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Trail and Error

One great thing about being an uncle, as opposed to a parent, is that you have a societally acknowledged right to spoil your nieces and nephews. Personally, I take that right a step further: I believe that it is my obligation to fill in any holes I see in the rearing environment provided by my sister and her spouse for their children. Specifically, I see it as my role to corrup—I mean, indoctrinate—my niece and nephew into the world of puzzles.

(Admit it: you're surprised, aren't you? No? Oh, well, never mind that then.)

I think I started in on my nephew when he was only eight or nine years old, making a couple of small pencil-and-paper puzzles for his birthday that led to some kind of a silly metapuzzle answer. For his tenth birthday, I stepped it up a bit to a sequence of four puzzles, each unlocking the next, leading to him finding his real present, hidden somewhere around his house. He's 11½ as I type this, and I'm already planning something even more involved for his twelfth...

I tell you all of this because my nephew was the original inspiration for this puzzle. For his Christmas present last year, I wanted to try my hand at creating a jigsaw puzzle. Of course, I couldn't just leave it at that, could I? No, I had to make it one of my multi-stage puzzles: after he'd solved the jigsaw, there would be a new puzzle revealed, and that would lead to yet another puzzle, until he finally got a satisfying answer. The version I made for him led to a final message that was very silly indeed, and very specific to him; it was his present, after all.

After Christmas, though, I got to thinking that the main ideas in his puzzle were good enough that I should really use them again in a puzzle for the website. Some months later, I finally got around to creating the puzzle you see here, and testing has shown that it works pretty well. It's a real jigsaw puzzle, and not a trivial one, but also not a huge one; it's only 64 pieces, but take my word for it: it'll still keep you busy for a little while. And, of course, that's just the beginning of the solving experience! I won't even tell you how many layers of additional puzzle there are after assembling the jigsaw; not only would it spoil some of the surprise, but it's actually a little tricky to count them!

(By the way, the puzzle's name isn't a typo; believe me, you'll understand why by the time you finish this one...)

So the question comes down to this: my 10½-year-old nephew handily solved his version of this puzzle; can you do as well with yours?

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