We recently chatted with Tammy (puzzler extraordinaire!) about this experience.
REA: What was involved in setting this record?
Tammy: This record is actually a pretty old one. The previous record was set in 2014. So, my first step was getting a hold of the puzzle. There is a specific puzzle required for the record and this puzzle is actually out of print! I had to track down a copy from the UK on Ebay. The next step was contacting Guinness. They have a specific list of requirements that need to be satisfied for a successful record attempt. I had planned to make an attempt in summer 2020 at a puzzle event, and of course, everything got cancelled. It was December 2020 before I figured out how to safely organize an attempt.
Was there anything unusual about the Hasbro puzzle?
It’s a fairly standard cardboard puzzle. It’s oval shaped, and doesn’t come with a reference picture. The puzzle image features a number of other world record holders.
What are the rules for this type of record setting competition?
Being a speed record, it required impartial timekeepers and witnesses, and slow-motion video documentation.
You’ve been competitively jigsaw puzzling for a few years. Tell us about the competitive scene and how people can get involved.
In recent years, I only knew of a handful of big jigsaw contests in the US, all in the Midwest. There were small local contests happening in a lot of places, but I think the St Paul Winter Carnival Contest was the oldest, the biggest, and the one that attracted the most serious competitors. I managed to find 3 other puzzlers willing to fly with me from California to Minnesota in winter. In January 2020, we attended for the first time, and we won!
Since the pandemic happened, however, a number of puzzle contests in the US have gone online, so all anybody has to do now to compete is register and get a contest puzzle shipped to them. There are now so many more opportunities to play against people from all around the country!
I helped found the USA Jigsaw Puzzle Association during the pandemic, and we are working with the World Jigsaw Puzzle Federation. They’re the organizers of the World Jigsaw Puzzle Championship in Spain. As a result of the lower barrier to entry into competitive puzzling, many new championship-caliber puzzlers have found their way into the scene. If things go well and the world championship takes place as planned, I think that the US will be well represented this year.
If someone wants to improve their jigsaw puzzling skills, what are your recommendations for leveling up?
Keeping in mind that the approach to competitive puzzling will be very different from recreational puzzling, to become a faster competitor, try different techniques to see what works best for you – for example, sorting or flipping first, or focussing on color versus shape first. I’ve noticed that improvement isn’t simply linear with practice. Figuring out the right process will result in huge jumps in speed. That having been said, be deliberate in the sort of puzzles you pick for practice. Expose yourself to a good variety, like random versus grid cuts, small details, color gradients, and textures.
You are a distinguished puzzler. In addition to this World Record what have been some of the other highlights of your puzzling career?
I won the 2009 US Sudoku Championship after being a finalist the previous 2 years. I was on the winning team at the 2019 MIT Mystery Hunt. I was on Team USA for the 2017 and 2019 Red Bull World Escape Room Championships in Budapest and London, respectively. I’ve now played over 500 real-life and Zoom-based escape rooms. In recent months, my escape room team won a number of virtual escape room contests: Cryptex Puzzle Hunt, Breakout Games Virtual Madness, and Paruzal Great Escape Tournament.
We met you through escape rooms and it’s been great to have you as a REA hivemind writer. What are your thoughts on jigsaw puzzles + tabletop escape room-style combo products?
I love them because they merge two of my interests. They tend to be challenging on both aspects, which can be harder for players who only have experience in only jigsaws or escape rooms. And because of the hybrid nature of the product, it isn’t very representative of the average jigsaw puzzle or escape room. Some people relish the challenge, and it might be a good way to get people to cross over into a new activity.