This article has been submitted by Alex Jackson.

If the following paragraphs don’t cement my position as a “cool dude” and potential “heartthrob,” I don’t know what will. The following will be a look into my soul; finally, an answer to the timeless question, what makes me tick?

So without further ado, Alex, what makes you tick?

Puzzles. No, not any of those wonky Sudoku puzzles or even puzzles of the crossword variety. I’m talking about good old fashion jigsaw puzzles.

I honestly don’t remember when I first started puzzling, however I imagine it was sometime around 1986 and likely involved farm animals – kinky, I know. In my early days, puzzles were an educational vehicle; they taught me geography and allowed me to admire art. In recent years, puzzles have become a hobby, a nice activity to enjoy on a cold winter day or a challenge to tackle during a summer blackout.

In recent years I’ve completed a puzzle of Norman Rockwell’s “Pride of Parenthood” painting, a Simpsons collage, and an Impossible – a puzzle with no border, a repeating image and 10 extra pieces. I know what you’re thinking, “this guy is super cool!” Exactly.

This summer, I’ve got two good ones lined up, the first of Germany’s Neushwanstein Castle – the castle that inspired Disney’s Sleeping Beauty castle – and one of Hallstatt, Austria –a UNESCO World Heritage Site and what some call the most beautiful place on earth. No biggie.

If you’ve made it this far, BRAVO! Why the hell is this guy talking about his puzzle hobby on a “sports”-“blog”? Who does he think he is?

There’s a point, honestly. Let’s see, ticking, clock, soul, puzzles, George W. Bush…wait, I didn’t mention that the President is a HUGE puzzle fan and even votes in a puzzle of the year competition? Well there you go.

But the point is: puzzles are huge. January 29th is International Puzzle Day. There has even been several US National Jigsaw Puzzle Championships staged. Between 1982 and 1990, Hallmark sponsored the National Jigsaw Puzzle Championships, held annually in Athens, Ohio at the “World Famous Dairy Barn.”
At this point, I’m sure you’re asking yourselves, “How the hell do you stage a jigsaw puzzle competition?”

Like tennis, there were two main categories of competition, singles and doubles. Both competitions are timed events. The singles competition featured 500 piece puzzles and was limited 360 entrants; the doubles was based around a 1000 piece puzzle and had, at most, 180 teams of two competing. The championships consisted of two rounds held on a Saturday and Sunday. Based on completion times, the top 15 finishers would advance to the Finals on Sunday. It’s important to note that “all puzzles were previously unavailable in stores, featured new die-cuts, and were kept strictly secret prior to the competition.”

As Rick Tealander wrote in Sports Illustrated back in 1983, “It should be noted that watching somebody make a puzzle is about as exciting as watching a worm make soil, unless you care a lot about either process, or it’s done fast.” And fast it was. In 1983, the singles competition was won by Joellen Beifus, who completed her 500 piece puzzle in 59 minutes and 43 seconds. Consider that for a moment. That’s one piece every seven seconds. Her time was 2 hours faster than the previous year’s winner. Though each puzzle is different, a 500 piece puzzle in less than an hour is crazy impressive.

Though the Hallmark Springbok competition was discontinued in 1990, Hasbro reintroduced, albeit briefly, the National Championships in 2000. In addition to the traditional singles and doubles categories, the new competition introduced a new event category, the family/foursome 550 piece category. Even with the rebirth of the competition, no individual could touch Ms. Beifus’ record of sub-60 minutes. This got me thinking, what is the fastest official 500 piece completion time?

I tried to find the 500 piece world record, but it seems as though official records are only kept for 250 piece puzzles. The UK’s Elaine Lewis recently set a new 250 piece World Record of 14 minutes and 58 seconds, which broke the previous record of 34 minutes. One piece every 3.6 seconds! That’s unbelievable! The UK seems to be the new jigsaw hotspot, as they move into their fourth year of the Jig-It National Championships.

Obviously competitive puzzling isn’t for everyone, and because you’re reading a sports site (you’re still reading, aren’t you? Probably not…), you probably have some interest in, you know, more “sporty stuff.” There are a number of solid sports puzzles out there, especially if you’re a fan of Boston sports, ugh….

Some sports related puzzles:

City of Champions: New England Sports Teams was created from images and text appearing in the Boston Globe. It was published by White Mountain Puzzles and has 550 pieces.

The Rookie was originally a painting by Norman Rockwell; it has been turned into a 1000 piece puzzle by Buffalo Games.

American Golf History was designed by James Mallet for White Mountain Puzzles and contains 1000 pieces.

American Sports History was designed by James Mallet for White Mountain Puzzles and contains 1000 pieces.

Football Memorabilia was designed by Michael Harrison, produced by FX-Schmid and contains 500 pieces.

Football History was designed by James Mallet for White Mountain Puzzles and contains 1000 pieces.

Crazy World Cup was created by Mordillo, produced by Heye, and contains an astonishing 4000 pieces.

If you plan on puzzling this summer, a few tips
• Stick with color groups and major objects.
• If you can start with the edge, great, but don’t get hung up on it.
• Don’t try to do the things you can’t do. Keep moving.
• Stay positive!

This article has been submitted by Alex Jackson.