Vickie Haug of Bellingham has figured out the puzzle of Life.
In fact she has done it twice, and reports that Life is easier the second time around.
The first time Haug put together "Life - The Great Challenge" was in late 2008. At the time, it was the world's largest commercial jigsaw puzzle, with 24,000 pieces.
Haug's stepson gave her the puzzle as an anniversary gift after checking with her husband about what she might like. It was a good gift idea.
Haug has worked on puzzles ever since she married more than 40 years ago. She started out with puzzles familiar to most people: 500 pieces, 1,000 pieces, the kind people find under their Christmas tree.
Over time, though, she moved on to tougher challenges, including double-sided ones and huge puzzles.
"I'm a real organized person," she said. "It's fun to organize all the little pieces."
In 2003, Haug finished a puzzle with 18,000 pieces; the world's largest at the time. The 6-foot-wide by 9-foot-tall puzzle showed a jungle scene with a waterfall. It took her 14 months to finish.
In late 2005, she put together a 5,000-piece puzzle of a bouquet of flowers. Besides being large - it measured 3-and-a-half feet by 5 feet - many of the pieces were part of the dark-chocolate background, so it was tough going.
To celebrate its completion, she took a photograph of the finished puzzle, then took it apart and put it back in a box. Later, when she realized there hadn't been film in the camera, she put the puzzle together again for a new photograph.
Like she said, she's organized.
"I think I was organizing my diapers for my mom when I was born," she said. "I think it irritates people now. I don't know why. I don't try to organize their lives."
Haug, 65, was born in Bellingham. Her husband, Michael, was an ironworker and commercial fisher before he became a logger. Now retired, they spend many mornings cutting firewood to sell. Haug also tends their large yard, cooks, knits and crochets, when she's not working on puzzles.
By the time the 24,000-piece "Life" came out, Haug was ready for the challenge.
The puzzle arrived in a box that weighed 26.6 pounds, according to her precise notes. Inside were four bags, each holding 6,000 pieces for a vertical section of the puzzle.
Working a bag at a time, Haug sorted the pieces by their eight shapes; then sorted them again by color.
"Life - The Great Challenge," by artist Royce B. McClure, presents a vibrant array of creatures and objects, including tropical fish, an underwater city, a Noah's ark of wildlife, a lighthouse, sailboats, plus birds, hot air balloons, planets and stars. And more.
Haug studied a poster of the image that came in the box, and used a magnifying glass to study individual pieces.
Working with pieces set on cardboard trays - 22 trays per bag - she put together each vertical section on butcher paper atop plywood. When she finished one section, she put down another sheet of butcher paper and began the next section on top of the first.
It took her four months to finish, working three weeks on, one week off.
Once all four sections were done, she gently lowered them to the floor to unite them. She used the floor because they didn't have a table big enough to display the 14-foot by 5-foot finished work.
"It wasn't very impressive lying on the floor," Haug acknowledged. "It was in the way."
Haug often puts puzzles together more than once, even if they are 24,000 pieces.
She recently completed "Life" again, with a twist. When she had put the puzzle away, she stored it in 24 bags of 1,000 pieces each. She was curious how long it would take to put it together again using the smaller segments.
Working at a card table and again using butcher paper, she moved the finished 1,000-piece sections to their garage, where her husband had built a plywood table large enough to display the complete puzzle. It took her about 24 days to finish.
With "Life" completed again, Haug plans to relax with a 500-piece or maybe a 2,000-piece puzzle from her collection at home. Or maybe something much larger.
While being interviewed about her latest accomplishment, Haug was surprised to learn there's a new world record puzzle; a 32,000-piece, eight-bag, 42-pound, 17-foot by 6-foot monster.
"Oh no," she said. "Oh my land."
Haug plans to check it out, but won't tackle the puzzle unless the end result is worth the effort.
"I don't work them unless I like the picture, or the colors in the pictures," she said.
For details about "Life - The Great Challenge," including a musical flyover video of the puzzle, go to worldslargestpuzzle.com.
To learn about the new world's largest puzzle, go to ravensburger.com. Click on "2D Puzzles," then on "2D Adult Puzzles" and then on "32,000 pc Puzzles."
Reach Dean Kahn, who scored low in "spatial awareness" in standard school tests, at 360-715-2291 or email@example.com.