Puzzle (2): Puzzling and research?

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Note: The post is originally put in my research blog and published on May 19, 2010. I republish (or move) it here because I decided to merge all my blogs together for personal convenience. In this blog, the post is the second part of a series of writing about puzzle, the first part is in Bahasa Indonesia. 

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I’ve always been an avid puzzler. My first puzzle was in second grade of junior high, resulted from a two-hour-nagging to my parents. My mother was against it, but my (late) father finally gave up and bought that around-14$ puzzle, quite a lot of money for that time. I think it was about Donald and Daisy Duck, both sitting on Donald’s antique red car for a romantic date on a hill, under a tree, with city night view in front of them. It was 1,000 pieces, and as an amateur puzzler, it was overwhelming. Took me about a month to finish, but I fell in love instantly. I started to buy puzzles after graduated from university. Of course, it was after earning my own money. But most of them are still unopened. My defense is that I’m saving it for later, once I have more free time, I’ll do it. Plus, puzzling is a personal satisfaction, I can’t enjoy it when I’m rushed to finish. As a result, more and more unopened puzzles in my place, including in my current apartment. [Thank God for an understanding husband :P].

This morning, I impulsively took one small puzzle, only about 300 pieces or about one (or two) sheet(s) of A4 paper, and started puzzling again. Oh, how I love the feeling! I almost forgot how good it was. But that’s not the reason for writing this post. What I want to share is the thought I was (and is still) having about how I can actually ‘use’ my puzzling technique in doing research.

Come again?

Yes, I was talking about analogizing research to puzzle.

Many people talked about it, that doing research is like playing puzzle, it is putting the pieces together. But it passed through my ears until I actually did it. You see, when I’m puzzling, I have a specific way to do it. I call it puzzling technique, as follows:

  1. First, I would divide the pieces according to colors or forms depending on the puzzle theme, say for example tree, sky, soil, car, building, people, etc; and while doing that, I also separate the edge pieces from the rest.
  2. I would construct the edges first to get an idea of how big this puzzle would be. Once finished, I would have what I call as the ‘framework’.
  3. Then, I would build each group separately, working in other place not inside the framework. For each group, I usually divide the pieces again to what I call the blank pieces (no picture at all in the pieces, just plain color), and the pieces with picture. I would first start with building the pictured pieces because it’s easier, followed by building the blank pieces. But because blank pieces look so much alike sometimes, I just usually ignore them and save them for later.
  4. Once I can recognize a picture from the group that I’m working on, I would put the assembled pieces inside the puzzle framework, roughly in its place as shown by the illustrated picture. I would do that for each group until they are all finished. By then I would have the framework and several pictures, may or may not be linked to each other, which are placed inside the framework.
  5. The next part is to construct the blank pieces with some marks, and linked it with the assembled pictured-pieces if possible. The pieces are really the same color, but sometimes you can see a line, a slight gradation, a very small dot of different color, or other distinctive mark that connects one piece to another. The result of this step would be an almost finished puzzle, probably around 70-80%, with framework and groups of pictures linked together somehow. Most likely, the framework is already connected to those pictures, and you can already see your puzzle as a whole.
  6. The last part would be difficult, because what I have left usually are the ones that are literally identical, except for its form. To construct the rest of the blank pieces, the only way to put them together with the rest of the puzzle is by trial and error. My biggest frustration in puzzling usually happens in this step. But because it’s almost finished, it is probably also my favorite step.

So how does puzzling becomes an analogy for research?

When I finish with my current research, when in the future I talk about my current research in a reflective mode, I’m pretty sure I can explain this part in detail. But for now, as I am still in the middle of the process, I’m not quite sure how to explain it. All I’m sure of is that if I do my research as I do my puzzling, if I follow this technique, these steps that I just elaborate, I think research will be as enjoyable as puzzling. And it should be so much easier too, don’t you think?

Anyway, judging from my writings in the last two days, and my random research activities in the last year (oh, crap!), I am still in the first step.

# Home – May 19, 2010

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