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Putting the pieces together

Judy and Teri Cadeau with their completed puzzle at the Fourth Annual Duluth Puzzle Derby on March 4. (Photo by Kaylinn Stormo)

“Come on, Mom. We’ve talked about doing this derby for three years now,” I said.

“All right. Let’s puzzle,” Mom said.

It was decided. My mother and I entered the 1-2 person division of the fourth annual Duluth Puzzle Derby on March 4.

As far back as I can remember, my mother has always enjoyed working jigsaw puzzles. When I was a kid, Thursday nights were Dad’s bowling league nights. Which meant Thursdays were “ER” and jigsaw puzzle nights for Mom, my sister and I. We’d drag the puzzle board, a large square piece of particle board, out of the front porch and set it up in the living room. We’d drag Mom’s reading lamp over to provide more light for our puzzling. Then we’d go to the back hallway closet to pick out the puzzle. There were landscapes, floral scenes and the puzzles Mom and I were especially partial to: quilt pattern puzzles. She had one quilt puzzle that was particularly fun because some pieces were shaped like objects and animals.

I’ve always been amazed at my mother’s speed when puzzling. As a kid, I never accounted for her years of experience. I just thought it was magical that she could so easily see how pieces fit together. I’d usually be tasked with the border pieces or with bunches of pieces my mother had already sorted by color for me.

These days, she doesn’t drag out the puzzle board quite as often. Instead she’s gone digital, puzzling on a digital tablet.

As an adult, I’m much better at puzzling, but I’m still slower than my mother. So I decided to practice a bit before the competition. I picked up a couple of dollar 100 and 500 piece puzzles. I spent the next five days working puzzles every evening. I couldn’t get through a whole 500 piece puzzle in three hours, but I could get about two-thirds of the way through it. I started adding a few pieces to the puzzle in the breakroom at work after lunch. I still wasn’t sure whether we would be able to complete the puzzle in the two hours we were allotted, but we were going to try. After all, we were just in it for the fun. Right?

On the Saturday of the competition, Mom and sister drove down early so we could all eat lunch together. Then it was time for Mom and I to compete.

All 40 of the participants were given the exact same puzzle, donated by Ravensburger Jigsaw Puzzles. All the boxes were still sealed with plastic and were placed face down on the table. We couldn’t touch the box until everyone had one and we counted down to zero. Then came the command, GO!

As I tore open the plastic, I got a good look of the box cover. It was a license-plate theme with many various colors and letters with a map background. We immediately started picking out edge pieces, which I decided to take on.

About 20 minutes into the competition, we had a full border.

About 34 minutes, the first two-person team completed their puzzle.

“Dang that was fast,” I said as we briefly clapped before returning to work. “What if we come in last place?”

“Just keep going. If we come in last, at least we’ve had fun doing a puzzle together,” Mom said.

At the 37-minute mark, the second place team was done.

“Wow. OK. That’s still pretty fast,” Mom said.

“Hey, at least we know it can be done. It’s not an impossible puzzle,” I said. “Though, someone should check them for performance enhancers.”

We kept up the pace, sang Beatles songs and took turns keeping each other positive as more and more puzzlers completed their puzzles.

We didn’t come in last place. We came in fourth from last place. But I was just thrilled that we completed the puzzle under the two-hour mark. We wrote our time — one hour and 38 minutes — into the lid of our puzzle box.

We’re already planning for next year. We’re talking about getting more friends to join us for the 3-4 person competition and working on puzzles when I visit home. If nothing else, we’re happy that the competition has reinvigorated our interest in puzzling together.

Teri Cadeau

Teri Cadeau is a reporter for the Budgeteer.

(218) 720-4176