Jigsaw contest at Willmar Community Center brings nearly 50 puzzlers together

Feb. 10—WILLMAR

— It looked a bit like Christmas morning when the timer started ticking down at the Jan. 20 puzzle contest at the

Willmar Community Center

. Brown wrapping paper and plastic wrap went flying as 15 teams of puzzlers quickly unwrapped their puzzle. They then got to work, organizing the pieces into piles and building out the puzzle border.

"It was fun to compete, because you really have to work together," said Madison Lahr, a member of the first-place team Get It Together 2.0, who finished the puzzle in a lightning-fast 38 minutes.

The community center has always been a great place to build a puzzle. It has big tables, a welcoming atmosphere and a collection of hundreds of puzzles for people to enjoy, either at the center or at home as part of the center's puzzle library. So it wasn't that big of stretch that it would also be the perfect place to host a puzzle contest.

"I had seen it done in the (Twin) Cities," said Britta Diem, community center director. "And I thought why can't we do one out here."

Diem said she was pretty amazed by the turnout for the first puzzle contest. There were 16 slots, and the day of the contest there were 15 teams competing.

"We have families, a group of just ladies who are friends, we have middle-aged (people), college kids, teenagers," Diem said. "It is kind of my goal (to make this) intergenerational."

The rules of the contest were pretty straightforward. The teams had exactly two hours to finish the puzzle and were allowed no aids or assistance from non-team members.

Each team had the same exact puzzle, a depiction of a Minnesota winter that was actually a bit of a puzzle within a puzzle. The picture on the box, which most people use as a guide to complete the puzzle, didn't actually match the finished product.

"I swear I probably have every last puzzle of this in the state of Minnesota," Diem said, adding she had to order the puzzle from several different stores. "They (the teams) have a very prized possession, they just don't realize it yet. It became very hard to find."

The first-place team was awarded a $100 gift card from Grizzly's Wood Fire Grill and Bar, while the second-place team received a $50 gift card from Target. Each participant also received a goodie bag.

"We all like puzzles," said Lori Boros, member of the second-place team Puzzle Pals, which finished the puzzle in an hour. "We saw it come up and thought 'we'll give that a try.'"

Fun and enjoyment were the main reasons why so many signed up to participate in the puzzle contest. For some, puzzles have been a lifelong hobby, while others picked it up more recently. Building puzzles is also a great activity to do with family and friends, especially when the weather might not be the greatest for outdoor pursuits.

"We are always looking for fun things to do," said Heidi Christian, a member of team Gettin' Jiggy With It. "We're like 'sounds fun, let's go.'"

This team is a great example of how popular puzzles and puzzle contests have become. Two of the members live in Eagan while the third calls Winona home.

"It sounded like a really good time and a mental challenge," Christian said. "Why not spend time with your best friends?"

That continued popularity is somewhat surprising to Diem, who thought once the pandemic had faded into the background people would leave behind the activities they picked up during lockdown. Instead, puzzle popularity continues to hold.

The community center itself has about 1,500 puzzles in its puzzle library, the vast majority donated over the last four years. Open 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Fridays, the puzzle library at the center is still a well-used amenity.

"Every day people are in and out of that library constantly," Diem said.

Those who participated in the contest all seemed to enjoy themselves greatly, even after the first- and second-place prizes had been given out.

"We just had fun, goofing. Music was playing, we were just singing the whole time," said Sara Chapin, member of the Piece Out team.

For those who missed out on the first contest or want to give it a try, a second contest is already scheduled. It will take place at 3 p.m. March 9, again with 16 team slots available. There is a $35 sign-up fee per team.

Diem was pleasantly surprised by the turnout for the first contest, and there seems to be a repeat in the making for the second. There are already seven teams signed up, with a few of them coming in from the Twin Cities. Those interested in taking part in the second contest can find registration information on the

center's Facebook page

.

"It is a good way to connect with others," Diem said.