Image: Slate

Those who are feeling distinctly burnt out at the end of a particularly harsh and unpleasant election cycle might do well to remember that, at heart, politics is all a big game. This essential truth has been brilliantly illustrated by Slate’s new gerrymandering jigsaw-puzzle game, which turns an ugly aspect of politics into a fun, challenging distraction. The point here is simple. States are divided into various congressional districts, each of which elects its own representative to the lower house of congress. But the boundaries that define these districts often make no sense from a geographical or geometrical standpoint. It’s more about lumping together specific kinds of voters, specifically ones who are more inclined to favor a particular political party over another. That controversial process is called gerrymandering, and it’s kept many a politician gainfully employed. When these districts are mapped out, they look like some kind of bizarre jigsaw puzzle.

Gerrymandering map (Screenshot: reclaimtheamericandream.org)

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What Slate has done here is to turn this whole, sordid process into a literal puzzle game. Users are presented with the outline of a state and the shapes of congressional districts contained within that state. The object of the timed game is to put all the districts in their proper place in the state. It’s trickier than it sounds. The familiar mitten shape of Michigan’s lower peninsula, for instance, becomes a baffling brainteaser when chopped up into 14 uneven pieces like this. Notice how the population density of each region affects the size of the various districts. There are huge swaths of the state with relatively few residents per square mile, while other, seemingly minuscule districts correspond to highly populated urban areas. So, at least in politics, size doesn’t always matter.

If the political implications of all this start to become too depressing, readers can always follow the suggestion of “Steve, Don’t Eat It!” and play a similar game, using pieces of pickled pork rinds. These, too, can be put together like puzzle pieces.

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