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Friday, May 6, 2016

A gift held me hostage

Friday, January 27, 2012

We were enjoying the spring-like winter weather with which Iowa surprised its residents. The air was crisp and refreshing, the streets dry and clear when I took my 6 AM walk. It lulled us into expecting it would stay that way. It didn't. The day after we decided to make a trip north, all of it changed. We are staying home. I had hoped getting out of the house for a few days would break a spell I had been under.

I wanted to escape my most recent winter entertainment. What had begun as a challenging adventure was becoming a nightmare. A Christmas gift I received is a most unusual puzzle. My brother and his wife know I love mysteries. They gave me an Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Puzzle. The first step required reading a short story about the murder of a psychologist. The story includes interviews with 3 suspects, all of whom were the decedent's patients and each of them was obsessed with a particular Hitchcock movie. After reading the story you were to assemble the 1000 pieces into a picture of the crime scene and solve the mystery.

The big hitch in the Hitchcock puzzle is that there is no picture to use as a guide. The only guide is what has been learned from the story. It tells the clues found at the scene which included something from each of the suspects' favorite movies - a necktie, birds, a bloody oar, a bag of potatoes, etc.

The frame is ordinarily the easiest part of a puzzle but with this one there was no way of telling what was the top or the bottom. I kept in mind that in a crime scene anything with writing on it could be laying on its side or the writing could look upside down. When I finally got the frame finished I worked on like-looking pieces but the problem remained - where in the picture did this belong and what direction should it be turned. It was driving me crazy.

My husband sat down to help me but soon he gave up and went back to playing solitaire at the other end of the table. He laughed at my dedication to the puzzle. I stayed up later than I should, giving in only when my eyes felt like they were bugging out of my head. I was determined it wasn't going to beat me. I would not only complete the picture, I would solve the mystery. The guilty party is made known in the back of the little story book but it is typed in reverse so that you must place it in front of a mirror to read it. I put the book away so I would not be tempted to cheat. If it took me the rest of the winter, I was going to complete the puzzle. I just hoped I would lose the compulsion to allow it to use all my free time. I was ignoring everything else I should have been doing.

The day after we planned it, we canceled the trip north because of a change in our lovely weather. The only break I would get was by using self-discipline. We had guests one evening and with no puzzling that night, I thought the spell I had been under may have been broken. .

I woke up the next morning knowing it was time to get at summarizing last year's financial reports. Income tax time was approaching. Although the puzzle in the family room was calling to me I stayed at the computer UNTIL my printer jammed when I tried to print a spreadsheet. I cleared the paper jam but the printer told me via a message on my computer screen that the printhead had become loose or was not installed correctly. I followed the directions it gave me, taking everything apart and putting it back together. The same prompt came up. First my husband tried, then my son did the same. The prompt did not change and print orders were refused. I turned off the machine taking it as a sign this was not the day to do bookwork. It was easier to ignore that problem than it was to ignore the unfinished puzzle.

I hurried back to the family room. This may be the day I would magically figure out what was up and what was down. I would complete the puzzle, solve the mystery from the clues I was seeing and prove Alfred Hitchcock couldn't fool me. I stayed up until midnight but I got the puzzle together. I went to bed and thought about it. It had been fun and now I was enjoying a great feeling of accomplishment.

The end of this story is not what I expected it to be. The next day I studied the completed picture. I gave it all the time I thought I could afford but could not decide which of the 3 suspects was guilty. The little book had the answer I needed. Now I have my own mystery. Where did I put that little book?

By Mary S. Roder
Musing With Mary

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