Opinion: Piecing together a puzzling life


About 16 years ago, my third edition of “Indiana Curiosities” was published, stories about all the unusual people, places and things in the Hoosier state. I decided it might be fun to check back after all these years and revisit some of the people who earned a chapter in my quirky travel guide.

When I first met David Cozad, his life was in pieces. About 25,000 pieces — 24, 978, to be exact. The Plainfield resident was one of the premier jigsaw mavens in the Midwest. He had recently finished the puzzle referenced above, chock full of animals, hot air balloons, the planets of the solar system and the tiniest of sea creatures.

Cozad put the puzzle together on his garage floor, a painstaking achievement, hard on the eyes and the knees. Most of Cozad’s completed puzzles are displayed in his house or garage. Several have gone to his grandkids. But his latest achievement, a panorama of Disney characters, was even bigger than the one featured in my book. It was 40,000 pieces. At about 26 feet long and 6 feet tall, it weighed more than 100 pounds in the box.

Cozad spent three years on his condo’s garage floor interlocking pieces. He sees the effort almost spiritually: “First, I find the correct church for all the pieces, then the correct pew,” he said.

That’s how he explains separating the edges and the colors. He isolates the puzzles by sections, which are then glued together so they can be mounted on a giant board.

Great puzzles have unifying ideas to keep the hobbyist interested, but Cozad admits that it isn’t until the puzzle is completed that he can stand back and appreciate all the artistic nuances of the scene. One of his favorites was a black-and-white Civil War scene with Abraham Lincoln featured in the painting. A real toughie because he only had two pews of colors.

“Putting in that last piece is a great accomplishment,” Cozad said.

But his greatest fear is that as he nears the end of his task, a piece will be missing.

“That’s why I used to keep my eye on the dog,” he said.

Cozad is a big advocate of encouraging kids to take up jigsaw puzzling.

“It develops their capacity to concentrate,” he said. “An ability that many lack in today’s world of video games.”

Cozad had temporarily retired from this passion of the last 30 years. This was OK with his friends who wanted him to play more golf and cards.

“Over the years, they weren’t exactly beating down my garage door to help,” he said.

Recently, the bug bit him again. He was getting edgy to use some jigsaw lingo. He bought a large puzzle in a bag, just the pieces, but he has no idea what the final scene will be.

“I’ve never attempted anything like this before,” he told me.

But it seems only fitting he should do that.