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A Puzzling Puzzle

Assembling a behemoth

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Kirsten Polyansky, Bob Doty

PUZZLE SOLVED Kirsten Polyansky gave her father Bob Doty a birthday-present puzzle that was such a big commitment, she said it was "kind of like giving someone a puppy." (Photo:

Little did his neighbors know, Bob Doty had a major project brewing in his home this fall.

The retired attorney and judge – described by his daughter Kirsten Polyansky, also an attorney, as “kind of quiet, kind of studious” – was working away on a puzzle. But this was not your average family puzzle. This was an 18,000-piece behemoth, the likes of which Bob hadn’t attempted over a lifetime of puzzle-solving.

Kirsten, who gave him the giant puzzle as a birthday gift, laughs: “This wasn’t a Hey, let’s sit down at the kitchen table and do a puzzle puzzle.

“It was a fluke purchase,” Kirsten says, explaining that she was waiting in line at Kuhl-Linscomb buying a baby gift when she spotted the giant puzzle on the shelf. “It weighed a ton and came in a gigantic box,” she says. “As I stood in line, everybody was like Wow I’ve never seen a puzzle that big, and I was like I know, that’s why I’m buying it! It hadn’t dawned on me that if you take a 1,000-piece puzzle and multiply it by 18, it’s kind of like giving somebody a puppy. I hadn’t appreciated how big the project would be.”

Kirsten and her siblings Robert Doty and Morgen Hool are always on the hunt for difficult puzzles for their puzzle-loving dad. “We’ve gotten him round ones, clear ones,” Kirsten says. But this puzzle turned out to be a different kind of challenge.

“The biggest puzzle I had ever done was maybe 2,500 pieces,” Bob says. “Now I’ve got 18,000 to deal with.


His daughter Kirsten Polyansky upped his puzzle game with the gift of an 18,000-piece bookshelf-themed puzzle.

“It came in a box containing four plastic bags; each bag was one-quarter of the puzzle. So I did it one-quarter at a time. But even one-quarter was too big for the table I have in the room I use to do puzzles in. I had to build a platform on top of that table big enough to fit one of the quadrants.”

“It’s bookshelves,” Bob’s wife Barbara says of the picture on the puzzle, “and you would think that would make it easier. But every little piece of this one . . . once in a while I can put a piece in a puzzle, but with this one we could hardly fit any. You’d think, well, here’s a cat, and you’d know where it would go, but I was not very successful.”

The bookshelves theme was fitting: “Bob has always loved reading and he reads all the time,” Barbara says. “He’s always at the library, and he keeps track of all the books he reads in a year.”

It took about a month for Bob to complete each quadrant. When he finished one, he would cover it in a layer of cardboard and start the next quadrant on top of that. Bob’s wife Barbara says it was an exceptionally difficult puzzle. 

Then, Bob says, came the “mental gymnastics.” There was no space for all four quarters to be put together in Bob’s puzzle room – yes, he has a place dedicated to puzzles in an upstairs playroom. “I had to figure out how to package it to get it out of the room, down the stairs, through the doors.”

After two weeks of thought, including some middle-of-the-night musings, Bob devised a plan. He would cover the stacked quadrants, separated by cardboard, with another sheet of cardboard. Then he would clamp it all together to be carefully transported.

But there was still a problem: Even if he got it into the garage, where would it rest?

“That was another week worrying,” Bob says. “Our air hockey table is 4-by-7. So I got big sheets of peg board and tacked two or three sheets of that together to the size I wanted overall – 9 ½-by-6 ½.”

Ultimately, Robert helped his dad move the puzzle to its new platform. “It went very smoothly,” Bob says, “but it took some advance planning. Turned out, that was the hardest part of the puzzle.”

Kirsten Polyansky, Bob Doty

Puzzle enthusiast Bob Doty shows off the three-dimensional Titanic puzzle he put together, complete with lights in the cabins. (Photo:

Bob has been solving puzzles since he was a boy. “I have a certain system,” he explains. “I sort out the edge pieces to begin, then by color groupings or shapes, and I always start with the edge pieces to get the border completed. Then I go from there. There’s a mental process to it, and I enjoy that.

“It’s kind of an escape, like TV or running or whatever people do to get their mind off stress. All that goes away and I’m in my own little encapsulated zone. The kids can be in the playroom running around while I’m doing this, but I don’t hear them. I’m concentrating on finding the pieces.”

That says a lot because Bob and Barbara pick up at least one of their seven grandchildren, ranging in age from 18 months to 14, from school daily. 

While the family – all of whom enjoy doing puzzles – didn’t help put this puzzle together, Kirsten found her dad’s frequent puzzle updates to be a fun change from talking about kids. 

“There aren’t that many 18,000-piece puzzles out there,” Kirsten says. “You know how people climb all the mountains? My dad is likening this puzzle to that. He suspects he’ll just have to do them all.”

While Kirsten has bought all the giant puzzles she could find and is keeping them in queue for gifts for her dad, Bob has found one to beat them all. “It’s 8 feet tall and 29 feet long, 60,000 pieces,” Kirsten says. “That might be Dad’s Everest.”

For now, the question is what happens to the completed puzzle. “There’ve been suggestions I glue it together and hang it on a wall, but my wife says no,” Bob says. “Eventually after a period of lying in state, I’ll take it apart and keep it. Maybe do it again someday, maybe the family will do it, maybe I’ll donate it to an organization to keep people busy. But I’m not going to throw it away. It was too much work.”


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