Not so long ago, assembling jigsaw puzzles was kind of a solitary passion for most of us. It was something that we enjoyed, but we couldn’t share with the people around us. Our friends and relatives had heard about it, of course. However, they probably considered it part of our geeky nature, but nothing more. Meeting someone on any public venue, striking up a conversation and discovering that both shared a common interest for puzzles? Never happened. It was a hobby that we couldn’t normally share with anyone. In those times, a puzzle competition was inconceivable.

Image of the Puzzle Competition in Spain, June 15, 2019

Internet and puzzle forums

Then, the Internet came to our lives. The Big Jigsaw Puzzle Collection forum at Flickr made the single most decisive contribution to putting together serious puzzle collectors and enthusiasts. For the first time, it was possible to meet online like-minded people. Now it was possible to talk about designs, pieces quality, editions, brands…, and share the passion for puzzles. The fact that most of those people were thousands of miles away from each other was just secondary. At the same time, similar local forums started to flourish in different countries. For example, Puzzleando in Spain, or Puzzle Forum in Italy.

Those connections helped us learn much more than what we knew. We found puzzles that we didn’t even know they existed, and we strengthened our collector’s mind. We could get feedback for the first time about a puzzle we had found or we had completed. In the past, when we finished a puzzle, there was nobody around to say High Five.

Association and puzzle competition

Inevitably, when people that share common interests get together, sooner or later they form an association. In Spain we have AEPUZZ (Asociación Española de Puzzles). They promote this passion and organize jigsaw puzzle competitions during the year in many different towns around Spain. And once a year, they organize the national puzzle competition, usually in Madrid. It took place this year on Saturday, June 15, 2019 in Aranjuez, very close to Madrid. It was their 10th anniversary, with almost 1000 participants.

I attended last year for the first time out of curiosity, and just as an observer. I wanted to see what was all about. For me, assembling a jigsaw puzzle was an activity related to leisure and calmness. When I think of a puzzle, the ideas that come to my mind are a cup of coffee, background music or a podcast, and perhaps rain outside. I didn’t see the point of rushing to finish, much less competing to find out who completes the puzzle first. It was like subverting the hobby into something very different to what it was to me.

I remember my surprise when I entered the place of the competition and there were several hundred people sitting on tables working on 500 pieces puzzles. I couldn’t believe there were so many people so interested in puzzles as to spend their weekend on a contest. Besides, many participants came from remote places and they also had to pay for their trip and hotel. What was the point? One of the women that won the Couples contest started to cry as soon as they finished, when she found out they had won. I’m sure she was just relieving all the tension accumulated, but it struck me as absurd. I said to myself: This is not it.

Puzzle competition to have fun

Last Saturday I attended again, but this time I saw some things that I missed last year. I learned that, except for a handful of participants who aspired to win the competition, the majority of people went there just to have fun, particularly in the Couples contest. There were a lot of couples formed by a parent and a child, or older spouses, or friends. I learned that for most of them the contest was just an excuse to spend the afternoon doing something together with a lot of like-minded people that like jigsaw puzzles as much as they do.

It was also a great opportunity to meet in person people that you just know by their nickname on a forum, or vendors that have created an account at Rare Puzzles and are planning on listing some of their copies. The interesting thing is that the normal conversation was always about puzzles. The type of conversation that would have been impossible not long ago, was the norm here.

The winners of the Couples competition were Lina Ivanova and Marina Kolegova, from Novosibirsk, Russia. They finished the puzzle in 00:31:01, which is an excellent time. They also competed in the Individual contest and they finished first and second respectively. Lina Ivanova also won last year, so we have here some serious puzzlers.

GijonForEver and @Pradilla participated this year and they encouraged me to join them in the next edition. Never say never.

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