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Letters...but in all the shouting, no one’s listening.


“Putting It All Together” (“Editor’s Notes,” December/04), about jigsaw puzzles, is a delightful piece and its question, “Why do we do them?” is a good one. But in glancing at answers, you skate on thin ice—one can quickly fall through and encounter surprising depths.

To do a puzzle of 500 pieces, one makes 499 moves. Each move is a tiny distinct pleasure and, regardless of the aesthetics of the separate pieces, it is the fit between them from which this joy derives. Any puzzler must admit that his or her brain contains a link from a good fit (detected in the cortex) to the joy equipment (subcortical). What else does this fit-actuated neural mechanism empower: our joy from two words that rhyme? Joy from a clever answer to a crossword clue? Joy from a metaphor that neatly captures a thought? An infant’s joy from “Ba-ba” and “Ma-ma”? James Watson’s (PhB’46, SM’47) joy when his mock-up of the assembly C-plus-G fitted the same space as A-plus-T?

If one lists pleasures we share with apes and, separately, pleasures we enjoy that apes seem not to, are there any in the second list that are not, at least partly, joys of the neat-fit jigsaw type? Is joy from fitting pervasive like the air we breathe?

Wittgenstein wrote: “The aspects of things that are most important to us are hidden because of their simplicity and familiarity.” Jigsaws are certainly simple and familiar, but perhaps hidden close behind them are aspects that are quite important. I hope that you sell many puzzles, and that at least a few devoted puzzlers enjoy pondering these deeper ramifications.

Brian Bayly, PhD’62
Troy, New York

The Magazine welcomes letters. Letters for publication must be signed and may be edited. To ensure a range of views, we encourage letters of fewer than 300 words. Write Editor, University of Chicago Magazine, 5801 S. Ellis Avenue, Chicago, IL 60637. Or e-mail: