Frederick M. Hueston, PhD

It  was one of those nights that would later give me an Aha! moment. I had just finished dinner and was sitting on the sofa watching the news. I opened my tablet and thought I would put together one of those online jigsaw puzzles. Little did I realize that playing with a jigsaw puzzle the next day would help me solve another stone installation failure.

I woke up the next morning to a new voicemail on my phone. Someone must have called late last night, I thought. The voice mail went something like this: “Hi, this is Mr. Bigshot Lawyer and I got your name from one of your articles and I have a case where I may need your help, can you please return my call.” Now, what do you see wrong with that call? I’ll give you a hint: how in the heck am I supposed to call him back when he didn’t leave his phone number? Either he assumed I would have it on my caller ID or he just forgot. Well, lucky for him it was on caller ID, but I thought I would wait until after breakfast to give him a jingle.

I guess my loyal readers will know where I went for breakfast? That’s right, I visited my favorite greasy spoon for a cup of joe and some sausage and eggs. I greeted Flo and there was a guy I had never seen before seated next to my usual place at the counter. I noticed he had a tablet and was playing the exact jigsaw puzzle I was playing the night before. He looked like he was having some trouble, so I said excuse me and gave him some tips on how to solve the puzzle. 

This was yet another clue to the stone inspection I was about to perform. I finished my last cup of joe and walked outside to call the bigshot lawyer. He answered right away and told me about the case. One of his clients had a limestone floor “with some issues,” and he asked if I could come inspect it and give him my opinion. Since he was only 20 minutes away I said I could meet him in about an hour. He gave me the address, and I headed back to my office to pick up my testing equipment.

I plugged the address into my GPS and was off to see Mr. Bigshot Lawyer. I pulled up to a warehouse that was some type of roofing company, so I double-checked my GPS to make sure I was at the right address. It was the correct address, but due to my faulty memory I wondered if I had written it down wrong, so I called the lawyer. After the first ring I noticed a rather large gentleman in a suit across the parking lot answer his phone. Lo and behold it was him, and it was indeed the correct address. I hung up the phone, got out of my ole Woody, walked over to him and introduced myself.  

He explained that his client had installed a brand-new limestone floor and it had cracked in numerous places.  OK, I thought, this is a common problem that I see all the time. I looked at him, fired off my normal Columbo-type questions, and asked if we could go see it. He said sure. I expected for him to say, “Follow me and we’ll head over there.” But no, instead he told me it was right out back. 

There were about 25 gallon buckets with little pieces of limestone in them. I had to use my jigsaw-solving skills.

There were about 25 gallon buckets with little pieces of limestone in them. I had to use my jigsaw-solving skills.

“OK, lead the way,” I said. He led me to an open overhead door at the back of the warehouse. We walked inside, and I saw nothing but a bunch of roofing shingles and pails of tar or something. He took me to the back of the warehouse and pointed in the corner. I almost fell on the floor laughing. There were about 25 gallon buckets with little pieces of limestone in them (see the picture). I cleared my throat and asked him if this was the floor. I emphasized “was.” He said his client tore out the floor and replaced it and this is the only evidence they had. I’ve seen a lot of strange things in this business, but never this. I told him that I couldn’t determine what the cracks were caused by with the tile in little pieces. As I was telling him how difficult it was, an idea popped into my head.  I looked at the buckets of stone and wondered if I could piece them together like a jigsaw puzzle. I revised what I really wanted to tell him (that he must be nuts), and told him I could spend a couple of hours trying to put the floor back together, and of course, he would have to pay me for my time. I gave him no guarantees, but I thought it was worth a try. He said OK and left. 

I poured one of the buckets on the floor and tried putting the pieces back together and got nowhere. Then I remembered what I told the guy at the café how I start solving jigsaw puzzles. I told him to do the border first and then fill in the remaining pieces. So, with that I started looking for all the border pieces. Within a few hours I had a good portion of the floor put together. I found several cracks that were long and linear and surmised that the cracks were either caused by expansion joints being bridged or no expansion joints at all. It was a guess based on crack dynamics, a subject I teach in my inspection class, and a common failure I was very familiar with. 

Mr. Bigshot returned, saw my big limestone jigsaw puzzle, and told me to write a report and send him a bill. Unfortunately, I didn’t take any pics of the finished floor, but at least I hopefully solved another case. This should be interesting if it ever goes to court. But I won’t hold my breath!

The Stone Detective is a fictional character created by Dr. Frederick M. Hueston, PhD, written to be entertaining and educational. Dr. Fred has written over 33 books on stone and tile installations, fabrication and restoration and also serves as an expert for many legal cases across the world. Send your email comments to him at fhueston@stone