SI Vault
Rick Telander
October 31, 1983
One piece every seven seconds. That's what 21-year-old Joellen Beifuss averaged during the 59 minutes and 43 seconds it took her to win the singles title at the second annual National Jigsaw Puzzle Championships in Athens, Ohio. Beifuss, a junior political science major at Duke University, put her 500-piece finals puzzle together so quickly that the whole puzzling affair smelled fishy.
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October 31, 1983

Champion Jigsaw Puzzlers Get The Picture Without Falling To Pieces

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Blythe himself made it only to the fourth of eight rounds in the sprints, but he didn't mind. "Money is of no importance," he explained again. And, of course, if he'd made it to the finals he would have had to face the two-handed Beifuss, who also won the sprints pulling away.

The first puzzles were carved in the mid-1700s by an Englishman named John Spilsbury. His puzzles were maps of the world, which seems to be a more logical way of using odd shapes than the single-color puzzles on the market today. Through the years puzzling has gone in and out of style, but right now it's a growth industry, with some $40 million worth of sales annually. Who puzzles? People "who have been encouraged as children to explore and seek answers," says Edward L. Deci, professor of psychology at the University of Rochester. Bing Crosby, Gary Cooper and Marilyn Monroe liked to puzzle. But how were they against the clock?

"I don't know what it takes to be good at this," says Lisa Heiser, 19, who, along with her married sister, Lori Reeves, 23, repeated as doubles champion this year, completing a 1,000-piecer in a little more than two hours and 20 minutes. "We're both lousy at math, so that's out."

"I like needlepoint," says Lori.

"But I don't," says Lisa.

What both Columbus, Ohio, natives dislike are bad puzzles. "We threw out a puzzle of pins and needles this year because we couldn't stand it," says Lori. "We had some other bad ones, too. Macaroni, I think. And baked beans."

"They were unappetizing," says Lisa.

There is no trick to good puzzling, the sisters say. Just 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," says Lori. "Keep moving."

Beifuss' approach to puzzling is even more casual. During the school year she doesn't mess with puzzles at all. At home in Memphis she'll put Bruce Springsteen or the Police on the stereo, place a board on her lap and puzzle the night away. "It's not total concentration," she says. "You can talk to people and do puzzles at the same time, which is nice."

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