Many gifts require some assembly, but the one retired pediatrician Don Lathrop received from his daughter Lydia took months to piece together.
When he unwrapped the National Geographic box last Christmas, Lathrop discovered an aerial view of his Los Altos neighborhood in the form of a puzzle.
It was a puzzle of a puzzle. The 400 pieces are mostly uniform in size, making it difficult to match them.
“Every piece looked like every other piece, and once you get the landmarks out of the way, it’s the toughest puzzle,” Lathrop said.
A 20-year Los Altos resident who lives between Rancho San Antonio and Interstate 280, Lathrop quickly pinpointed the landmarks, like Loyola Corners and Los Altos Golf & Country Club.
Stymied but not one to give up, he took the puzzle down to the Los Altos Senior Center, where he had noticed people working on puzzles from time to time. That’s when he got real help. One man, Chuck, particularly took the project to heart.
Reviews of the puzzles on the National Geographic website (www.shop.nationalgeographic.com) range from enthusiastic to grumpy, with most people mentioning their difficulty. One man called his puzzle a “nightmare,” another said it was “darn hard but the perfect gift.” Others said they worked on it with relatives and friends, going back and forth for two or more weeks.
Lathrop said he appreciated Chuck’s efforts.
“(Chuck) was the real hero of the thing,” Lathrop said.
First, Chuck downloaded the satellite view from Google maps, then lined up the pieces in neat, precise rows and left a note every night asking visitors not to disturb the order.
“He spent hours on the puzzle,” said Lathrop, adding that the final piece was shaped like a house.
Chuck left that piece for Lathrop.
Candace Bates, Senior Center coordinator, and her staff framed the puzzle, which Lathrop donated to the center. The final dimensions are 12.25 inches inches wide by 18.5 inches long. The finished puzzle sits on the wall behind the center’s travel desk, a fitting spot for it.
“They worked so hard on that puzzle,” said Bates, who was amazed when it was finished in three months.
The $49.95 puzzles can be ordered from National Geographic, which takes customers’ addresses and transforms satellite views into the puzzle. In response to complaints about the puzzles’ difficulty, the company says it has made some changes and now routinely includes a reference photo.