Memories are a strange thing for us humans. We might remember to this day exactly what nasty graffiti was written on the third bathroom stall in grade school, yet not be able to recall whether we had just taken our life sustaining medicine 15 minutes ago or not. There are some things that stay with you forever and ever, and there is the vast majority of things you will experience in this world that fade away from your mind at a negative logarithmic rate from the moment they occur. And then there are those strange memories that linger in mental purgatory that can be full or incomplete things, but can go years and even decades without being thought about… and sometimes just randomly and suddenly spew forth to the front of your cerebral cortex.
I had such a mental ejaculation Wednesday night… a memory of early childhood that suddenly showed up and introduced itself, saying “Hey, remember me?” I have a lot of people stop me at work like that and talk to me like I know who the fuck they are, when I actually don’t have a clue. That’s because I’m horrible at remembering people’s faces and names. But nostalgic memories…. that’s something I’m usually good at. And I did recognize this visitor inside my head the other night, and could even remember certain details of what it looked like… but hadn’t seen it in so long, I honestly couldn’t say if I’d even recognize it again if I actually did see it.
I remember when I was a little boy back in the early 80’s (Or slightly more mature than I am now), my parents would buy me and my sisters these puzzles to keep us occupied so we wouldn’t drive them to murder. I’m not talking about complex jigsaw puzzles with 4537289233 pieces (and always missing one in the box), but these kids puzzles with only a few pieces and none of them small enough for us to choke on.
There were 12 pieces to each puzzle, to be exact. And in one of those things that only my young but still unusual mind would have noticed was that all of these puzzles we would get were cut out into the exact same 12 pieces. There were generic images and licensed cartoons and all kinds of pictures on these different puzzles…. yet the pieces themselves were identical. And much like my fascination with the shapes of the states led me to be able to draw a reasonable map of the country before I even graduated from those big, fat crayons… I knew that outline of the puzzle pieces cold, and would always look for it every time we got a new puzzle.
The puzzles eventually made way for more cooler things like Rubik’s Cubes, Garbage Pail Kids and my sisters’ Pound Puppies I’d throw across the room. The 12 piece grid I had come to know and obsess over eventually took its proper place in a remote corner of my mind along with all the repressed memories about being abducted by alien unicorns. At least…. it did until I randomly thought about it again during my boring time away from work last week. Re-armed with this vague idea of what I used to play with, I just had to hit Google Images to see if I could find that old familiar puzzle layout that was a part of my days as a young squirrel.
Unfortunately, so fascinated was I with the cutout design that I never bothered to mentally store away who made the puzzles or what they were called. So I started with “12 piece kids puzzle 80s” (Which will probably end up on some other blog’s Sandy Awards now), and the number of similar results… as well as a touch of a light bulb going on when I saw them, gave me a name for what I was looking for.
Whitman tray puzzles were a big kids toy in the 70’s and 80’s. They had all the cool licensed characters we loved, were cheap, and even “developed coordination and motor control” in us budding young hellions. Awesome! That’s a start…. but that’s not the piece design I remember. Way too simplistic… the pieces actually look like generically shaped puzzle pieces. The ones I recall were a bit more unique looking… and there’s a couple I outright remember their exact shapes. That is not the puzzle I’m looking for……
But this is!
As soon as I saw Piece #4 (The howling dog) Piece #8 (The dancing fool), and Piece #2 (Which I always thought of as Montana…. yeah, whatever), I knew I’d found my memory!!! There is no way I can possibly put into words how stupidly excited I was when I found this image of the puzzle cutout I remember.
So I was wondering if I could find a certain racing puzzle in this format that I had a very vague notion of its design… and no, I was unable to find that. But I did find this, which managed to stick an icepick in the nostalgic part of my brain…
Since a majority of the Whitman puzzles I was finding had alternate cutout designs, I just wrote this off initially as one of the weird ones. Until I noticed that Piece #6 looked an awful lot like “howling dog.” In fact, it IS howling dog, turned the other way! This is my familiar cutout flipped left to right!!!! Dafuq!?!? They did that without my prior approval!?!? Who the fuck does Whitman think they are to mess with my head like this?
Oh, it’s only getting started….
Now someone has stood howling dog and dancing fool on their heads!!!! This is my iconic cutout design I remember flipped upside down! What… did Tom and Jerry, Cookie Monster and Santa Claus have different demands in their licensing contracts with Whitman on the layout of the pieces or something? Nope, the truth is apparently even stranger than that….
Exact same Tom and Jerry image on two puzzles, but with the classic piece layout arranged two different ways!!!! How is this possible!?!? Was the puzzlemaster at Whitman some kind of evil genius, or just dyslexic and random in how he ran the trays through the cutter? I guess I’ll never know since the Western Publishing Company stopped making these things several decades ago, and everyone associated with their manufacture may very well have been liquidated or institutionalized to keep from spilling company secrets. But anyway… there’s how a random lost memory can turn into a gigantic waste of fucking time on the internet.