Curiouser and curiouser, puzzlinger and puzzlinger …

The holiday catalog deluge has begun, and the variety of catalogs I receive for no apparent reason never ceases to amaze me.

Come Nov. 1, my mailbox invariably becomes home to catalogs advertising everything from collectible thimbles to leopard-print thongs (or was that collectible leopards and thimble thongs?).

Most everyone expects a few off-the-wall catalogs when the Christmas season draws nigh. They come and go, usually disappearing after a year or so if you don’t make an order.

But there are a few glossy, elaborate and relatively obscure catalogs that just seem to keep coming back despite the fact that you didn’t ask for them, never ordered from them and have absolutely no interest in the products they contain.

The most puzzling holiday catalog I receive is, curiously enough, a puzzle catalog.

Anyone who knows me is abundantly aware of the fact that puzzles make me twitch. I steer clear of anything that looks like it might take more than a cursory glance to put together, take apart, open or close.

Determining the correct way to operate the average keychain is about as much puzzlement as I can handle on a regular basis. Anything that has more than three moving parts constitutes a major mystery.

Replacing an automobile taillight, for example, is a project for which I usually set aside at least two days.

Despite my aversion to puzzles and the fact that I’d never consider paying for such aggravation by mail order, the catalogs continue to arrive, offering lots and lots of “clever puzzles and intriguing gifts.”

These are not your average three-piece Barney the Dinosaur puzzles, nor are they the somewhat more complicated six-piece map of California puzzles we all learned to assemble in elementary school.

No, these diabolical puzzles are for clever people who should have better things to do – and probably will, once they’ve been taken into custody …

Items include round, 500-piece jigsaw puzzles created from the famed Rose Window of St. John the Divine in New York City.

Great. For $10.95, I can get hundreds of tiny, apparently unrelated bits of colorful cardboard with which to drive myself to the brink of unutterable madness.

Then there’s “The Great Pagoda … this 51-piece interlocking puzzle is a time-honored Japanese challenge that has stumped numerous generations.”

Why, I ask you, would I want to pay $12.95 for something that has annoyed generations and generations of people? How many more generations have to be aggravated before some wise individual takes a ball-peen hammer to The Great Pagoda?

Unfortunately, these are among the simpler diversions provided by the puzzle catalog that won’t die.

I’m not even going to tell you about the illuminated, three-dimensional, 836-piece Neuschwanstein Castle puzzle. Suffice it to say that there is, in fact, an 836-piece, illuminated, three-dimensional Neus-whatever puzzle.

If I ever do break down and tackle a real puzzle, I doubt that I’ll find what I’m looking for in a holiday catalog (or, for that matter, in a miniature, three-dimensional Bavarian castle).

I’ll need a real challenge, something that will stretch my intellectual and problem-solving capabilities to the utmost.

Maybe I’ll try voting in Florida next year …

Originally published November 19, 2000