Did you think jigsaw puzzling was a pastime? Have you ever started a jigsaw puzzle during a lazy, rainy weekend? Or some of you might have picked up puzzling during the pandemic — and it’s quite relaxing, right? Wrong!
Welcome to the largest jigsaw puzzle competition in the world: where the clock is ticking, adrenaline is pumping and puzzling is taken very, very seriously!
For a weekend every year, the sunny city of Valladolid, Spain, turns into the capital of puzzling.
Pro-puzzlers go head to head, chasing time and competing against each other in a heated race to crown the best puzzler of the world.
Three categories: groups, pairs, and solos. Two days of non-stop puzzling. Only one champion.
Who is the king of jigsaw puzzles?
“It gets the adrenaline pumping.” - Australian Team
How does a puzzle championship work?
We know what you're thinking: are puzzle competitions a thing?
To answer that question, we at Guinness World Records decided to find out first-hand about the challenges going down at the largest puzzle championship in the world.
During the weekend between 23 and 26 June 2022, a total of 2,293 jigsaw puzzle aficionados from 44 countries united at the Cúpula del Milenio in Valladolid, Spain to test their skills in what is officially the largest jigsaw puzzle competition EVER.
The international contest is organized and supervised by the World Jigsaw Puzzle Federation, chaired by Alfonso Álvarez-Ossorio.
Held annually since 2019, in collaboration with Ravensburger, the event encourages participants to do their best during what can be considered the Olympic Games of jigsaw-puzzling. It promotes healthy competition and encourages record-breaking, as well as networking among puzzlefans during those days.
The World Jigsaw Puzzle Championship attracts competitors from across the world and is divided into three (time-limited) sub-categories:
- Team event: teams of four members compete in a semi-final, and a final round.
- Pairs event: a team of two puzzlers competes in two stages to complete a 500-piece jigsaw in each stage. The fastest couple to complete it within the established time is the winner.
- Individual event: individual competitors challenge themselves in a race against time. Two phases (a semi-final and final round) and two puzzles counting 500 pieces will decide who is the fastest puzzler in the world.
From international champions to families and groups of friends who are just passionate about jigsaw puzzles, the championship brings together all kinds of amazing people.
The majority of the participants (with a percentage of over 70%) are women.
Incredibly, the oldest Jigsaw fan at the 2022 event was 92 years, 4 months and 28 days old.
The competition used a total of 1,206 puzzles – of those, 640 were completed.
That amounts to a staggering total of 589,394 pieces placed!
Spain seems to be the most feared nation in the competition, together with Czech Republic, Sweden and the United States.
“The Scandinavian nations are really flourishing this year,” said one of the event organizers, Charlie Kendall.
"And now all the American teams are sitting together. It's nice to see them like this because, in the first edition, the only Americans competing was a family of four."
Every person has different strategies to solve their puzzles: some people start from the corners, solving the puzzle from the external frame toward the inside, while others divide the colours and solve every section separately. Some even jump on chairs or sit on the table!
Some live-stream their competition, some take their time to study the puzzle before starting to put the pieces together, and others even use wooden or plastic boards to neatly separate the individual pieces.
The strategy of one of the most feared contestants in the competition, Norwegian puzzler Kristin Thuv, is to work her way from the middle of the puzzle to the outside.
“The most interesting strategy is Kristin Thuv, a total crowd favourite. For the first fifteen minutes, she didn’t put a single piece together: she just looked at them. I thought she lost her touch. Then, she started putting pieces together.” - Charlie Kendall
Staying true to her reputation, Kristin was the fastest woman in the Individual event of the competition. She placed second overall.
Breaking puzzle records
Predictably, the championship unites puzzle aficionados from all over the world – with some incredibly talented teams and contestants from the United States, Australia, Norway, Spain itself and Italy, just to name a few.
Some teams are competitive and professionally trained, seasoned by plenty of regional and national competitions.
The Los Angeles-native Golden Team, for example, counts among its ranks the record-breaking pro-puzzler and streamer Tammy McLeod.
In 2020, the speed puzzler officially achieved the fastest time to complete the Guinness World Records Hasbro puzzle.
This very special Hasbro puzzle is out of print, Tammy explained, so she had to go out of her way (and keep a firm eye on Ebay) to get hold of a copy and attempt the record, which had been previously beaten in 2014.
The jigsaw puzzle used for this record is oval-shaped, and it features a number of record holders.
It doesn’t come with a reference picture, therefore Tammy couldn’t know what kind of challenge was waiting for her. However, by completing the puzzle in only 9 min and 58.32 sec, she officially joined the Guinness World Records family.
During the pandemic, Tammy also played a part in founding the USA Jigsaw Puzzle Association. Puzzlers from all over the States fought strenuously during the 2022 competition in Valladolid, with two US teams making it to the Top Ten during the Teams final event.
Shreveport Jigsaw Junkies placed 3rd, while Tammy’s team (The Golden State puzzlers) placed 6th.
During the first-ever edition of the championship, in 2019, the winning pair formed by Demelza Becerra Robledillo and Ángel Heras Salcedo (both from Spain) achieved the fastest time to complete a 500-piece jigsaw puzzle by a pair.
In an intense race against time, the two solved the 500-piece puzzle in only 34 minutes and 34 seconds.
They returned to compete together in the 2022 Championship as well, once again confidently claiming their place on the podium.
They achieved second place in the Pair final event, completing a beautiful 1000-piece view of Kyoto in a total time of 1 hour and 5 minutes.
Who is the winner?!
“Of course, I’m stressed out, but inside I also felt calm. It’s just me and my puzzle.” – Kristin Thuv after the Final round
“I’m going to burn this puzzle when I get home,” jokes a member of the team Piece 4 Peace after the nail-biting Team final round of the championship.
During the Teams final, several teams of four had to complete two 1500-pieces in under three hours.
However, if that part of the competition seemed to go smoothly for the majority of the puzzlers, the last Individual event proved to be a true challenge for most of the competitors.
At last, after three jam-packed days of puzzling, Spain’s champion Alejandro Clemente León came out on top.
“He’s a very modest person,” said Charlie Kendall. “He won the Spanish championship a few months ago.”
Alejandro, 26-year-old puzzler from San Feliu de Llobregat, near Barcelona, was deemed “the man to beat” from the very beginning of the competition.
“I think he’s going to win everything,” said Chiara Dellantonio, who placed fourth overall in the championship.
Although relatively new to the world of puzzling, Chiara quickly established herself as one of the competitors to watch thanks to her solving skills. With her team, named Eckteile, she conquered the podium and placed second during the Teams final.
Chiara, like many others, securely pointed to Alejandro as the possible winner.
“He’s super fast, and he moves both hands when he’s puzzling. It’s really amazing to watch," she said.
Predictably, Alejandro smashed challenge after challenge.
His team, Non Stop, placed first in the Teams event, and he was officially recognized as the fastest puzzler in the competition during the Individual final.
Alone, he completed a 500-piece puzzle in the whopping time of 34 minutes and 25 seconds. The average person would take about four hours to complete the same puzzle.
“I feel so happy.” - Alejandro
Watch out for the next edition of the record-breaking Puzzle Championship, scheduled for September 2023!
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