My Brief Adventure in Competitive Jigsaw Puzzling

I read an article recently about a tournament in which a roomful of contestants race to solve a jigsaw puzzle. It sounded like a lot of fun, and with Christina and I doing a fair number of jigsaw puzzles recently, I decided to try it out.

I nabbed a copy of the puzzle used during the most recent International Jigsaw Puzzle Championship. The first place time was about forty five minutes, while the participant interviewed in the article I read, who took 79th place, finished at about one hour forty five minutes.

I finished in two hours fifteen minutes. In other words, the first place participant could have solved the puzzle three times in the time it took me to do it once!

A few lessons learned:

  1. The strategy at the very beginning is critical. When going for a leisurely solve, we usually dig for border pieces first, then assemble the border, then sort the rest of the pieces. I modified my approach heavily, assembling the border while flipping all the upside down pieces so I could see their images. I was happy with how this phase worked; it’s definitely possible to speed up the process of flipping over all the pieces, but it was nice having the border completed by the time I finished that.
  2. Lighting is key. Even for sections that look similar, you can usually tell where a piece fits thanks to small details. For example, in the Elephant Family puzzle, there’s a large section of yellow grass spanning the bottom of the puzzle, about 20% of the full image. Upon looking closely under reasonable lighting, you can tell where the piece fits based on the orientation and definition of the grass blades (the blades on the left side are more distinct). I rely on my skylights for bright light, and when a storm rolled through, my job became much harder in a matter of moments.
  3. Plan your attack. A jigsaw puzzle shares more elements with mind games than is first apparent. On the time lapse section of the video, you can see how progress comes in bursts, and after ten minutes of being stuck, I might suddenly complete another 10% of the puzzle in two minutes when I find a good cluster I can work on. Sometimes it’s not obvious which markers/clusters will be easiest to hone in on, but choosing correctly is a major key to success.

I posted a video commentary on this, including the time lapse of my attempt at this puzzle. The timer I showed on the computer screen doesn’t come through clearly, and the video shuts off abruptly when my phone’s memory card runs out of space, but it’s still fun to be able to share my attempt at this contest.

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