If The Sistine Chapel Ceiling were a Puzzle…

Throughout the history of human events there have been numerous achievements that have spurred innovation, broken barriers and defined generations. An event occurred this past winter that moved the needle yet again and may have gone unnoticed by some. That moment was the completion of a 5000 piece Ravensburger puzzle of the Sistine Chapel… by me.

Surely I jest about the significance of the aforementioned event however I wanted to briefly share my love of puzzles (which I later would learn has a label “dissectology,” to which there is a royal society commissioned of the same name). 

There is a tale as to how I came to take on the challenge of a 5000 piece puzzle, but before we get to it, I would like to share what exactly a puzzle of this magnitude encompasses. First, in my dining room there is a table that measures approximately 32×60.” This table is too small to fit this 5000 piece completed puzzle on its surface. Additionally, those pieces are about 3/4” of an inch in size… and damn there are a lot of them. Second, I have a cat. Obviously small semi-domesticated mammals could wreak havoc on a project this scale. Especially a project that would be ongoing and unattended for many hours on any given day. Third, and most importantly, I would be taking over a room in the house and nearly every surface would have small roasting tins of assorted colored and shaped pieces for the next few months as I could only work on the puzzle as time permits (working full time and having many other commitments).

With that said, I want to take you back about 6-8 months when Kris and I were on a long weekend away at a cabin outside of Llano TX. At the end of one of the second day we were looking for something to do to pass some time until the sun went down (so that we could capture DSLR star trails). Well, as we were looking through the shelves in the living room we came across a “Buddy the Elf” puzzle from the movie “Elf.” I think the puzzle was about 100 or so pieces. I didn’t really want to complete it, I really just wanted to play Chutes and Ladders, but Kris insisted which means we were going to do the puzzle. 

Something happened when we started the puzzle that I didn’t anticipate or even consider would; I enjoyed it immensely. Maybe it was the four or five beers, but I really enjoyed the process. When we completed the puzzle I captured a quick picture of it on my phone and didn’t really think too much about it the rest of the night and subsequent week. 

About two weeks later, Kris had come home from a shopping trip and had bought a couple of 1000 piece puzzles for us to work on in spare time. We worked on those puzzles together and in the spare time we could muster, we were able to complete them in a few weeks. It was fun and it allowed us to sit quietly together, sip wine (on occasion) and talk. I began to notice some unanticipated things. I found that I was able to think more clearly, communicate more effectively and felt more productive in life in general. I know you may be saying, “All that from a puzzle huh… right… lame.” Well, for me it was true.

Before I knew it, completing one puzzle in three weeks with Kris became one puzzle in two weeks with Kris, then a puzzle in a week by myself (Kris would lose interest after a few minutes in time which isn’t her fault she just wasn’t as into it as I was). Before I knew it I was cranking out puzzles in a few hours and losing track of the time all along. It wasn’t long before I started working on 2000 piece puzzles. In regards to size, the 1000 piece puzzles were about 18×24″ whereas the 2000 piece ones are about 24×32.”

A few months later, I was on a trip to New Hampshire to visit my parents who invited me up for an early birthday celebration. By the time I had arrived, word had spread of my new-found hobby and my parents wanted to hook me up with a puzzle from White Mountain Puzzles in Epsom NH. If you are a puzzle enthusiast or a budding dissectologist (remember you could join a royal society) this place is your Mecca. They have everything in this hobby shop, so you can imagine when I arrived there with my mother I was pretty excited. Honestly, I was excited to get out of the car cause driving with my mother is an experience all of its own. She is wonderful, kind and generous, but she is probably the most distracted driver in the lower 48 states, and if not the lower 48, than at least New England. Maybe a tale for another time.

In the shop we walked around and thats when I saw it… a challenge I was ready to undertake… a challenge that would shape the course of human events for the next three months… Ravensburger’s 5000 piece Sistine Chapel puzzle. I think it was like $50 or 60$, I’ve since seen it on Amazon for like $80, but those are Covid-19 prices so who knows for sure. My parents were kind enough to gift me the puzzle for my birthday as long as I would send updates as I completed it. I was very excited to begin this project and had crafted a plan for assembly in our dining room. I would have to wait until after the Christmas holiday was over as I was not allowed to turn the dining room into a circus during Christmas. Honestly, Kris does such a nice job decorating the house that it would be a shame to ruin her hard work with a bunch of foil pans, black project board and LED lamps.

So with the holiday season behind (by a day), I opened up that great big box and began sorting pieces into foil tins by characteristics, colors and shapes. I think after the initial sort I had like 20 tins nearly full of those pieces. It was at that point that I thought, “Oh my God, what have I gotten myself into?” I was a little overwhelmed to say the least. After the sorting, I used some packing tape to attach two foam-board project trifold thingies together and then hastily taped them to the tabletop creating a surface that was stable and had extra space around the margins beyond the measurements of the puzzles border. 

With the aid of a great iTunes playlist, many Scott Adams podcasts and Justin Johnson YouTube videos I hammered out the puzzle methodically over the next three and a half months. Regarding my workflow, I would work on the puzzle periodically after work, weekends when Kris was on call at the hospital and even some mornings before I had to leave the house for work. I would honestly say it took about 4 or 5 weeks before it even really began to resemble anything, but when the picture started to become clearer it was really a site to behold. It was at that point that I decided that WHEN I finished this puzzle I wasn’t going to smile, take a picture of it and put it back into the box… I was going to seal it, glue it, frame it and hang it on the wall in my media room.

As of this day I am proud to say that the puzzle is hanging up in the media room and from time to time when I’m watching a movie with Kris or playing some Atari or PS4 to unwind, I’ll glance over at it and smile. I would like to think of myself as a modern day Michelangelo… I bet he felt the same way every time he strolled back into the Sistine Chapel. 

Seriously though, did you know he didn’t want to be a part of the original project to paint the chapel’s ceiling? I thought I read somewhere that he fled the country to avoid Pope Julius II who threatened him with excommunication if he didn’t comply with the papal order. If that is true, that is pretty messed up. I was merely threatened to complete the project before my mother-in-laws visit. I suppose that is considered under the pain of something completely different from excommunication, but nevertheless more serious (sarc).

Published by DW

Freelance writer, photographer and traveler who enjoys sharing his experiences with others.

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