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The Flare Path Jigsaw Club

Simulation & wargame blather

Sir Francis Drake was halfway through one when the Spanish Armada arrived. Charles Lindbergh completed eight during his momentous transatlantic flight. Legendary Stalingrad sniper Vasily Zaytsev claimed they sharpened observational skills, improved manual dexterity, and helped alleviate tension in hospital waiting rooms... jigsaw puzzles have enjoyed a long and intimate relationship with warfare and transport. This week in The Flare Path I celebrate that age-old link by throwing open the doors of a jigsaw club specially designed for people who'd rather piece together aeroplanes and angry houses than kittens and kitsch cottages.

When I'm not busy violently dismantling war machines via the magic of computer sims and wargames, I'm often to be found peaceably mantling them via the magic of simulated jigsaw puzzles. For my money, the most relaxing and satisfying of the classic puzzle forms, jigsaws deliver their myriad penny packets of pleasure in a way that can make alternative entertainment delivery systems feel awfully mean and contrived. Rule, bug and frustration free, they quietly turn users into consulting detectives, painting restorers, recon photo analysts and air accident investigators. In a world in which we're constantly bombarded by bombastic visual stimuli, they encourage us to pause, scrutinise and dwell on detail, texture, and colour.

I Hawker Hart jigsaws.

While the original unsimulated variety have their advantages (tactility, scale, communality...) there's a lot to be said for jigsawing in a digital environment. Dinner tables don't get monopolised, charity shop labellers don't get mentally badmouthed when that 1000-piece Dambusters purchase turns out to be missing an astrodome and half a flak burst, and best of all, the PC-reliant puzzle assembler gets to fondle fragments of bespoke images.

Several sites offer impressively large puzzle selections, limitless virtual work surfaces, and DIY jigsaw design facilities, but none that I know of are as well designed or equipped as Jigsaw Planet. Free and unfussy, I like the fact that this Czech-run establishment doesn't force me to imbibe advertisements as I interlock. The ability to customise piece totals (24-300) and play with rotatable pieces, means a puzzle you blast through in a couple of minutes one day, can easily consume a couple of hours on another occasion.

Though no self-respecting disciple of St. Margaret of Drabble will ever utilize the site's 'ghost image' or 'find side pieces' cheats, the ability to play with a faint puzzle outline visible and all pieces 'the right way up' can prove hard to resist. Personally, I'm not a fan of the one-click piece arranging shortcut, relishing the routine and rigmarole of hand-sorting, but with high piece counts screen edges are often clogged with cardboard at the start of a session, so I can understand the reason for its presence.

The size of an up-ended B-52 hangar, Jigsaw Planet's puzzle cupboard bulges with images of exotic landscapes, gaudy blooms, and stilted still lifes. Where it's less strong is in the transport, war, and history areas. If you're a wargamer or simmer looking to pamper your peepers with an attractive/unusual depiction of an aerodyne, AFV, ship, loco or battle, you can find yourself doing a lot of tag searching and thumbnail perusing, hence my Flare Path Jigsaw Club notion.

What I was thinking was that you, me, and him over there in the Fallschirmjäger jump smock, could work together to create a puzzle repository guaranteed to please Flare Path readers. Using screenshots and pics from old books, I've already amassed a small collection of handmade jigsaws (playable here without registration or downloads). If you'd like to add to that collection by sending me - timfstone at gmail dot com - a hi-res puzzle-suitable pic or two, then, please, be my guest.

Poaching kit box art and the painterly masterpieces of others probably isn't a good idea (the splendid Terence Cuneo paintings in my album were sourced from Wikipedia) - rightly, Puzzle Planet do their best to uphold their copyright responsibilities. However, I'm sure many of you have photos on your cameras and bitmaps in your screengrabs folders that would make fabulous puzzles.

Of the 20 jigsaws already in the Flare Path album, one of the most pleasing commandeers a Door Kickers grab. The bright colours of the containers and the interconnected geometry of walls and vision cones combine to produce profoundly satisfying piece-work. If you're familiar with the game you'll find yourself interpreting pieces in a quite different way to the way a non-player would. Minute flecks of colour and hints of shapes that would be meaningless to the layman are helpful signposts to the fan.

Action-packed 2D strategy game screenshots seem to work particularly well as jigsaws. As the majority of online puzzles are based on eye-level photographs or paintings, top-down views and clean, clearly delineated textures make for a pleasant change. The sort of GUI gubbins that exasperates games magazine art editors enhances a jigsaw by providing structure and beachhead opportunities. Take on my Close Combat 2 or Ultimate General jigsaws and there's a fair chance your first sallies into the interior will be launched from edge-huddling interface furniture.

In Jigsaw Planet's own tips sections they warn against large expanses of sky/sea/snow in user submitted puzzles. I might be a trifle odd but I'm actually rather partial to piecing together sizeable swathes of firmament and brine in the latter stages of a puzzle. Moving into zones where piece shapes and barely discernible tone differences are your only guides, after time spent in more distinctive surroundings, is a jigsaw's version of a boss fight.

That said, pictures of Avro Vulcans painted in anti-flash white flying through polar snow storms may not make it past Uncle George, The Flare Path Jigsaw Club's quality controller. To guarantee inclusion in what is sure to end up The Finest Collection of Online-Jigsaw-Puzzles-With-a-Military-or-Transport-Theme Known to Man, please ensure your submission...

  • Is large and crisp (No blurry jpegs. JP's picture processor seems to cope fine with images up to 10 MB in size)
  • Is in landscape rather than portrait format.
  • Isn't purloined
  • Isn't ditchwater dull (Folk may be contemplating it for an hour or more)
  • Doesn't feature puppies*

*Pictures of Sopwith Pups may be accepted assuming the Pups aren't arranged in baskets or snuggling adorable kittens.

* * * * *

The Foxer

Roman wanted to include a Hawker Typhoo and a McDonnell XF-85 Goblin Teasmade in last week's foxer. I told him not be so chaildish.

Theme: tea (defoxed by AFKAMC)

a tea bush/caddy (AFKAMC, Elentir)
b gunpowder tea (All is Well, Matchstick, SpiceTheCat)
c teapot (Stugle, Llewyn, SpiceTheCat, iainl)
d mint tea (AFKAMC)
e tea flush (All is Well)
f East India Company (Damn You Socrates)
g tea urn (Shiloh)
h tea clipper (All is Well)
i saucer (Stugle, AFKAMC)
j tea leaf (unsolved)
k the Teapot Gardens (AFKAMC)

* * * * *

Foxer Fact #301

When Google introduced reverse image searches in 2009, several leading foxer setters left the industry. One of the savvier departees was Belgian collage maestro Léopold Rousseau. He went on to make a fortune as the inventor of the Wanda-R, the world's most cryptic sat nav.

All answers in one thread, please

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About the Author

Tim Stone