Competitive Puzzling: Tips & Tricks for Speedy Puzzling

Speed jigsaw puzzling, or competitive puzzling, is the best sport you’ve never heard of, and it’s taking the world by storm. Puzzle contests have been popping up at local libraries and fundraisers, and the national and international competitions are getting bigger and bigger. How can you try this extreme version of puzzling? Keep reading to find out!

What is Speed Puzzling?

Puzzling may sound like a very leisurely activity, but speed puzzling is anything but! Imagine a room full of puzzlers, each one racing against the clock, and each other, to complete a jigsaw puzzle in record time. Depending on the contest, each individual, pair, or team will have their own copy of the same jigsaw puzzle image. After a short countdown, puzzlers are able to open up their box and start puzzling! The goal is to finish the puzzle as fast as you can, so of course, the first individual/pair/team to finish wins! 

Competitive puzzling in action! Photo courtesy of World Jigsaw Puzzling Championship.

You don’t have to be an experienced puzzler to join in a competition. The speed puzzling community is extremely friendly and welcoming. I frequently compare the atmosphere at contests to the show The Great British Bake Off! Although you’re competing, everyone is very supportive and encouraging of one another making for a great environment for beginner puzzlers. Have I piqued your interest? If so, let’s get you enrolled in your first competition!

How Can I Compete?

Contests have been popping up across the United States and the rest of the world and have been becoming more and more popular. There are a few ways to find puzzle contests. If you have Facebook, you can go to the events section and search for “jigsaw” or “puzzle.” Adjust the date range and location filters to your preferences, and you might find some local jigsaw puzzle contests. Similarly, you can try other meet-up and event sites’ search bars or even just plain old Google!

If you’re in the United States, a great resource is the USA Jigsaw Puzzle Association. Although this organization is open to anyone who likes to do puzzles, they have a lot of helpful information for speed puzzlers, and even host contests of their own. They have a calendar of events that includes tons of jigsaw puzzle competitions across the country. They also host the USA Jigsaw Nationals competition which will be taking place in March of 2024.

Another site with tons of competition info is This website is run by puzzle fanatic Jonathan Cluff who is a bit of an expert when it comes to running puzzle contests. Each month there are at least five online competitions for anyone worldwide to join via Zoom. With options from 300 pieces to 1000 pieces, there is sure to be a contest that is a good fit for you. Jonathan has also put together a massive list of in-person puzzling events for you to browse. I have participated in many of his contests, and they are a great starting point for anyone who wants to get into speed puzzling. If you use code SARAH at check out, you can even get $5 off your first contest!

How Do I Puzzle Quickly?

You’ve signed up for a contest, but now you’re wondering … How can I do a puzzle super fast? As a top-ranked speed puzzler, I get this question a lot. Here are some of my top tips for maximum puzzling speed!

Ready to jump into jigsaw competitive puzzling? Read all of Sarah's tips below.

Do Tons of Puzzles

I know this seems very obvious, but it’s crucial to improving your times. I time myself on a puzzle at least once a week, and for larger competitions, I even make a training schedule which can include multiple puzzles a day! Keeping track of your times on puzzles is a great way to track your progress as you get into the sport and will allow you to set goals and see where your strengths and weaknesses are. 

You also don’t always have to time yourself. I enjoy casually puzzling with family and friends, or snuggling up with my pups on the couch and work on a puzzle while watching TV. Any time you are putting pieces together is going to strengthen your jigsaw skills. Casually puzzling also can help with burnout. I find that when I do too many puzzles just for speed, it can slow me down over time. I definitely keep a careful balance between speed and casual puzzling.

Puzzle All Types of Images

It can be easy to keep pulling the same kinds of images you love off the shelf when you go to puzzle, but since you never know what the image will be in a contest it’s important to work on different types of puzzle images. Time yourself on puzzles that are the same piece count, but various image styles to see where you get slowed down. For me, I know I can work through a puzzle with a decently busy illustrated image quickly, but if you give me a landscape photograph I’m going to struggle. Since I know what types of images slow me down, I can be on the lookout for more of those types of puzzles to practice to improve my strategy of tackling a more difficult puzzle image. 

Practice Flipping Pieces and Sorting

Sometimes the difference between first and third place can be mere seconds, so it’s important to be able to shave off time wherever you can! Something that I found I was slow at was flipping over the pieces at the beginning of the puzzle process. I started dumping out pieces and flipping everything over while sorting out edges and timing myself on just this portion of the contest. Over time I found a method of flipping that works well for me, and I am a few minutes faster than when I started.

If You Get Stuck, Move On

I know it can be really hard to leave a section of a puzzle incomplete, but you don’t want to spend unnecessary time working on something that just isn’t clicking. You know how sometimes when you walk away from a really hard puzzle you can come back to it the next day and put in lots of pieces right away? It’s a similar strategy- stop looking at that section, work on something else, and then come back to that more difficult section with fresh eyes. You also might be able to fill in areas around that tougher section giving you fewer pieces to sort through and more of a frame to work off of.

Puzzle With Others

If you are going to be entering a contest as a team or pair, be sure to do a few puzzles together before the day of the contest. If you are used to puzzling by yourself, it can be difficult the first time you puzzle with other people. You may have different ways of laying out pieces, sorting, and piecing together, so it really helps to practice as a team and get to know each other’s puzzling quirks. 

I’m so glad that more and more people are learning about the exciting world of speed puzzling and want to try it for themselves. If you’re interested in learning even more about the sport, please feel free to reach out to me on Instagram @SarahDoesPuzzles. I’m always happy to chat about puzzles! Completing the Puzzle is a great way to receive new practice puzzles right to your front door!