This Is How Engineers Do Puzzles


It’s Friday night. I ask my husband if he’d like to do a puzzle with me.

It’s funny how our careers impact how we act and respond in our daily lives.

Example: I have a friend who’s a project manager. Every year she calls her dad to remind him of her mom’s birthday. She reminds her friends to pay their rent. That instinct to manage trickles into her personal life.

My mother-in-law, who used to be a sales rep, can convince you to have another piece of cake or let her give you the centerpiece off of the dinner table before you even know what happened. Her natural knack is to sell.

My nurse friends can’t listen to a story without reacting – sad, happy, or upsetting, you can count on a nurse to feel it with you. Nurses empathize.

Turns out, my husband’s job as a quality engineer pretty much means he can’t just do a puzzle like normal people do puzzles.

Engineer minds:

1. Approach the puzzle as:

  • a serious project, not a fun activity. 

To me, sitting quietly connecting one thousand tiny cardboard Flubber-shaped pieces to form a picture sounds like a peaceful end to our week. A stress-reliever. Recreation.

To my husband the quality engineer, doing a puzzle sounds like a Very Important Project We Must Approach With Strategy and All Our Energy Until Bedtime.

The puzzle is made by a German company. It shows a small village in primary colors at the base of a mountain, under blue sky. Lots of trees. He surveys the box cautiously, like this is a complicated blueprint. Sniffs. “Easy,” he says.

  • a challenge. 

While we open the puzzle, I tell my husband some stories from my day. We’re bonding.

He’s noticeably excited, but clearly not at the small talk. We should time ourselves, he says, and then take it apart and see if we can do it faster the second time. Which of course goes against the unsaid rule of puzzles: you never do a single puzzle more than once. It’s one of those small life achievements that just doesn’t need to be repeated.

But I don’t tell the engineer that. We have to move! We have a job to do!

2. Follow a proven plan that leads to results. 

We approach forming the outline very differently. I was raised to leave all the puzzle pieces in the box and pick through to find edge pieces… at my own pace, of course.

Before I know it, my husband has dumped the entire box on the floor.


My husband’s face conveys surprise at my lack of effective methodology. This is how you do it, he says. Edge pieces go on the table, center pieces go in the box. That way you don’t miss any edge pieces.

The engineer runs the show. Don’t be deceived. You do it right, or you don’t do it at all.

3. Focus entirely on the puzzle. This is not a game.

We are listening to Taylor Swift’s new album. I ask him if he likes this song.

“Don’t talk to me,” he says, nose to the carpet.

He tells me we are not going to bed until the outline is done. We listen to every song Taylor Swift has ever written. I have to stop for a snack.

4. Employ vigorous quality-checking.

We can’t make any more progress on the outline because we’re missing pieces. Husband is upset. “I’m going through all these pieces again.”

We check our previous work. He is convinced I am the one letting pieces slip by. We have to go through hundreds of pieces again to find the escapee. He is happy to explain his method to me: pick up a piece. Count edge, edge, edge, edge. If it’s not a border piece, move on.

We count edge, edge, edge, edge. It feels like an hour and we still can’t find a piece. We crawl around on the floor, check the box, check the ceiling. Talk to the missing puzzle piece. I think we’re about to knock on neighbor’s doors when husband finally finds the last border piece. Triumph!

5. Stay focused on the end goal. 

“When we’re done, we should get puzzle glue so we can put this on the wall!”

We are far from done. I think we’ve found my husband’s new favorite hobby. I’m picturing a wall of puzzles, and my husband proudly showing visitors, Look at all our fine work!


He frowns. “No.”

The next night, we watch T.V. The unfinished puzzle is still on the table.

I guess this mean’s we’re having the night off from puzzle-doing.

Come Monday though, it’ll be back to business.


5 thoughts on “This Is How Engineers Do Puzzles

  1. That’s awesome! I tend to side with Alex on the puzzle issue. 🙂 I thought of you tonight while I was at Sam’s Club and bought a book entitled, “Stay Calm and Bake Cupcakes” with 100 fabulous looking recipes! Hope all’s well!

    • That sounds like a book I need! 🙂 I don’t have the logical/methodical brain like you two have, so I’m much more apt to dilly dally my way through a puzzle (or game), or give it up altogether. It’s funny how we’re all so different. Hope you’re well too, and thanks for reading!

  2. This is a total hoot Brooke. Love this. You write just like Ashley where we can just be right there with you picturing everything just the way you explain it. Love it. We are such different individuals. That is what makes us all unique. Thanks for sharing this.

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