Rachel and Steve's First Anniversary

Well, we've made it past one year and celebrated in style. This page includes some pictures of and some of the story behind the anniversary day.


For this anniversary, Rachel was in Seattle and I was in Boston for the summer. We live in Seattle (and that's where I had planned [Ernst et al., 1997] her anniversary surprises!); so, I flew in for the anniversary. For about three months before that I had been plotting Rachel's anniversary surprise; you can also check out some of the pictures and stories of the anniversary prep.


Here's the final puzzle: an 8 by 12 jigsaw puzzle with a built-in picture frame (though the glass is out in this picture). I actually cut two other puzzles at the same time. I foolishly failed to get shots of them, but they pictures they were created from are Denise's painting and a photo of Mike in his living room.

This puzzle has around 150 pieces -- all freehand -- including several "figurals": pieces with a thematic shape. The figurals are Rachel's and my initials (R, P, S, W, and one A for both of us; the A is essentially invisible on the right-hand border in this picture).

Gory Puzzle-Cutting Details

The puzzle was created with a Ryobi 16" Variable Speed scroll saw; 0.012" width unidirectional scroll saw blades; a Skil 1 1/2 hp plunge router; a 1/4" straight router bit; dry adhesive spray; a wood chisel; sandpaper; and various other tools. Also invaluable to my effort were Mike's hammer and shower radio, neither of which were actually used to shape the puzzle but both of which served as indispensable moral support.

The picture on the puzzle was taken on Fuji 400 speed slide film (Corey suggested 100 speed slide film to me and I forgot the number!). I blew it up at The Cambridge Framery with a slide printing tool and printed it out at 8"x12". (I also had 2 alternate photos blown up out of the 36 slides I took.) The wood is 1/4" hardwood plywood from Home Depot (the tools came from there). Home Depot was super helping me plan [Ernst et al., 1997] the project, but they got all the cut sizes for my wood wrong; fortunately, I changed the picture size at the last minute and one of the cuts was close enough to the new picture size to work.

The attractive little bags used to hold the puzzle pieces came from Games People Play, a game store in Harvard Square that is so cool that I'm convinced it alone would convince my Woommate to move to Boston. Therefore, he must never know about it! (Wob, if you're reading this, the game store is really in Seattle!)

For my current puzzles, I go to a local hardware store (on Mass Ave and Rindge, can't remember the name) for blades; they have 0.010" width blades (the thinner the better!) as well as various blades for reducing chipping on the back of the puzzle. Better yet, they have the "grotesquely thick" (as Mike calls them) 0.033" kerf spiral blades. These are wonders of science as they allow me to cut the wood in any direction.. why does that matter? Well, if you think hard, you'll realize that that allows me to cut arbitrarily large puzzles instead of being limited to (modulo some tricks) puzzles with a 16" diagonal. For wood, I go to a local plywood company -- Boulter's, I think, on Broadway in far eastern Somerville. They have 1/8" Baltic Birch plywood which is both higher quality and thinner than the stuff I worked with previously. (Oh, and way more expensive!)

The upper left section was cut last, and the difficulty and intricacy of the pieces reflects that fact, I think (for example, note the two fake edge pieces in that section). The picture frame was cut first. I started the rectangular viewing window with a single 1/4" routed hole and then cut it with my thickest scroll saw blade (something like 0.04"). Then, I set set my plunge router's bit depth to about 5/32" and, using some careful if ad hoc jigs (thanks to last minute clamp purchases at Masse's Hardware on Walden and Sherman in Cambridge), I routed a pit all around the window from the back of the puzzle. The pit is large enough to fit a 4x6" picture with a bit of play, but the window is too small: presto! picture frame. As a final touch, I used the wood chisel to even out the corners of the window. I bought an ultra-cheap frame and scavenged the glass, backing, and tabs (what's the correct word for that, Denise?) to complete the frame.

There's not much to say about the cutting process itself, I leveled the scroll saw table, set the speed (for thin blades) close to its lowest setting (400 rpm), and tried stuff. Clearly, I had to be wary of cutting the tabs too thin. I might put felt lining on the hold-down foot of my saw in the future (to avoid scuffing the picture). Oh, and next time (if I remember), I'll leave a "handle" of wood that isn't part of the puzzle attached to the corner I'm cutting last. That way, I will have something large to hold on to. For this puzzle I had the picture frame!

The Anniversary

Now, on to the event itself!
Sunday Dinner
On Sunday we had Corey, Renée (a friend of Rachel's and prof from Toronto), Leo (a student of mine from CSE142), and Anna (Leo's wife).

The meal was amazing and mostly Rachel's doing. Not only did we have incredible food including spiral pesto loaves, chickpea soup, spicy potatoes, asparagus risotto, two kinds of homemade ice cream, Italian sodas, and some other stuff that escapes me now; we also had beautiful flower arrangements: flowers submerged in water beneath floating candles in glass vases (from Dawn's wedding). It was all spectacular and quite a fun evening! (Corey has his back to us, Anna is partly blocked, Leo is the Finnish-looking fellow staring at the camera, Rachel is to the right, I'm straight back, Renée had to come a few minutes late.)

Monday Prep
A shot of the setup. (The flower actually came from Anna and Leo!)

Monday Prep (continued)
The food setup. I decided to stray from the traditional pancakes and sausage and shoot for something more elegant. So, we have orange-coriander scones, fresh peach slices (slightly underripe as it turns out, d'oh!), and orange slices.

Puzzle and Card
The anniversary card was a photo of Calla Lilies, the same kind Rachel carried down the aisle at our wedding.

Morning Puzzle
Rachel's still working on the puzzle. She has to finish it before we leave because this portion of the puzzle (the hardest at ~50 pieces) has a message on the back telling us what we do next. (Breakfast as it turns out. As Rachel later pointed out, I gave her the hardest puzzle when she was groggy and hungry: fiendishly clever!)

Actually, each section has a message on the back. You can see the back of the puzzle if you like. The picture shows all but the upper right corner and highlights my ever-handy Super Leatherman (thanks, Dad! it's worth every 20 minute delay at airport security! ;^).

Breakfast Finally
Rachel finished the first quarter of the puzzle and was rewarded with breakfast.

Hungry Kitten
She never gets fed!

Miffed Kitten
It is made clear to the monster that the food is not for her.

Contented Kitten
She has resigned herself to her fate.

Presents for Steve
Rachel certainly wasn't the only one getting presents today. I got three of my presents on Monday and one a couple days earlier.

Rachel gave me the ice cream maker early so we could use it over that weekend (she even thought to pull out the cold jacket and put it in the freezer so I could use the machine right away!). On Monday I got an Enya CD. I also got this wacky set of measuring cups/spoons. Things like 3/4 of a cup or 1.5 teaspoons. They're great!

My other present is described later at the time when I got it (at Sunset Hill Park).

On the Road
I asked Rachel to take a picture of something. She asked what. I said of herself. So, she took this amazingly good shot by holding up the digital camera in front of her and watching the display window in the mirror built into the sun shade.

On the Road (continued)
Section two of the puzzle was assembled on the way to an unknown destination. Until she finished it, I wouldn't say a word about where we were going.

For the Seattlites keeping track, I think we're still on Montlake in this shot.

At the Amusement Park
As it turns out, section two led us to the amusement park! Unfortunately (and fortunately!), the amusement park was also a water park; so, we have no shots inside.

This is from just afterward, getting back out to the parking lot.

Just to brag a bit, I was able to prepare every single item in Rachel's arsenal of amusement-park-wear with the exception of her contacts (I wasn't sure if she would wear contacts or glasses; so, I instructed her to prepare for either one). The only thing I forgot was a spare t-shirt for me! (My t-shirt got soaked at the water park.)

After the park, we dropped by Supermall for Rachel to have a chili cheese dog lunch (and me to call ahead for our food from Ray's Boathouse). While there in ten minutes (timed!) Rachel managed to find me not only a great new shirt but a great new shirt on deep sale! That's my wife!! :^)

Tolkein on a Tandem
Part three of the puzzle sent us downtown to the Blazing Saddles bike shop. Here we had a tandem rental set up (and I had a picnic basket to strap to the rear). We took it for a ride (again with destination unknowen [seek]). At the same time, I gave Rachel a collector's copy of The Hobbit, pointing out that she could read it while we rode the tandem (the rear rider has little need for handlebars).

Here's where I also made my biggest mistake. Blazing Saddles closes before we could possibly have gotten back! Fortunately, Rachel came up with a solution: we left our car parked downtown, rode the bike home, and rode back out early enough the next morning to avoid getting ticketed in the metered space. What I should have done was to rent from Al's or one of the other shops within a few miles of home. Then, I could have ridden back to return the bike myself.

Ray's Boathouse
Dinner was an enormous and delicious meal from Ray's Boathouse, a famous spot for seafood in Seattle. (See www.rays.com and order the Kasu-soaked Cod! The cafe is good, too, but the Boathouse is the best in Seattle IMHO.)

While we were there, the manager took an interest in us.. possibly they don't get a lot of bicycle takeout orders! She hussled us outside for this shot.

Sunset Hill Park
The last section of puzzle directed us to Sunset Hill Park. This is probably the most beautiful place in Seattle to watch the sunset. We managed to snag the one picnic bench for our dinner and sat together enjoying the scenery.

The puzzle picture itself is a shot from Sunset Hill (as I said to Rachel in the morning "You'll recognize the picture on the puzzle by the end of the day."; she hadn't seen Sunset Hill before).

Sunset Hill Park (continued)
I'm grinning because of the present Rachel gave me at the park. She designed a card that contained 365 things about me that she loves, one for each day we had been married. It was incredibly moving: sweet and funny, sappy and racy. I keep it with my travel stuff now so I'll have it close at hand when I don't have Rachel with me.

End of the Day
The end of the day. After this, we rode home. Rachel was tired and sore. I was tired and ohhhh so sore. I HATE WEDGIE BIKES!

It was worth it, however. The day (and the weekend) was a fabulous experience. Rachel and I both enjoyed ourselves, and we reveled in each other's company.

Now.. how are we going to top this next year?

Many thanks to Denise (for general romantic consultation), Mike (for his shed and company), Jacob (for engineering design assistance), Corey and my mom (for photographic input), and others for their help in bringing what seemed an utterly ridiculous project to fruition.
All pictures and text copyright Rachel Pottinger and Steve Wolfman, protected by local copyright law wherever applicable and severe guilt. If you copy them without our permission, it will be like sticking a knife in one or both of our backs and turning it slowly! Oh.. it hurts!


M. Ernst, T. Millstein, and D. Weld. "Automatic SAT-compilation of Planning Problems." In Proceedings of the Fifteenth International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence, pages 1169-1176. San Francisco, CA, USA: Morgan Kaufmann, 1997.