This puzzle was a Capitol offense

The first problem with jigsaw puzzles is that they come unassembled. But it gets worse. Now they come unassembled and in 3-D.

I wonder what lab rats were used to test these architectural nightmares. Prisoners in solitary? Lighthouse keepers? I don't know anyone else who has time to fit together 718 teensy pieces of US Capitol building.

Our 11-year-old received one of these boxed Capitols as a gift. The age on the puzzle is "extra challenging," which is somewhere beyond 98, our combined ages. The puzzle has hogged our dining-room table so long that it feels like a member of the family.

"I guess I won't bother to fill out this job application and become gainfully employed," our teen daughter said the other night as she looked for a bare surface. "The Capitol is spread all over the table."

Night after night, we hunch over the structure, shuffling puzzle pieces the size of moth wings. It's like someone handing you a dictionary and telling you to find "A Farewell to Arms." Sure, it's in there, but who's crazy enough to dig it out?

After several hundred hours, all the puzzle pieces with their little knobs and hollows look alike. And with enough force and frustration, a square peg can indeed be hammered into a round hole.

"No, Mom! You've stuck part of an upside-down step into the West Wing," the young puzzler informed me and pried out my pieces. "Can't you see that itty-bitty crack?" It was nothing that a little caulk wouldn't fix.

When the third floor of foam walls started going up, I quietly cheered on the father-architect. "We can't give up now and teach the kid to be a quitter," I whispered. "Take it one wee wall at a time." He gave me the same embalmed look he'd worn since the project began.

"Just find the 14th column that goes to the main entrance," he hissed. "I'm a busy man. I work all day. Then I come home and build the Capitol!"

The young puzzler inserted the flaps on the cardboard skeleton that supports the dome, while I struggled to piece together the dome itself. As soon as I'd plug one piece into the round structure, two would pop out. It was like trying to French-braid the tail of a galloping horse. When the boy wasn't looking, I took drastic action and reached for the glue gun.

FINALLY, we loosely locked the 718th piece into place and stood and marveled at our handiwork. The young puzzler looked as proud as Bill Clinton, standing in front of the shaky Capitol.

"Hurry up and grab the camera," my husband said through clenched smile. "That rotunda is good for about two minutes."

I snapped the Capitol builders, then discreetly pocketed the leftover puzzle piece I'd spied under the table.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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