REXBURG — The Puzzle Pals, a rag-tag puzzling crew from eastern Idaho, have taken their passion for piecing things together and placed it on a competitive table.
Lisa Benson, the team captain, and her three teammates, Kanani and Bryce Hepworth, and Natalie Kraus enjoy doing puzzles as a holiday pastime. That was until Benson got more curious about the sport.
“I would call it a sport for sure,” Benson says. “I am a novice puzzler…Recently I stumbled across a YouTube channel about someone who does competitive puzzling and it piqued my interest, and I thought why not? I’m a very competitive person.”
Benson’s stumbling across the right online content was enough of a push to start the team and invite others into the mix. Now they’ve been together for almost 8 months with several competitions under their belt.
“We did place in a local puzzle competition in Murray, UT, we got 2nd place. It was a 500-piece puzzle. We accomplished that in 48 minutes,” Benson says.
Benson says there are several aspects to a puzzling competition including the team sizes and the brand, type, and piece count of the puzzle. What ultimately matters is how fast you are at the event.
“When you do a puzzle competition you do not know what kind of puzzle you’re going to do. They try to keep that a secret so that no one has an advantage,” Benson says.
Benson says, however, they are able to know the brand that the competition is using. This knowledge gives their team more structured practices. The most complicated brand they’ve encountered so far is a Springbok brand because they are random cut.
“It’s like a three-year-old cut a puzzle, and then you have to put it back together. I do enjoy the brand, but it is complicated to me… I like more of a standard cut,” Benson says.
Each member of the Puzzle Pals group has a role. Benson is the edger, focusing on putting together the outside of the puzzle, Kanani Hepworth is the sorter and puts like pieces together, Kraus works on fine details, and Bryce Hepworth is the ”Big picture guy,” Bensons says, so if there’s a main picture in the puzzle he starts tackling that right away. These roles aren’t exclusive, and the teammates work to help each other assemble as fast as possible.
As for other brain-busters like the Rubik's cube, or Sudoku, Benson enjoys where she sits in the puzzling world.
“To me, puzzling, (is) organizing things out of chaos, and that’s why I enjoy it,” Bensons says.
So far the team has only done Utah competitions, but their overall goal includes nationals and even worlds in 2025.
The Puzzle Pals recently got back from a state competition in Utah. They assembled a 1000-piece puzzle in two hours and eight minutes, their best time ever, and ranked 8th place overall.
“As a puzzle team we've thought about starting our own competition here in Idaho, and maybe Rexburg, I think there could be a lot of puzzlers here,” Benson says.