was nowhere near enough for me. 

I left my puzzle on the ground for the next several days. At one point, my cat ran onto it and broke off a few pieces. I legitimately got angry at him, spending the next however many minutes fixing it as I muttered to myself (while making sure he could hear) how bad of a cat he was. The reality is, pre-puzzle, my cat walked on that part of the floor every single day of his life. Looking back, it’s insane that I became angry at him for walking on the exact part of the ground that he had used for years to jump up to his cat perch. That’s what puzzle making does to you, though. You lose sight of what truly matters, you lose sight of who you really are.

Once I reluctantly put the puzzle back in the box, I vowed to retire. It wasn’t worth the mental or physical pain. I’ll never forget my day as a puzzle maker, though. I committed to a new hobby, battled through the pain, and created this work of art: 

P.S. Squirt Soda sucks!

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