Life 24,000 Piece Puzzle – Completed

On March 23rd 2014, I completed the Life 24,000 piece puzzle after about 3 months of work. The puzzle was a Christmas present and my second really big puzzle. I completed the 32,000 piece Keith Haring Double Retrospect puzzle about two years ago. That one took about 5 months.

Life 24,000 piece Puzzle

Life 24,000 piece Puzzle

I am the one holding the cat.  Jonathan is holding the dog and Robert is holding Jonathan.  Jonathan probably put in about 100 pieces.  I let Robert put in the last one.  The dog and cat did not put in any :-), but the cat lost two pieces.   I let them get in the picture anyway.  When I first started the project, I left it uncovered at night, not realizing that these loose puzzle  pieces were perfect “cat toys”. I found several on the floor and a few scattered around the house, but two never turned up. Chalk it up to experience.

Here is a slightly bigger version of the completed puzzle.

Life 24,000 Piece Puzzle Complete

Life 24,000 Piece Puzzle Complete


The puzzle arrived on November 29th, 2013 and I opened it up that weekend.  In the box were four large bags of pieces (about 6,000 pieces each.   I decided to start on section “D”, the rightmost section.  After about 2 weeks, I was able to complete the top part of this section.

Section D - Top

Life 24,000 piece puzzle – section D – top

The puzzle then sat for  a  few weeks, while we were away for the Christmas holiday.  Starting in January, I worked the puzzle several nights a week (unless I was travelling) and most weekends until I completed it in March.

How to do a big puzzle in a small space

The whole puzzle is 14 feet long x 5 feet high.  I do not have a space this big, so I had to do the puzzle in sections.  Since the puzzle delivers in 4 separate bags, each bag represents about 6,000 pieces and requires a space of 3.5 feet x 5 feet per section.  That cuts down the space requirement significantly, but 3.5 x 5 is still a pretty big space to set aside for a few months.  In addition, what do you do after the first section is complete?  You need another 3.5’x5′ space for the next section.  And another and another.

The answer is to work in layers.  So, if you can find a space to accommodate the 3.5′ x 5′ section of puzzle and build one section on top of the other, you can make it work.  But then what?  You still have to lay all the sections out end to end and connect them up in order to glue them.  For me, that meant laying out the completed puzzle on my basement floor, but I needed to get the completed sections from wherever I worked on them to the basement floor without any disasters.  I am over 50, so spending 3 months sprawled out on the basement floor means spending another few months in the hospital recovering from back surgery.  Not a pleasant thought.  I need to work on a table.

That made me think about the problem a bit differently.  I did not just need a space big enough, I needed a set of portable surfaces that I could use to do each section.  As each section completed, I could then take it and the portable surface and stack it on top of other completed sections out of the way, until the whole puzzle was complete.  The answer turned out to be using cardboard.  Costco has these huge cardboard pieces cut from boxes that they use to separate palettes of goods. When they are done, they throw away the cardboard (since I guess they always have more boxes coming in).  Each cardboard slab is about 3′ x 4′, which would work if I can split my puzzle sections in half. Then I could do the whole puzzle using 8 cardboard slabs.  That is exactly what I did.  In addition, cardboard has just about the right coefficient of friction for working the puzzle.  There is enough friction that the puzzle stays in place if you don’t jostle it too hard, but not so much to prevent sliding pieces around.  Originally I thought I might need to cover the cardboard in felt, but that turned out to be unnecessary.

Section D

Section D on the Dining Room Table

I used my dining room table as my work area.  The table has an area of 3.5′ x 7′ (with one leaf in) and that turned out to be just about right.  I could actually fit two cardboard slabs at the same time if I needed, but I really only needed to work on one at a time, as long as I could easily separate the puzzle section into two halves during sorting.  For this puzzle it worked out reasonably well since the water line is about 60% of the way down.  So if I could sort the bag into above water and below water, I would end up with puzzle sections of 3.5’x3′ and 3.5′ x 2′, each of which would easily fit on a single cardboard slab.  Perfect!

In addition, I found out that I needed the light to be directly overhead to avoid glare.  That meant working almost exactly in the center of the table most of the time.

I know there are people out there who took all four bags and mixed them together before sorting to increase the challenge.  For me, sorting each 6,000 piece section was challenge enough.  And I have not lost any sleep over taking the easier path.

Know Your Puzzle

To do a puzzle of this size and complexity, it helps to understand the puzzle structure and the pieces.  Each piece has a specific shape and there are only so many different shapes.  In the end, you have to scan the pieces multiple times to find the one you are looking for, so the smaller the pile you look through, the faster it goes.  My strategy is to spend a bit more time sorting in order to save a lot of time solving.  My goal is to sort the big piles into a number of smaller piles (of no more than 500 pieces each).

The first breakdown is the “bag”.  That divides the  24,000 piece puzzle into four 6,000 piece sections.  Then I try to separate out “above the water line” and “below the water line”.  That separates into approximately 3,500 pieces and 2,500 pieces.  Then for each section I try to separate out obvious elements like “sky”, “birds”, “grass and rocks”, “water surface”, “animals”, “balloons”, “fish”, “anemone”, etc.  Each time I start sorting a bag, I look at the picture to see what makes sense to separate out.  The key is to easily distinguish the pieces, so I look for tell-tale colors.  Sometimes I get it right.  Sometimes I don’t.

It turns out that colors are very, very hard to distinguish out of context.  Your eye and your brain collaborate to deceive you.  One color may look lighter than another in the picture, but actually be darker or a completely different shade when seen separately.  Your retina and brain pre-process shadows to make you believe that two colors are the same when they are not.  So you have to be careful when sorting colors that are close in hue.

I figure that sorting a 6,000 piece bag is about 8 to 10 hours of work, so I don’t want to sit there with every piece and start wondering “what is this?”.  I am comfortable getting the initial sort about 90% correct in order to move through the process quickly.  This knowledge comes into play later as I decide in what order to attack the section.

Even though the puzzle says its 24,000 pieces, its not.  Puzzles are always a few more or a few less, because they have to fit into rectangular grid.  In the case of this puzzle,  its not actually 24,000 pieces.  Its 23,976 pieces.  I could probably have figured that out before starting, but I waited to finish the outline of the first section to do the calculation.  Each bag represents 5,994 pieces organized into an 74 (wide) x 81 (high) piece grid.  So the whole puzzle is  296 pieces wide x 81 pieces high or 23,976 pieces.

In addition each 5,994 piece section is an identical “cut”.  In other words the piece in each row column of one section has the identical shape to the piece at the same row/column in each other section.  That knowledge can come in handy if you want to use it.

Main Piece shapes

Main Piece shapes

There are only four main shapes of pieces (There are a few nuances which I will get to).  Each type of piece comes in two orientations.  A very helpful bit of knowledge is that each piece shape / orientation is only present in that one orientation in the entire puzzle.  Of course it could be right-side up or upside-down (180 degrees), but it is never flipped 90 degrees.  Knowing that up front helps a lot.

The shapes are:

  • Two outies and two innies across from each other
  • Two outies and two innies next to each other
  • Three outies and one inny
  • One outy and three innies.

Each of these shapes comes in two orientations:  The orientation pictured on the top is always vertical and the orientation pictured on the bottom is always horizontal.  It’s easy to distinguish these by the length/width of the piece.

These four shapes (eight if you count the different orientations), account for 99% of all the pieces in the puzzle.  But there are a few odd-balls. For example:

Four-piece key

Four-piece key

This four-piece combination is repeated six times in each 5,994 piece section.    It is notably different from the other pieces and that turns out to be significant.

Thicker Variants

Thicker Variants

Thicker VariantsThere are also thicker variants of each piece.  When you do the math, each 74 (wide) x 81 (high) piece section is divisible into six 37(wide) x 27(high) piece sub-section arranged in a 2(wide) x 3(high) grid.  This 37×27 piece unit turns out to the be the repeating unit of the puzzle.  In other words the 23,974 piece puzzle is actually composed of  twenty-four 999 piece repeating sections, each of which is 37 pieces wide and 27 pieces high.  The thicker variants of each puzzle line the vertical edge of each section.  In other words, these are the border pieces.  The ones on the absolute end must be cut to create the straight edge.

I found this discovery very interesting.  It means that (at least for this manufacturer), the larger puzzles are created by stitching together an integral number of 999 piece (i.e. 1,000) piece puzzles, which is probably what their printer can handle.  Then for the actual 1,000 piece puzzle, they cut the ends to make the straight edge, but for the larger puzzles, they leave the ends uncut, so that the sections fit together.  After completing the first section, I made a “rubbing” of the 27×37 piece pattern.  When doing large sections that distinguishable by shape only (like sky), I referred to it and it turned out to be helpful.

27x37 Piece grid

27×37 Piece grid

Time Line

Each section of the puzzle took about 18 – 20 days.   Half the time was spent doing the top section and half doing the bottom.  The sections are labeled “A” (leftmost section) through “D” (the rightmost section).  On each bag, there is a control number which indicates the section of the puzzle contained in the bag

Control Number

Control Number for Section “C”

The control numbers correspond to sections as follows:

  • 0397 – Section “D”
  • 0398 – Section “C”
  • 0399 – Section “B”
  • 0400 – Section “A”

I started section “D” of the puzzle on 29 Nov 2013 and finished the top on 16 December 2013

Section D - Top

Life 24,000 piece puzzle – section D – top

I finished the bottom part of section “D”  on 12 January 2014

Section "D"

Section “D”

I then moved onto Section “A”.  I finished the top half on 21 Jan 2014


I finished the rest of section “A” 9 days later on 30 Jan 2014.

Section "A"

Section “A”


I finished the top half of Section “B” on 8 Feb 2014

Section "B" - Top

Section “B” – Top

I finished the rest of section “B” on 15 Feb 2015

Life 24,000 piece puzzle - Section "B" bottom

Section “B” bottom

I finished the top of Section “C” on 8 March 014

Life 24,000 piece puzzle - Section "C" top

Section “C” top

I finished the rest of Section “C” on 23 March 2014

Life 24,000 piece puzzle - Section "C" bottom

Section “C” bottom

Then I moved all the completed sections to the basement and reassembled them on the floor

Life 24,000 piece puzzle

Life 24,000 piece puzzle – Assembled

I finished gluing and mounting the puzzle on the wall the following week.  By 30 March 2014, it was done.

Completing Section “B” (1 Feb 2014 – 15 Feb 2014)

I completed section “A” on the evening of Thursday, 30 Jan 2014.  On Saturday, 1 Feb at 8:00 AM, I tore open the bag for Section “B” and began sorting.  Sorting is a pretty long and tedious process, so I wanted to track my progress.  Counting the pieces as I went was certainly not going to happen, so instead I decided to track my progress by weighing the bag.  As the bag got lighter I was closer to the goal of being able to actually put the pieces together.

Sorting Section “B” – 8 Hours

The full bag is about 2.22 kilograms.  Given that a bag holds 5,996 pieces that means that each piece is approximately 0.37 grams.  This is not an exact method, but it’s close enough.

  • After 180 minutes – 650 grams of pieces sorted  – 29% complete
  • After 270 minutes – 1044 grams sorted                 – 46% complete
  • After 350 minutes – 1415 grams sorted                  – 63% complete
  • After 480 minutes – 2260 grams sorted                – 100% complete

So after about 8 hours of sorting at 7:30 AM on Sunday, 2 Feb 2014, I began assembling section “B”.  Before beginning the process, I had already decided the order in which I would begin the assembly.  Deciding the order of assembly up front is part of my sorting strategy.  The reason is:  when sorting you see many pieces that border two sections.  So you have to decide which pile to put them in or whether to create a separate pile just for the pieces that span piles.  In general, I try to put all the pieces that span piles into the pile I plan to assemble first and I try very hard to be consistent.   I would much rather have a few extra pieces in a section than look through all the pieces in a pile only to discover the piece I am looking for isn’t even there.  Even though I have a strategy and even though I try very hard to sort correctly, its still hard and I still end up with about 10% in the wrong pile.  Oh well.  As long as I know that I only have a 90% probability of finding the piece I am looking for, I don’t get too upset if I cannot find it.  I just move onto the next piece and come back later.

Looking at the section I decided to sort into 14 piles:

Life 24,000 Piece Puzzle - Section D

Section D

  1.  Edge Pieces                  –  55g   –     148 pieces (74 + 74)
  2. Orange Striped Fish    –    8g   –       22 pieces
  3. Moon                              –  82g   –     222 pieces
  4. Light House                  –   78g   –     211 pieces
  5. Grass & Rocks              – 208g  –     562 pieces
  6. Water Boundary          –    39g  –     105 pieces
  7. Lion Fish                       –    46g  –     124 pieces
  8. Anemone                       –  149g  –    403 pieces
  9. Animals                          –  291g  –    786 pieces
  10. Balloons/Birds              – 235g   –   635 pieces
  11. Water Surface                – 141g   –    381 pieces
  12. Sky                                   – 380g  – 1,027 pieces
  13. Fish                                 – 280g   –    757 pieces
  14. (Under) water               – 234g    –    632 pieces

Although the Birds, Balloons and Fish break my 500 piece per pile rule, these are actually no problem since its relatively easy to distinguish individual balloons, fish and animals by color and texture.  But the 1,027 piece pile of sky was definitely going to give me trouble.

Life 24,000 piece puzzle - Sorting

Life 24,000 piece puzzle – Sorting

My approach to sorting requires me to use the whole table.  I take a handful (or two) of pieces out of the bag and then place them in a pile in the middle of the table.  Then as I turn the pieces face up, I push them into piles arrayed in a semi-circle.  In general, I placed the sky on my right and the anemone on my left and then splay the piles around from right to left based on location  in the puzzle.  When I ran out of room, I put each pile into a zip-lock bag, label them and remove them from the table and repeat until I finish the bag.

The Edge pieces and the first fish

Assembling the edge pieces took 52 minutes.  Three edge pieces were missing.  I sorted them into the wrong piles, so I would just have to find them later.     Once completing the top and bottom edges, I took the right edge from Section “A” and used it as the left edge for section “B”.  That gave me three edges to work with.

I placed the top edge on one cardboard sheet and the bottom edge on another sheet.  I split the left edge at the water boundary and placed the “above water edge” on the top cardboard.  The rest went to the bottom sheet with the underwater edge.

The Moon

I had sorted 222 pieces into the moon pile, even though I guessed there were only about 75 actual moon pieces.  This is an example of “erring on the side of the object I was planning to do first” and the fact that colors are hard to distinguish.

It took 90 minutes to complete the moon after which, I had

  • 18 missing moon pieces
  • 136 pieces that I thought were the moon during the initial sort that weren’t.  Of these
    • 80 were likely rocks
    • 19 were likely sky
    • 7 were likely animals
    • 19 were likely the lighthouse
    • 20 were undetermined.
Life 24,000 piece puzzle - Section B - Moon

Section B – Moon

 The Lighthouse

After completing the moon (more or less), I began working on the lighthouse.  I started organizing at 9:12AM and finished 15 minutes later at 9:27.  I completed the lighthouse (211 pieces) after about an hour and twenty minutes at 10:47 AM.  While doing the lighthouse, I found 5 of the missing moon pieces (and put those in).  I also had:

  • 16 missing lighthouse pieces
  • 83 pieces that were not lighthouse, of which:
    • 7 were likely balloon
    • 15 were likely animals
    • 11 were likely lion fish
    • 2 were likely rock
    • 7 were likely sky
    • 36 were undetermined

As I continued I got a better and better “feel” for the pieces, which is what allowed me to sort the extras better than I could on the first pass.

Life 24,000 piece puzzle - Section B - Light house

Section B – Lighthouse

Grass & Rocks

I started with 562 pieces in the Grass + Rocks pile.  But added another 84 from the Moon and Lighthouse piles.  So I had 646 pieces.  I started organizing these by shape at 11:30AM and completed organizing at 12:16.  Then I took a break for lunch.  I split the pile into smaller piles as follows:

  • Grass + Animal
  • Grass only + Grass / Rock combo
  • Dark Grass
  • Rock + Water
  • Rock only
  • Grass + Sky
  • Tree
  • Probably other (52 pieces) of which:
    • 4 were moon
    • 5 were lighthouse
    • 7 were likely animals
    • 1 was likely water surface
    • 1 was likely balloon

I worked on the Grass & Rocks from 1PM to 3PM then stopped.  I picked it up the next morning – Monday, 3 Feb 2014 at about 6AM.  I worked on this section from 6AM to 9AM, then from 1-2 (lunch break), and 5-6 before running out of steam and moving onto the animals.  I had not completed the rocks and decided to move on because there were just too many uncertainties as to whether the pieces I thought were rock-like were really rocks at all.  Before moving onto the animals, I had:

  • 52 pieces I put aside as “unknown”
  • 31 pieces that still looked rock-like, but wouldn’t fit just yet
  • 37 pieces that could be either rocks or animals
  • 23 pieces that were very likely animals and not rocks.

The Animals, Balloons and Birds

At 6:20 PM on 3 Feb, I began organizing the animal pieces (by animal first and then by shape).  While organizing the animal pieces I found 75 pieces that were more likely rock than animal.  In retrospect, it was very hard to tell rock from animal by color.  The shades were just too close.  Upon further inspection some were more readily distinguishable by texture (animals have hair, rocks don’t), but even that technique was hit-or-miss.

At 8PM, I finished organizing the animal pieces and in the process found 75 pieces I moved over to the rocks.  The easiest animal to distinguish was the tiger so I started there with the 123 pieces I had set aside, given the presence of stripes.  By 9.00PM, I had finished the tiger, missing only 12 pieces.  I had 26 extra pieces that were likely striped fish, which I put into the zip-lock bag of fish pieces.

At 9:40PM, I began working on the dolphin (60 pieces).  I finished at 10:15.  I was missing almost the whole bottom of the dolphin (which I probably mixed in with the water surface) and I had 4-5 sky pieces I put aside for later.

At 7AM on Monday, 4 Feb I began organizing the Eagle pieces.  When I got home from work at 6:30, I started putting the Eagle together.  I finished the Eagle at 10PM

Life 24,000 piece puzzle - Section "B" - Eagle

Section “B” – Eagle

At 6AM on 5 Feb 2014, I began organizing the remaining animal pieces.  I pulled out the pieces that were more likely to be fish / water.  I then pulled out the small bird pieces noting how inconsistent I was on these. The rest I sorted into:

  • Likely Flamingos
  • Browns that were likely the horse or kangaroo
  • Horse edge (horse hair + horse/sky)
  • Other

Before starting work (I worked from home that day), I was able to complete flamingos, horse and kangaroo.  I had 5 missing pieces and 6 extras.

I finished work at 5PM and started back on the puzzle. I worked on it for 5 hours straight (until 10PM).  I organized:

  • Balloons onto one full palette (A palette is a piece of cardboard about the size of a pizza box)
  • Birds onto a second palette (about half full).

I always organize the palettes by shape (and I always keep the same order).

Life 24,000 piece puzzle - palettes


By 10PM, I had finished the balloons and birds, with some balloon corners and butterflies still missing.

Life 24,000 piece puzzle - Balloons and Birds

Balloons and Birds

 The Sky

At 6PM on Thursday, 6 Feb, I started organizing the Sky pieces.  I had over 1,000 sky pieces so I began by breaking the sky down into smaller piles.  I organized as follows:

  • Blues
  • Blacks
  • Deep Blues (Mountains)
  • Sky pieces touching other things
  • Rainbow (mostly greens)
  • Galaxy (mostly cloudy)
  • Rings of Uranus

It took a total of 3 hours to organize the sky pieces onto palettes according to the above groups and then by shape.  The rings were the easiest.  I finished those in 5 minutes.  The rest of the sky was not so easy.

On Friday, 7 Feb, I worked on the sky from 6AM to 9AM  and then again from 5PM to 9:30PM.  In that time, I finished the galaxy, the black sky and the rainbow.  On Saturday, 8 Feb starting at 6:30AM I began working on the blue sky.  This part was much harder as I had to depend almost exclusively on shape to find pieces.  It was slow going.  5 1/4 hours later, at around 11:45, I finished the sky. I had:

  • 50 missing pieces, mostly in the parrot’s wings, the flying fish, and the galaxy
  • 2 missing pieces in the yellow balloon
  • 1 missing piece in the moon
  • A bunch more missing around the hummingbird’s wings.
Life 24,000 Piece Puzzle - Section "B" - Sky

Section “B” – Sky

 The Water Surface + Water Boundary

After a quick lunch, I began organizing the Water surface and water boundary.  By 2PM, I had finished organizing and completed the water boundary (the boundary between water surface and under-water).  Between 2Pm and 4PM and between 5PM and 8PM, I worked on the water surface.  I completed the water surface (completing the top section) at 8PM on Saturday, 8 Feb.

Section "B" - Top

Section “B” – Top

A total of 9 pieces were missing from the top section at this point (mixed in with the fish or water, which I’d find later).  The missing pieces were:

  • Back of Flamingo (1 piece)
  • Tiger’s foot (1 piece)
  • Light House (2 pieces)
  • Eagle’s neck (1 piece)
  • Flamingo’s foot (1 piece)
  • Galaxy (2 pieces)

 The Anemone and Fish (first parts of the bottom of section “B”)

On Sunday, 9Feb at 6:45AM, I began on the bottom of section “B” starting with the Anemone.  I was able to work on these for an hour or so before work during the week and a few hours when I got home.  By Wednesday, 12 Feb I had completed the anemone and started on the fish

Life 24,000 Piece Puzzle - Section "B" - Anemone

Section “B” – Anemone

By Thursday, 13 Feb the big fish were done.

Under water + Coral

On Friday, 14Feb at 6:30AM, I began sorting the under-water pieces (which included the smaller fish and the coral).  By the time I finished sorting the underwater pieces, I found all of the missing pieces from the top of the puzzle except one.  On Saturday, 15 Feb at 6:30AM I began on the water / coral.  By 9:15AM I was down to one palette of pieces (around 500).  By 5:30PM, I had finished but there were two missing pieces.  After searching the floor on hands and knees (using mostly the sense of touch), I found one of the missing pieces.  The other missing piece was stuck to the underside of the cardboard I was using to cover the puzzle.

Eureka!  Section “B” was complete with no missing pieces.  All in all it took 15 calendar days – about 86 hours.

Mounting the Puzzle

After completing the puzzle, I had to get the 8 individual parts (2 per section) from the main floor of the house, where I put the sections together, downstairs to the basement, where I could connect them, glue them, and finally mount on the wall.  The biggest challenge was the doorway.  The cardboard pieces are 3′ x 4′, but the doorway to the basement is only 24 inches wide.  That means I had to flip the puzzle sideways in order to get it downstairs where I could glue it.  Since it would not be glued when I carried it into the basement, it could easily have been a disaster.

I knew that the cardboard had reasonably high friction and of course I could place one piece of cardboard on top and one on the bottom to hold the puzzle in place while I flipped it, but would that be enough?  I used Bungee cords to hold the whole thing together.

Life 24,000 piece puzzle - Mounting

Bungee cords

This technique worked and I was able to carry each section down to the basement with no disasters.  I then put all the pieces together before I started gluing.

Life 24,000 piece puzzle

Life 24,000 piece puzzle – Assembled

I did not want to start gluing before assembling all the sections together since I knew from experience that the glue causes the puzzle to shrink.  But neither could I glue the whole puzzle at once because then it would be too unruly to mount on the wall.  Ultimately I decided to mount the puzzle in 3.5′ x 5′ sections.  So before gluing, I removed one row of pieces every 3.5 feet.  This is right where the sections come together anyway.  In addition I tried not to glue the ends too much.  The reasoning was twofold.  (1) I did not want the glue to drip over the edge and stick the puzzle to the floor (2) the less glue on the edges, the less likely shrinkage would interfere with connecting the large sections back together.

I followed the same strategy I used successfully with the 32,000 piece Keith Haring puzzle.  I used “Master Pieces” jigsaw puzzle glue on the front of the puzzle.  When that dried, I flipped the puzzle over and used Con-Tact: brand clear contact paper on the back.  Each bottle of glue covers about 2,000 pieces so I needed 12 bottles in total.  I needed three strips of 18 inch wide contact paper to cover each section (there was overlap).  This came to a total of 22.5 square feet of contact paper per 3.5’x5′ section or a total of 90 square feet.

Life 24,000 piece puzzle - Mounting

Life 24,000 piece puzzle – Mounting

As it turns out, the glue spreader that shipped with the Master Pieces puzzle glue was perfect for getting the air bubbles out from under the contact paper (as long as its not covered in glue).

The only problem I had during this process was that sometimes I did not quite cover every part of the front of the puzzle with enough glue (after all its clear), so when I flipped the sections over to apply contact paper, some pieces fell apart.  For the most part, these were edge pieces and relatively easy to reassemble, even from the back.  But on one section I missed a whole bunch in the middle.  That was much harder to correct, but eventually I got it.

Life 24,000 piece puzzle - Mounting

Life 24,000 piece puzzle – Mounting

The wall I chose for hanging the puzzle was only 9 feet before there was a door, then one more foot, then a corner, then three more feet on the next wall.  So I had to measure and cut the puzzle in order to make it fit on the wall, skip the door and wrap around the bend.

Life 24,000 piece puzzle - Mounting

Life 24,000 piece puzzle – Mounting

After nailing the first section onto the wall, I fit in the row of border pieces I removed.

Life 24,000 piece puzzle - Mounting

Then I carefully fit the next section, making sure I “snapped” them together. Everything fit perfectly.    In addition I had to cut out the wall sockets and light switches.  I did the cutting before the mounting.

Life 24,000 piece puzzle - Mounting on the wall

Life 24,000 Piece Puzzle

Life 24,000 Piece Puzzle


Ravensburger 32,000 piece Keith haring puzzle – Made the News

We made the local (online) paper.  See post in



Ravensburger 32,000 piece Keith haring puzzle – Mounting on the wall

After completing the Ravensburgere 32,000+ piece Keith Haring puzzle, I next had to decide what to do with it.  At over 17 feet x 6 feet, there were very few spots it was going to fit, so I decided to dedicate one wall of my basement to the puzzle.  The first problem was how to secure the puzzle in such a way that it woudl be mountable on the wall.  Complicating this is the fact that once you glue the puzzle, it shrinks, so if you glue the pieces individually, they would no longer fit together.  However there was no way I could manage putting the whole puzzle together on the floor then mounting it, especially since I needed to make cut-outs for the window, electrical outlets and speakers.

In the end, I decided on a compromise.  I put the first half together and glued the front face.  I did the second half in sections, but left the edges unglued (hoping that would allow the sections to fit together).  I used MasterPieces puzzle glue on the front.  Each five ounce bottle says its will cover 2,000 pieces, but I stretched it to about 2,500 – 3,000.  I ended up using about a dozen bottles to cover the front face.  And at $5.50 a bottle it cost me almost $70.00 just on glue.  I did not glue the back.  Instead I used contact paper.  I needed two large rolls to cover the whole puzzle.

The first step was to glue the front.  When that dried, I flipped the puzzle over and applied contact paper to the back.

Ravensburger 32,000 piece puzzle - Mounting - Contact Paper on the back

Sometimes during the flip, the edges would come apart, since they were not glued, but I was able to easily reassemble the pieces (even from the back).  Once the sections were all flipped and the backs covered with contact paper, the next step was to measure the location of the cutouts.  This was complicated by the fact that niether cieling nor wall was completely level.  So I had to measure carefully, and remeasure as I went along.

Ravensburger 32,000 piece puzzle - Mounting - Cutouts

The first section I mounted had a very large cutout for a window.  I measured this and removed the window section before actually gluing and applying contact paper.  This left a rough (puzzle) edge, with the puzzle pieces overlapping the openning just a teeny bit.  Interesting effect.  Mounting the large section took three people, but was not a s hard as I thought it would be.  I secured the puzzle to the wall using finishing nails, which placed in the black lines, were barely visible.

Ravensburger 32,000 piece puzzle - half mounted

I then decided to cut a straight line for the bottom of the window.

window edge

After mounting the first half (as a single unit), I proceeded to mount each 4,000 piece section one at a time, measuring the cut-outs as I went.

Ravensburger 32,000 piece puzzle - 5/8 mounted

Ravensburger 32,000 piece puzzle - Fully mounted

With the puzzle fully mounted, even the dog got into the picture.  Success!  We are the 6th entry in the Largest Jigsaw Puzzle Hall of Fame:





Ravensburger 32,000 piece puzzle (Keith Haring) – Completed

After just over 5 months, I’ve completed the 32,000 piece Keith Haring Puzzle.

Ravensburger 32,000 piece (Keith haring) Puzzle - Complete

I know yesterday was Keith Haring’s birthday, since he was featured on the Google Home Page (a Google Doodle).

Keith Haring - Google Doodle


Ravensburger 32,000 piece puzzle – Sections H and G

After completing the first half of the puzzle (the left half) on 18 March 2012, I moved onto the right half.  I decided to start with the lower right hand corner (section H), followed by Section G.  I started section H, on 25 March 2012, while on vacation and completed 18 days later on 12 April.  I completed Section G only 5 days after that on 17 April.  I’ll describe how I bumped my productivity so much.

I started section H, by sorting into colors (as usual), but as this is the lower right hand corner, as I was sorting the white pieces, I was able to pull out the ones that had the copyright statement.  These are shown in the middle of the picture below.

Ravensburger 32,000 piece puzzle - Section H sorted

After sorting, I started with Orange and then moved onto yellow.  In this puzzle, there were two shades of Orange and it was very noticeable, so I was able to sort the two colors out from each other at the very beginning.  In the other puzzles, I could see different shades, but it was very hard to detect the slight differences during sorting since different lighting conditions made the subtle shades hard to distinguish.  But on this puzzle light orange (the baby) and dark orange (the dogs) were very easy to distinguish.

Ravensburger 32,000 piece puzzle - Section H Orange and YellowRavensburger 32,000 piece puzzle - Section H Orange and Yellow

Next came pink, which I completed on 4 April.

Ravensburger 32,000 piece puzzle - Section H Pink

Next came Red (completed 7 April)

Ravensburger 32,000 piece puzzle - Section H RedRavensburger 32,000 piece puzzle - Section H RedRavensburger 32,000 piece puzzle - Section H Red

After Red, I moved onto Green.  When I took the green pieces out of the ziplock bag and began organizing them by shape, I noticed something that helped quite a bit.

Ravensburger 32,000 piece puzzle - Section H Green pieces

I noticed that there were thin and thick versions of each shape.  It was most noticeable with the one-outy/three-inny pieces in the right of the picture and least noticeable with the three-outy/one-inny pieces.  I always figure that the more I can sort the pieces into piles, so that I have fewer to search through, the better.

I finished sorting the green pieces this way on 10 April at 7:15 PM and finshed placing all the green pieces into the puzzle 45 minutes later at 8:00.  That was much faster than any of the previous colors, so the extra sorting did help.

Ravensburger 32,000 piece puzzle - Section H Green

I completed sorting the white on 11 April and completed the section on 12 April

Ravensburger 32,000 piece puzzle - Section H complete

After completing section H, I moved right onto section G.  But this time I tried something different and ultimately finished the section in 5 days, about half the time of the previous fastest section.  This time I used a previously completed puzzle as a template from the very beginning.  In prior puzzles I only used the previous puzzle as a template for the white pieces.  I had seen in other people’s blogs that they had done this so I decided to try it out.

Ravensburger 32,000 piece puzzle - Section G - Blue

Here it is after completing Blue and Yellow.  You can see the red showing through from section E, which I used as a template.  In this case the dog is actually red, so it doesn’t look so bad.  But in other areas, the underlying colors showing through can make your eyes go a bit buggy (see below).  However when you are focused on the individual pieces, it is not bad at all.  Its also a major productivity boost when you know what shape you are looking for.

Ravensburger 32,000 piece puzzle - Section G - Blue

After Blue, I moved onto Pink.  I finished Blue on the 13th in the morning and pink later that evening (two colors in one day!)

Ravensburger 32,000 piece puzzle - Section G - Pink

I finished Red the next morning and green that evening

Ravensburger 32,000 piece puzzle - Section G - Red

Ravensburger 32,000 piece puzzle - Section G - Green

I finished Orange the next day and white (completing the section) two days after that.

Ravensburger 32,000 piece puzzle - Section G - Orange

Ravensburger 32,000 piece puzzle - Section G



Ravensburger 32,000 piece Keith Haring Puzzle – 1/2 done

March 18, 2002 – After completing sections E, A, and B, I moved onto section F.  After completing section F, I am half done with the puzzle.  Here is a link to my first post.  I did the sections in this order so that after completing four sections I had fully completed the left half of the puzzle and I could attach the parts to see my progress

Ravensburger 32,000 Piece Puzzle

Seeing the parts come together felt like a moral victory.  After just under three months, working primarily alone (my son put in about 10 pieces), I had something to show for my efforts.  In addition, with each section I completed, I felt it was getting easier, as I started to understand the puzze better.  I started section F on 4 March 2012 and completed it on 18 March.  So two weeks to complete this section.  The first two sections took 3 weeks each and the last section took 10 days.

Ravensburger 32,000 piece puzzle - Section F sorted into colors

After Sorting the pieces into colors, I started with Red, then Green.


Ravensburger 32,000 piece puzzle - Section F orange and Green

Then I moved onto Pink, Yellow, Orange, Blue, and finally white.


Ravensburger 32,000 piece puzzle - Section F



Ravensburger 32,000 piece puzzle – Section B

After finishing sections E and A, I next moved onto section B. I began this section on Saturday, 11 February 2012 and finished on Tuesday, 21 February 2012. So this section took 10 calendar days to complete, while the previous two sections section took 3 weeks each. I did not use the previous completed puzzle as a template until I got up to the white.

The initial sorting into color groups took 4 or 5 hours. I finished the initial sort of pieces into Ziplock bags by about noon on the 12nd of Feb.

Section B of Ravensburger 32,000 piece puzzle

I started with Yellow for this puzzle. I seem to pick the color which has the fewest pieces to begin with because it gives me a boost of confidence. I find it helpful to power me through the process of completing the puzzle. Somehow after getting a few hundred pieces together, assembling the 4,000 pieces remaining seems more possible.

I finished sorting the yellow pieces in about 20 minutes and completed assembling yellow the next day.
Yellow sorted in Section B of Ravensburger 32,000 piece puzzle

Next I moved onto Pink. I finsihed half of pink a few hours later.
Yellow complete.  Pink half complete in Section B of Ravensburger 32,000 piece puzzle

Next I moved onto Red. I had to actually do my real job during the week (unfortunately earning a living took precedence over completing the puzzle), so I did not complete red until Friday evening on 17 Feb.
Red complete in Section B of Ravensburger 32,000 piece puzzle

I completed Green the next day.
Green in Section B of Ravensburger 32,000 piece puzzle
Green in Section B of Ravensburger 32,000 piece puzzle
Green in Section B of Ravensburger 32,000 piece puzzle

After completing yellow, pink, red and green, I moved onto Blue. Last would be Orange, which had the greatest number of pieces for this section. I completed assembly of blue two days later.
Blue in Section B of Ravensburger 32,000 piece puzzle
Blue in Section B of Ravensburger 32,000 piece puzzle
Blue in Section B of Ravensburger 32,000 piece puzzle

After Blue, I moved onto Orange. It took about 12 hours to sort and complete the orange. After completing Orange, all of the panels were assembled, leaving only the white to connect the panels into a puzzle.
Orange in Section B of Ravensburger 32,000 piece puzzle
Orange in Section B of Ravensburger 32,000 piece puzzle
Orange in Section B of Ravensburger 32,000 piece puzzle


Ravensburger 32,000 piece Puzzle – Section A

After completing section E in just about 3 weeks, I decided I had some chance of succeeding in this venture, so I started taking pictures and documenting my journey. I tackled section E first because when I opened the box, that bag had ripped open and the pieces were spilling out. As it turns out, when I finally finished the section I discovered one piece missing. Oh well. Nothing’s perfect.

Even though the instructions said not to, I decided to glue the finished section together. I just could not bear to see it fall apart while I was working on the next sections. I used three bottles of glue to cover both front and back. That was pretty strong, but the glue did cause “shrinkage” so when I completed the next section, the two did not quite fit together. Its not ideal, but since I dont have enough space for the whole 17 foot completed puzzle anyway, I’m not losing any sleep over it. Maybe if I glue them all, they will all shrink about the same and fit together. I’ll figure that out in the end.

With section E (lower left hand corner) complete

Section E of Ravensburger 32,000 piece puzzle

Section E

I decided to next attack section A. The first step is always sorting and the first step in sorting is deciding how to sort. The way I looked at it, the more time I spent sorting, the faster the actual assembly would go. I got better at sorting as I completed more sections and right now I am reasonably happy with the technique. Sorting can be very boring. Many times I just wanted to get finished and get onto the puzzle assembly, but I stuck to it. I think the extra effort paid dividends.

Sorting the pieces of the Ravensburger 32,000 piece puzzle

Sorting the pieces

I sorted each major solid color into its own pile: Blue, yellow, Red, Green, Pink, Orange, and White. I arrayed these around the table in a semicircle. By the way, I had trouble distinguishing orange and red at times and mixed those up a bit. Behind each solid color, I made a pile that was that color plus black. Behind the color=black pile, I made a pile of color+black+white.

In between the piles I made piles which had two base-colors plus black. In this puzzle, I had: yellow+blue+black, red+yellow+black, green+pink+black, etc. You get the picture. No matter how hard I tried I never really get better than about 99.9% right. I always miss a few that have a tinge of color or a tingle of black on them. I try not to worry too much about this. It works itself out.

As you can imagine, 4,000 is a lot of pieces so after a while the piles started to run into each other. To keep things sane, I put each pile in its own ziplock bag.

Bags of sorted Puzzle pieces

Bags - Sorted

It took about three rounds of putting pieces into piles and then moving into bags to finish sorting all 4,000 pieces.

All pieces sorted and placed into ziplock bags

A bin of bags

It took about four solid hours to sort the 4,000 pieces into bags. With the pieces all sorted, I had to choose a color to start with. I chose green, because it looked like the smallest and started with the green+black bag.

Green + Black in section A

Green + Black

First I poured out the pieces and started to organize by shape
Green + Black getting organized

Green + Black sorted and organized

Then started to put it together
Green+Black Assembly

Green Dolphin in Section A of Ravensburger 32,000 piece puzzle

This took a few hours to complete. I finished orgainzing the pieces at about 10:00AM and completed this section at 4:30 in the afternoon (I did not work straight through). Then I moved onto solid green. This took about 45 minutes to complete.

Solid Green

Solid Green complete in Section A of Ravensburger 32,000 piece puzzle

Solid Green complete

After green was done, I moved onto pink. I separated out the pink+black pieces by shape and then separated out the pink+black pieces which had a straight black line, because these were the border pieces. Some of the black lines were thin, some medium and some thick. The different widths generally meant different sides, but not always. Since the black border line is a bit wavy, it tends to ebb and flow on thickness. So I had to include the pieces which were slightly diagonal in the straights.

Pink+Black in section A of Ravensburger 32,000 piece puzzle

I assembled the pink+black pieces and then moved onto the solid pink. That took most of the day.

Then I moved onto Orange. That took another day.

Next onto Blue. That took two more days
Blue in section A of Ravensburger 32,000 piece puzzle
Blue in section A of Ravensburger 32,000 piece puzzle
Blue in section A of Ravensburger 32,000 piece puzzle

Then onto Red. I got to that the next weekend.
Red in section A of Ravensburger 32,000 piece puzzle
Red in section A of Ravensburger 32,000 piece puzzle

When I came to solid red, I had to update my sorting technique. There were just too many solid red pieces to fit on one cardboard section, so I needed to split them up and come up with a more refined sorting approach
solid Red in section A of Ravensburger 32,000 piece puzzle

I separated out the standard pieces (two innies and two outies, opposite from each other) onto their own cardboard sheet. In the first two columns I placed pieces where both outies were round and straight. In the next column I places the pieces with two straight outies, where one or both were big. In the next row, I placed pieces where one end pointed up. Next I placed pieces where one end faced down and in the final row I placed the pieces where the two innies were way offset so that the piece looked like a capital “S”
solid Red in section A of Ravensburger 32,000 piece puzzle

This technique worked pretty well and helped me finish the solid red in a reasonable time (about 4 – 5 hours).
solid Red complete in section A of Ravensburger 32,000 piece puzzle
solid Red complete in section A of Ravensburger 32,000 piece puzzle

Next I moved onto Yellow. There were a lot of yellow pieces, which is why I left them to last (except for white, which was really last). Again, I had to update my sorting technique.

Yellow pieces sorted in section A of Ravensburger 32,000 piece puzzle
I first separated the pieces with a straight-ish black line onto its own sheet. These would create the outer border of the panel. For the remaining pieces, I separated first by shape, then by design. For the standard pieces (two innies and two outies across from each other), I placed the pieces where the black goes diagonally up to the right in the first column. Next came pieces where the black goes diagonally down to the right. Next come the pieces with a black stripe (in other words had yellow edges). Next came pieces which had a yellow stripe (in other words had black on two edges). Next came pieces which were the end of a black line (in other words had a rounded black shape on the yellow background). Next came pieces which did not fit any of the other categories. Finally came the pieces with just a tiny amount of black. With the pieces all sorted, I set out to assemble the yellow+black parts of the puzzle.

Yellow+Black assembled in section A of Ravensburger 32,000 piece puzzle
Yellow+Black assembled in section A of Ravensburger 32,000 piece puzzle
This took about 5-6 hours. Then I did the solid yellow, which was not too bad. It took about an hour to complete.

Yellow assembled in section A of Ravensburger 32,000 piece puzzle
Yellow assembled in section A of Ravensburger 32,000 piece puzzle

Now that all four panels were complete, I had to do the white, which connected them all together. I organized the solid white pieces the same way I had organized the solid red pieces.
White sorted in section A of Ravensburger 32,000 piece puzzle

After about a day, I had the white pieces mostly assembled. But then I noticed something strange. I had a bunch of pieces that kind of sort of looked like they should fit, but didn’t. They looked like the right shape, but were either slightly too long or slightly too short.
White mostly assembled in section A of Ravensburger 32,000 piece puzzle

Then it dawned on me that with so many pieces, there had to be a pattern. And given the regularness of the white, I finally figured out that there must have been one column that was almost exactly like another on the other side of the puzzle. I had mixed up long and short versions of the same piece, because they seemd to fit (and for all intents and purposes they did). So I pulled out three columns of white pieces which were all the same pattern.
Three columns of white misfits in section A of Ravensburger 32,000 piece puzzle

After lining these three columns up next to each other, it became very obvious which were the short versions and which were the long versions. As I suspected, I had mixed them up. Once I reassembled the white columns ensuring all were the same size, the puzzle fit together nicely.
Section A complete of Ravensburger 32,000 piece puzzle

It took a total of three weeks to complete section A of the puzzle. I started on Jan 21, 2012 and finshed on Feb 11, 2012.
Section A complete of Ravensburger 32,000 piece puzzle


Ravensburger 32,000 piece puzzle

I usually blog about enterprise architecture, but this entry is a bit different. I am 1/2 done with the Ravensburger 32,000 piece puzzle (named Double Retrospect; Art by Kieth Haring), so I thought I’d start writing about my experiences in putting it together.

First Half of 32,000 piece puzzle

First Half of 32,000 piece puzzle

I received the Puzzle as a Christmas Gift (December 25, 2011). Here is the box. It came with its own dolly to wheel it around.

32,000 piece Puzzle Box

32,000 piece Puzzle Box

I finished the first half on March 18, 2012. So slightly less than three months. We’ll see if I can keep up the pace.

I have to admit, when I received the gift, I found it a bit daunting. I looked at all the white and all the solid colors and I thought “How am I ever ging to do this?”. My kids immediately asked “Dad, When do you think you will finish?”. They were all excited. I did some quick math and responded “In about 18 years, after you have kids”.

Even though I was pretty overwhelmed by the whole thing, I was on vacation and had some time, so I figured I’d give it a try. Since I had no expectation of finishing any time soon, I did not bother to track my progress. But on January 17th (less than a month later), I finished the first section (of 4,000 pieces)

Section E of 32,000 piece Puzzle

Section E

The puzzle is packaged into eight bags and each bag holds about 4,000 pieces. Each 4,000 piece bag creates a section of the puzzle with four panels in a 2×2 grid. Knowing this really helped. Rather than a single 32,000 piece puzzle, its really eight 4,000 piece puzzles. That’s a bit easier. Here is one of the bags

One Bag

One Bag

You can tell which bag is which section of the puzzle. The Puzzle Sections are each given a letter from A to H. A is in the upper left hand corner, then B, then C and D is in the upper right hand corner. E starts the next row in the lower left hand corner, then F, then G and H is in the lower right hand corner.

Each bag has a control number (in German: Kontrollnummer) and the first letter of the control number indicates the section of the puzzle contained therein. This bag holds section A

Control Number

Control Number (Kontrollnummer)

The Hall of fame for this puzzle is at I hope I make it.


The Difference between Architecture and Design

My favorite analogy to describe the difference between architecture and design is to use the analogue of highway / street maps. I you were driving from New York to Los Angeles, you might approach mapping out your route the way we (should) approach architecture and design. At the most abstract level (the architecture), we understand that we have states, cities and within states, and interstate highways. To start, all we really need to know is which states we want to go through, and what interstates we want to take to optimize our time. This is an architectural approach. At this level of abstraction, all interstates can be treated much the same and while we know that the road systems within each city are different, that level of detail is not important (at this point in time).

Once we understand the basic path from NY to LA and approximately where we want to stop, we zoom-in to each specific area, focusing on its specific design and how to get from the Interstate to the points of interest, hotels, etc. and back again. Many cities even follow a similar pattern, where there is a “ring road” that encircles the city and interconnects to the highway system, but not all fit this pattern. Many small towns fit the pattern of having a “Main Street” that serves as its thoroughfare. Patterns help us understand the city / town road systems, as they give us a degree of familiarity, even in an unfamiliar place.

In this analogy, architecture and design are clearly related. Architecture is more abstract, focusing on the whole to gain perspective, and on the patterns that underlie similarities in the parts. Design focuses in on one or more parts and lets the broader picture “fade into the background”, so to speak.
This analogy works pretty well to distinguish the concepts of architecture and design as long as we recognize that the delineation is really just a “Point of View”. In other words, the fact that we have treated the city / town road systems as design elements is only really based on the fact that our scope in the example was the whole United States and we drew out patterns between cities and towns in different states.

If we reset our scope to a single city, for example we could just as easily talk about the “architecture” of the city’s road system, with more detailed elements being boroughs and districts within the city.

The important point to recognize is that architecture focuses on the whole to gain perspective, by abstracting away detail in order to draw higher level relationships. Architectural patterns capture “what is the same” about groups of elements within the architecture. Design, on the other hand is about the detail. In order to get the necessary detail, you zoom in, allowing elements beyond your “design scope” to fall outside “the field of view”. To put these in perspective with other design elements, we can think of “zooming-out” to the architecture level, moving to a different part of the map and “zooming back in” again.

At the risk of confusing rather than clarifying and to mix metaphors: Architecture is about the forest. Design is about the trees.


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