While some people learned how to roller skate, crochet, or became plant parents when the pandemic hit, other people dove back into childhood hobbies such as puzzles, wiping out the puzzle sections in large department stores and e-commerce websites more quickly than manufacturers could keep up. 

“Puzzles started becoming scarce because everybody was buying them,” said Lisa Moskowitz, co-founder of Orange County Speed Puzzlers. “They were sold out online, on Amazon and the puzzle company stores were even out of stock.”

With a shortage of new puzzle challenges to occupy the time, co-workers Trisha Siedlecki and Allyson Longo began exchanging puzzles with each other — a hobby the pair didn’t know they shared for the first six years they had been working together at Disneyland. 

“So not only were we competing but we would pass each other at work and be like, ‘Here’s your bag’ and then I’d pick up my bag and then we’d go home and respectively puzzle, and then slowly we started timing ourselves,” said Longo, who lives in Anaheim.  

Trisha Siedlecki and Allyson Longo won first place with a time of 34 minutes and 57 seconds during Orange County Speed Puzzler’s second speed puzzling competition on April 1. Credit: NATALIE CARTWRIGHT, Voice of OC

Siedlecki, who lives in Los Angeles, and Longo rekindled their hobby at the beginning of the pandemic. While the pair grew up puzzling with their families, they never would have imagined becoming the first place winners of the Orange County Speed Puzzler’s second speed puzzling competition this past April Fool’s Day. 

The competition took place at GameCraft Brewing in Laguna Hills, where 30 teams of two had to finish a 500-piece puzzle within two hours — though most teams finished before the time ran out. Teams that didn’t finish their puzzle in the allotted time were ranked by the amount of pieces remaining.

Siedlecki and Longo finished in 34 minutes and 57 seconds, which is in league with the completion times of pro-puzzlers such as national champion Yvonne Feucht and Guiness Book of World Records holder Tammy McLeod.

Speed Puzzling Around the World

Sharon Ogomori, right, the second place winner hands off tickets for swaping puzzles at the puzzle swap before the Orange County Speed Puzzling competition on Saturday, April 1, 2023. Credit: NATALIE CARTWRIGHT, Voice of OC

Feucht and McLeod participated in a separate pro bracket in the Orange County Speed Puzzler’s first ever speed puzzling competition back in February and earned a first place completion time of 35 minutes and 14 seconds.

As the 2022 USA Jigsaw Nationals First Place Winner for the solo bracket, Feucht is currently practicing for the Speed Puzzling World Championships taking place in Spain from September 20 to 24.

In addition to the world championships in Valladolid, Spain, speed puzzling competitions are taking place all the time, all over the world and online.

Luke and Jessica Cheney is a couple based in Culver City who earned 6th place in the April Fool’s Day Speed Puzzling Competition with a time of 47 minutes and 26 seconds. Credit: NATALIE CARTWRIGHT, Voice of OC

Luke and Jessica Cheney, a couple based in Culver City, were one of the returning pairs from the Orange County Speed Puzzlers’ first competition, where they landed just 10 seconds shy of fourth place out of 25 teams. 

Prior to attending theirs and the Orange County Speed Puzzlers’ first in-person competition, the couple had often participated in online Zoom competitions hosted by websites such as speedpuzzling.com. Through this platform, Jessica Cheney had participated in approximately 10 online competitions herself in the past year and a half.

“It was a totally different experience because when you do it at home on Zoom, everyone’s on mute. And you look up every once in a while to see like, ‘Okay, I can see this table is getting close,’ but you don’t really have time to look,” Luke Cheney said.

Some competitors bring their own headlights to help optimize their conditions for speed puzzling because the lighting in different areas of the venue and the puzzle’s material could cause a glare on the puzzle, hindering their performance. Credit: NATALIE CARTWRIGHT, Voice of OC

He continued, “When you’re doing it in person, the room is buzzing. There’s strangers walking around, there’s referees looking at you closely to make sure you’re not doing anything wrong, and then you hear someone finish and that gets you all distracted.”  

Moskowitz and Shandling co-founded Orange County Speed Puzzlers in 2022 to build and strengthen the puzzling community, specifically in Orange County and the greater Los Angeles area. One of the ways in which they do that is through hosting these competition events.

“There was a desire, people wanted to do it. There was a need for it, but nobody was doing it (in Orange County). So it seemed like a no-brainer that if we were going to do it, they were going to come up, and show up and compete,” Moskowitz said. 

Though Moskowitz and Shandling knew there was a demand, seeing tickets for their June 4 competition sell out in less than 30 minutes left their heads spinning, the pair said. 

The Orange County Speed Puzzlers will be returning to GameCraft Brewing for the third time in a row on June 4 for their third competition. Although tickets to compete have already sold out, spectators are encouraged to attend for free. Additional details will be posted on the Orange County Speed Puzzlers Facebook page.

How the Puzzling Community Gives Back

Shandling said one of the hardest parts of organizing an event like this is finding a sponsor for the space, which is possibly why no one has taken up the responsibility of organizing a competition in Orange County until this year. 

“I want there to be competitions up here, whether or not I get to do them. They are just incredibly fun and engaging. It takes an individualized activity and makes it social,” Shandling said. 

Fortunately, April’s competition was sponsored by Ravensburger, one of the world’s leading jigsaw puzzle manufacturers. Ravensburger custom-designed an April Fool’s Day themed puzzle for the competition by collaborating with Moskowitz and Shandling to design the puzzle, which was then manufactured in Germany and sent to Moskowitz’s home in San Clemente.

“For us to not only be working with them, but for them to design something that is now actually very personal for Lisa and I, it is a dream. It’s an absolute dream,” Shandling said. 

After the competition was over, participants were allowed to take home their custom-designed Ravensburger competition puzzle, named ‘Preparing for the Competition.’ Credit: NATALIE CARTWRIGHT, Voice of OC

Not only are Shandling’s and Moskowitz’s first names incorporated into the puzzle image, but also the first names of Moskowitz’s husband, Mike, Moskowitz’s kids, Derek and Jake, Shandling’s brother, Frank, and Shandling’s parents Mark and Judy. 

The support coming from brands within the puzzling community was also met at the local level. San Clemente puzzle company, Monster Wave Company, donated three of their beach-inspired puzzles to the event’s opportunity drawing as well. 

The sponsors’ donations not only went to opportunity drawings, but prizes for the winners as well. The top three finishing teams received two Ravensburger puzzles each: first place 1000-piece puzzles, second place 750-piece puzzles and third place 500-piece puzzles. 

Evolution of Puzzle Swapping

The Orange County Speed Puzzlers hosted a puzzle swap table alongside the competition, which also occurs as a separate monthly event, hosted by Moskowitz since 2021. Since there was a shortage of puzzles at the beginning of the pandemic, Moskowitz decided to start a Facebook group, South OC Puzzle Exchange, for locals to swap puzzles. 

What started as a no-contact puzzle exchange between the members of a small Facebook group, eventually evolved into a monthly parking lot puzzle swap meet consisting of 20 to 30 cars, on average. In addition to the regular once-a-month swap, Moskowitz also hosts two multi-county swaps a year so folks can have access to more trading options.

“We did that last month. We had 60 cars there and there were people from LA, Ventura, Studio City, Torrance, all of Orange County. And they all came for this swap and that was the biggest one we’ve ever had, 60 cars,” Moskowitz said.

The next puzzle swap will be next Saturday, on April 22, in San Juan Capistrano.

The April Fool’s Day speed puzzling competition featured a puzzle swap table where people could donate a puzzle by attaching a sticky note with their name on it, and taking home a puzzle by a different name. The sticky notes, which identify the puzzle’s donator, helps to enforce accountability and foster connectedness among the participants. Credit: NATALIE CARTWRIGHT, Voice of OC

Sharing runs deep in the puzzling community and doesn’t just stop at puzzle swaps. In 2019, the Cheney’s came up with the idea to build a network of free puzzle libraries for trading, inspired by the free little libraries for books. 

Having just welcomed their first Orange County puzzle library in Anaheim earlier this year, the Puzzle Republic now has a network of over 75 free puzzle libraries around the world, including in Canada, Europe and Australia. 

“I’m sure there’s a lot more out there, we just haven’t come across them yet, or we haven’t connected with them yet. As you can see on the website, we try to help other people learn how to build their own or, not necessarily build them, but place them and take care of them,” Luke Cheney said. 

In addition to informing people how to create and tend to their own puzzle libraries, their website also has an interactive map that serves as a directory of all the Puzzle Republic-affiliated libraries and their locations across the globe. 

“We’re trying to get more people to create them and we’re also trying to inform people of the ones that are closest to them. So you can just put your zip code in and see the closest library to you,” Jessica Cheney said. 

Puzzling Connects People

Team 5, Lilith, left, and Karen Christopher, celebrate the news that they just placed 3rd at the Orange County Speed Puzzling Competition on Saturday, April 1, 2023. Credit: NATALIE CARTWRIGHT, Voice of OC

Between organizing speed puzzling competitions and puzzle swaps, Shandling and Moskowitz have also competed in other events, such as the first USA national championships hosted by the USA Jigsaw Puzzle Association (USAJPA) in San Diego. The event took place in October last year and brought in over 400 people, including non-competitors. 

Shandling’s participation in this competition allowed him to meet Feucht and USAJPA co-founder and board member, Aly Krasny, who also participated in the first Orange County Speed Puzzler competition in February.

“[Puzzling] definitely grew because of the pandemic by a lot because the virtual competitions being forced, kind of created this area of connecting speed puzzlers that I don’t think would have happened for a lot longer otherwise,” Krasny said. 

Longo has echoed Krasny’s sentiment, adding that the puzzling community has a strong sense of camaraderie, despite puzzling typically being an isolated activity. Even as the community grows and expands, Longo is grateful to be a part of such a welcoming space.

“I was talking to my mom like ‘Yeah, I’m just gonna go to this puzzler’s house and we’re gonna puzzle together, we might puzzle as a team.’ And I was like, ‘I don’t know her. But I figure if she’s a puzzle person, she’s safe, right?’ That’s just how you feel around people who puzzle, you’re like, ‘They can’t be a bad person, they puzzle,’” Longo said.

Since you've made it this far,

You are obviously connected to your community and value good journalism. As an independent and local nonprofit, our news is accessible to all, regardless of what they can afford. Our newsroom centers on Orange County’s civic and cultural life, not ad-driven clickbait. Our reporters hold powerful interests accountable to protect your quality of life. But it’s not free to produce. It depends on donors like you.

Join the conversation: In lieu of comments, we encourage readers to engage with us across a variety of mediums. Join our Facebook discussion. Message us via our website or staff page. Send us a secure tip. Share your thoughts in a community opinion piece.