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June 24, 2020

Puzzle it out

June 24, 2020

“What in the world?!” That was my immediate reply to my sister’s text the other night. While many families are spending time doing puzzles during the pandemic quarantine, our family doesn’t need a store-bought puzzle to keep us guessing. It seems my dad left us plenty of things in his house that has us scratching our heads.

We’ve questioned the origin of many things or why our parents had them. We’ve wondered why we found objects in odd locations. We’ve questioned many of the Rube Goldbergesque home repairs we’ve uncovered (and replaced). There are boxes of old photos with no names on them and we have pondered which of our relatives we’re looking at. It seems we have found puzzling things everywhere we look.

hole in wall

However, the latest oddity we came across is literally a puzzle. A puzzle of beer cans, to be precise. Finding a jigsaw puzzle at my dad’s house isn’t all that odd. He loved doing them and had finished many throughout the years. What was strange about this one was where we found it.

While working on updates to the house, we pulled the original oven from 1960 out of the wall. This wasn’t a free-standing appliance but was built right into the wall like the Brady Bunch used to have. We are the only family to have lived there and, to our knowledge, that chocolate brown oven with the cracked timer cover, had always been there.

Now that the oven is out, there is an opening that leads to a large space between the walls. So large, in fact, you can stand up in it and walk around. But, not only that, on the ceiling is the complete beer can jigsaw puzzle. Now you understand my reply to my sister.

How in the world did that get there? And who knew that space was there the whole time we lived there? We could have turned it into needed storage, or a pantry or maybe even a puzzle room. Maybe that was my dad’s idea too. Whatever the case, it was all part of my dad.

So, while we don’t understand the small pieces we find, we know that they added up to our dad — who was a pretty incredible human being. All the odd shapes and colors are simply part of the bigger picture of his life well-lived.

In a similar fashion, the pieces of research, service, teaching and creating that Spartans do all over the world are simply pieces of the puzzle. Individually, even if each is important and beautiful in its own way, it’s only when they are put together that the bigger picture emerges — a picture of better tomorrows.

Just this week, even during a pandemic, we reported on diverse research topics like preventing forest fires, helping K-12 schools reopen, examining the mental health of military veterans and looking at a biodiversity puzzle. They’re all very different pieces of the puzzle that represent important parts of the bigger Spartan picture. 

How many puzzles have you solved by Googling them? If you’re like me, you’ve searched for an endless amount of answers to questions you’ve had. Google was the answer to Rai Sampson’s question about what was next for her after graduating from MSU's StratCom program this year. In fact, she started her career there a week before she finished her program. Read her STUDENT VIEW: Landing a dream job, to learn more about her experiences. 

puzzle on wall

Michael Callahan, an associate professor and chair of music theory, seems to have solved the puzzle of how to be a great instructor. He recently won the Dortha and John Withrow Excellence in Teaching Award. He says teaching is, “a real-time, responsive, improvisational, entrepreneurial, riveting activity” that makes him "feel alive." Read his FACULTY VOICE: Committing to students’ success, to learn more about his work.

My sisters and I still have some sleuthing to do to find answers to our questions. But honestly, it’s been kind of fun and we appreciate that he left us puzzles to solve that distract us from how much we miss him.

Spartan researchers will continue to solve puzzles too, but much more important ones than why a beer can puzzle is in a hidden space behind an oven. They’ll continue to diligently work to solve answers to the most challenging world problems like disease, food security, environmental concerns, equity in education and more. They will work piece by piece until the solutions click into place. When looking for the answer to who will work today to create better tomorrows, there’s no need to puzzle it out. The answer is easy — #SpartansWill.


Lisa Mulcrone
Editor, MSUToday
twitter bird@LMulcrone

Top photo by Nathan Lawera


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