Rome wasn't built in a day, so it's understandable that Lyle Kime allowed himself three months to build Manhattan, a month to finish the Taj Mahal and at least a few weeks to construct the London Bridge.
And he never left his Redding, Calif., home.But the 80-year-old retired fireman predicted that his current project - a fairy-tale fortress for his great-granddaughter - might eventually send him right over the edge.
"That Cinderella castle is a nightmare," Kyle said, shaking his head. "It's starting to get to me, but I'm determined to finish that thing if it kills me."
No, Kime isn't a master architect or contractor. He assembles 3-D replicas of actual places, with some models measuring more than 3 feet tall and just as wide.
His wife, Jean, motioned to the tables and shelves dominated by 17 of her husband's completed works that included the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, a Victorian house, a Mississippi riverboat and the White House.
"Look at this place," she said. "We're running out of room!"
Kime described himself as a person who disdains inactivity. In fact, he lives by the advice he received upon retirement nearly 25 years ago.
"Someone told me: `Don't sit down. In fact, take that old rocker chair and give it the deep six.' "
But a person can only do puzzles for so long. Kime divides his time between other activities like bowling on a league and working as volunteer at City Hall's information counter.
"That's a fun place," said Kime with a laugh. "I never thought I'd have a job where I could spend half a day telling people where to go."
But when he's not bowling, or good-naturedly telling City Hall visitors where they can go, Kime is back in his workroom that holds his latest challenge - Cinderella's castle.
Kime starts by separating the pieces by color and pattern. Eventually, he preserves his finished puzzles with glue. But because some pieces fit deceptively well, but don't really belong in the fitted spaces - he can't glue the pieces together until the entire puzzle is finished.
This means he puts the puzzle together twice; once to determine the correct location of each piece, and once to reassemble it after he's dismantled it.
He usually works on the puzzles in two-hour increments. He can quickly recite each mistake, and every single missing, hand-trimmed (for a better fit) or errant puzzle piece.
For example, while wrapping up the Eiffel Tower, he realized that seven consecutive pieces were missing from the set. He wrote the company, told them exactly where the absent pieces were located, and the company sent him the omitted pieces.
It's that kind of puzzling madness that Kime said often drives him up the wall.
"Sometimes I walk around shaking my head, and my wife laughs at me," Kime said.
"Other times, I'll spend hours trying to find the piece that fits somewhere. I'll walk away from it, come back, and there the piece will be just sitting there."
Kime credits - or blames - his wife for his 3-D puzzle obsession.
It began at Christmas two years ago.
His wife presented him with a foot-locker-size box that held a project big enough to occupy him through winter.
Inside were more than 2,500 foam-core puzzle pieces of New York's skyline. Three months later, not only had he finished New York, but he was officially hooked on the towering foam-core struc-tures.
Although New York had the most pieces - and at $90, was also the most expensive of his puzzles - Kime said it's often the smallest projects that cause the most dif-fi-culty.
He said he often daydreams about meeting the people who design the 3-D puzzles. He marvels at the technology involved in crafting such products.
But he said he'd like to meet the puzzle designers for another reason.
"Some of those guys I'd like to punch in the nose," he said with a grin.
Kime showed off the towering Empire State Building that loomed in front of the living room window.
"It took us months to find just the right monkey," he said, pointing to the 3-D fake furry creature clinging atop the 3-D build-ing.
"You know, the kit didn't come with a gorilla, but we thought it wouldn't be the Empire State Building without one."
Although Jean Kime's eyesight is too poor to make her a good puzzle candidate, she starts scouting her husband's future puzzle as soon as she realizes his current project is near completion.
Kime wondered if his wife had a greater plan.
"I'll tell you, if she's trying to drive me crazy, it's going to be a short trip."
As he peered inside Cinderella's castle - working from the inside out - he mused about his future creations.
"I'd tell you what I'd like to do is the new Redding City Hall, but of course, that's just a dream," he said.
"But I think for my next puzzle, I'll take on the Titanic," he said.
"Before it sank."