Duluth Puzzler Team Finishes Third at World Championships – InForum
DULUTH — Competitive puzzles have taken Duluthian Amber Haglund-Pagel across the country in recent years, from close to home like St. Paul, to St. Louis and Louisiana. But her latest trip brought her to Valladolid, Spain, for the World Puzzle Championship on June 26. There his team, the Jigsaw Junkies, took third place in the tag team competition.
“We’re the fastest team in the United States,” Haglund-Pagel said. “And it was with little training time, like a weekend of puzzles together. We have very fast people, and I admit it, I’m the slowest person in the team the most fast.”
Haglund-Pagel got his start with competitive puzzles with the Duluth Puzzle Derby held as a fundraiser for St. Louis County 4-H.
“I started going there just because I liked puzzles,” she said. “But when I started to tangle with Mikayla Keener, we found ourselves in the rankings and we were like, OK, we could have something here.”
She began attending the Winter Carnival Puzzle Derby each winter, where her team won first place out of 80 teams from across the United States. So she began to envision the next level of competition with the USA Jigsaw Puzzle Association and the brand new World Jigsaw Puzzle. Championship held in Spain for the first time in 2019.
“And we were making plans to go compete in 2020, of course,” Haglund-Pagel said. “Everything stopped and it was postponed. So again we planned for 2021 and again canceled. So ultimately I was the last one standing in our puzzle team and wanted always go.”
Haglund-Pagel ended up being adopted by the Jigsaw Junkies, a team based in Shreveport, Louisiana, but made up of jigsaw puzzlers from all over the country.
“One is from New York, another from New Jersey and one from Louisiana,” Haglund-Pagel said. “And they’re all incredibly fast and lovely people.”
The team met for a jigsaw camp in Shreveport, Louisiana a few months before the competition. In the meantime, Haglund-Pagel returned home and continued her training. She does several puzzles a week, enough that in 2020 she was led to create the Facebook group “Jigsaw Puzzle Swap of the Twin Ports” for puzzle enthusiasts to swap their puzzles and renew themselves.
“I had so many puzzles and loved doing them, but I solved them quickly,” Haglund-Pagel said. “And I had started accumulating so many puzzles that my husband was like, ‘Can we find new homes for these puzzles? It’s getting a little out of hand.’ So I put some in a purple bin on my porch and started the Facebook group.”
Today, the group has four puzzle library locations where puzzlers can browse and drop puzzles. While the puzzle library allowed her to work on a variety of puzzles, Haglund-Pagel needed to find another way to practice solving puzzles that she wouldn’t necessarily choose on her own.
“I signed up for a year of Zoom contests with the Jigsaw Puzzle Association,” she said. “Then you can practice puzzles that you didn’t choose personally, which is always the case in competitions. It really helped me to complete my skills.”
These skills came in handy during the world championships in Spain. The qualifying round, where teams had to choose two 1,000-piece puzzles from a selection of four puzzles, proved particularly difficult when the team selected a puzzle with a comic book-like design.
“That ended up being the hardest and we had to do a lot of cross-checking by shape,” Haglund-Pagel said. “About 15 minutes into the round our team captain said, ‘I’m really sorry I picked this one. But there was no turning back at that time.”
Because there were only 70 teams entered for the team competition, everyone who completed the qualifying round qualified for the final. At that time, the Jigsaw Junkies were in 15th place.
The final round consisted of two puzzles, the same for each team: a difficult 1,000 piece puzzle followed by an even more difficult 1,500 piece puzzle. Teams had three hours to complete both puzzles and the first puzzle had to be completed before moving on to the second.
Working together to solve the puzzles, Haglund-Pagel said she and her teammates really get into each other’s space.
“I like to say the speed puzzle is not a polished puzzle,” she said. “There are no excuses and you might end up beating yourself up. Just keep going. The important thing is to put the pieces in place.”
The number of pieces completed in the puzzle can mean the difference between third and fourth place.
Only one team completed both puzzles within the three hour period: the winning team from Spain. The Jigsaw Junkies did not complete the puzzle, but had to stack their unfitted pieces into piles of 10 to be counted by the judges. Teams with the most pieces in place at the finish would rank higher in the leaderboard. By a matter of nine pieces, the Jigsaw Junkies came in third over the fourth-place team.
“It was amazing! We were thrilled. We were up against the best puzzlers in the world and we took third place,” Haglund-Pagel said.
Now that she’s back from the championship, Haglund-Pagel said she’s been looking forward to doing puzzles just for fun for a little while.
“I love puzzles, like I would never give that up,” she said. “But I might not hit the timer every time I do one now for a while.”