Thursday, April 28, 2016

Birthday Surprise

My husband is a pretty practical guy. 

Not the type to covet luxury items, his birthday wish lists usually lead off with Cabella jeans and plaid flannel shirts, followed by options for Starbucks gift cards and dark chocolate candy bars.

But this year, two weeks before his big day, my frugal spouse told me he wanted a $270 chess set.

It's historic, he explained. The pieces are modeled after the very first chess set and constructed from a valuable resin from some weird place. Honestly, I don't remember much of what he said because my brain was experiencing a full-on state of shock: 

Is. He. Even. Kidding. Me.

Precious days ticked by as I contemplated this uncharacteristic idea. Oh, the money wasn't my main concern. Dropping a few hundred bucks for a gift is definitely far beyond our normal birthday budget, but for a special request, we could manage the indulgence. 

What I genuinely and sincerely questioned was how my budget-balancing finance director of a partner would embrace this whim once he saw the outflow of cash in his bank transactions. 

He'll change his mind, I hypothesized. This is a passing fancy, and by the time his birthday rolls around, he'll forget all about this swanky Historic Chess Set and opt for an L.L. Bean online shopping spree instead.

Well. I was dead wrong.

* * * * *

On Monday afternoon, thirty-six hours before the Big Day, I checked in again. So what are you thinking about your gift? I casually probed.

"I sent you the link for the chess set two weeks ago," he stated.

Okay, I continued. So you're sure you still want that?

"I wouldn't have sent you the link if I wasn't sure." 

Alright. Point taken, Mr. Nothing-but-the-Facts. 

Fifteen minutes later, Amazon was processing the order and my fate had been cast. 

* * * * *

But now I faced the classic post-modern gift-giving dilemma: While the ordered-online-at-the-last-minute item is still in transit, what will the recipient unwrap on his actual birthday?

I'm a stickler for a timely birthday ceremony and it's essential to me and my nurturing instincts that family celebrations include an actual, physical gift to be unwrapped. Now, we're all adults these days, and have developed sufficient self-control for second-day shipping, but in my view of the universe, there simply MUST be some representation of the gift on the dinner table for the birthday boy [or girl] to unwrap.

I pondered this problem deeply, and while driving home from a student's house on the afternoon of my husband's birthday, the solution came to me in a vision.

A photograph of a pink prawn against a white background, cut to a three-inch square.

Effortlessly, the whole plan of what I would do fell right into place. 

^ As the birthday ceremony unfolded, I presented my husband with a wrapped gift box [not shown.] Inside, tucked among the handfuls of those crinkly bits of accordion-folded paper squiggles were sixteen small envelopes, sealed tightly shut, with one letter printed on each face. My husband fished them out and stared at me blankly.

First, I declared, you must arrange the envelopes to spell out a secret message. 

 ^ Well done. Now, open each envelope and take out what's inside. The order no longer matters, so you can mix them up.

Luckily, my husband always carries a Swiss Army Knife in his pocket for moments such as these. You never know when you might need to slash through some washi tape, darn it. Better safe than sorry.

 ^ Now, each photo you see is a clue. Figure out the pattern of the clues, and arrange the photos into the proper order. 

Folding his jackknife and tucking it back into his pocket as he scowled at the cards, the birthday boy muttered to himself for a few seconds until suddenly he smiled, and we all literally HEARD the light bulb click on in his head. With a few deft maneuverings, he positioned the cards just so.

 ^ Yep, he got it right. Each photo relates to a piece of a chess set:

Billie Jean KING
Freddie Mercury from QUEEN
Nathan Fillion from CASTLE
and eight perfect pink P(r)AWNS

The master strategist understood the need to place these unconventional game pieces in their proper location, as if readying them for a round of chess.

Now flip over the cards in their current positions and a new message will reveal your gift.

^ Ta daaa! We bought you that chess set! 

At this point in the treasure hunt, my husband was not particularly shocked by my final message. But as he pointed out, he does enjoy solving puzzles and did not mind working so hard to reveal the truth about his mysterious birthday surprise. 


  1. WOW! LOVE every bit of Gary's birthday surprise! Well done, Diane, WELL DONE! (applause) -h

    1. Thanks, Heidi! I knew you would appreciate a paper present like this one.


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