“We are thrilled,” said Kristin Hayes, administrative assistant for the center, speaking about the turnout. Registration closed on January 15 and people could sign up individually or in teams of from three to four people, said Hayes. “I had to turn some people away,” she said.
Jay Edwards, coordinator for the Gulfport GEMS program came up with the idea when an overabundance of puzzles began to accumulate from the monthly flea market event. Then, Paula Ruthazer, a volunteer helper at the center, used her organizational skills as a retired Marine Corps major to formulate the simple contest rules:
At 1 p.m., each team opens their puzzle box to begin. By 3 p.m., the two teams with the fewest pieces left over win first and second place. Each member of a winning team gets group bragging rights and a personal prize basket filled with either Italian meal items or a teapot and variety of teas.
The non-profit Senior Center Foundation donated 11 new 500-piece puzzles from the same maker and genre for the event and helped to fund the drinks and snacks, said Ruthazer.
Though she’s never competed in a jigsaw puzzle tournament, she has become what Hayes says is a “master puzzler.”
“For one to two hours each morning, I work on a jigsaw puzzle and I never look at the cover,” said Ruthazer. “I make it hard – a challenge!”
During the competition, contestants were also given raffle tickets for additional prizes. Everything was free.
At about the 90-minute mark, members from the Puzzlettes team called out “Done!” in unison and Hayes rang the bell for their first-place finish. About one minute later, members from the Old Time Neighbors team called out and finished second.
“I’m here because I love puzzles,” said Susan Filene of Gulfport, a professional psychiatrist, who was cheering on the event. “I found out about this contest too late, but I’m getting a few tips and forming a team for next year. This is fantastic for your brain because of spatial and color relationships.”