Hive Mind: Puzzle Racing

If you’re looking to develop a game collection at your library or plan programming to promote it, you probably have questions. GameRT is here to help!

In this blog series, once a month we’ll take a commonly asked “nut-and-bolts” question and share our different perspectives on it!

Many libraries that circulate board games start out with a small selection of puzzles. They are relatively cheap, easy to access, and items that families generally only want once. 

How do you promote the puzzles in your collection so that your patrons know how much fun they can have with them? The ALA Game Librarian Hive Mind suggests a Puzzle Race! This month, one of our Hive Librarians will walk through a recent event that they held to promote puzzling in their library!


Tense silence settles over the room. Dozens of patrons lean over tables, hands moving like lightning as they fit together tiny jigsaw shapes. In the corner one half of a couple murmurs, “I hope you know our marriage is riding on this…”

Who knew a puzzle tournament could get so intense? I certainly didn’t, before hosting one for my small rural library! This was our first puzzle program, and every single patron in attendance asked how soon they could sign up for the next one. Learn more about Puzzle Races below!

What is a Puzzle Race?

Puzzle Races, or Puzzle Tournaments, are competitions to see who can put together a jigsaw puzzle the fastest. You can view videos of people competing at all levels on YouTube, from the World Puzzle Championship hosted annually, to local library competitions. They are a great way for families and individuals to challenge themselves.

What do you need to host one at a library?

Table space where the puzzles can be assembled

Multiple copies of the same puzzle

Prizes for the winners

Stopwatch

Scissors if puzzles are sealed

Promotional materials

How did I set up the program?

I purchased 6 copies of the same 500-piece puzzle on Amazon with a bulk discount. Each puzzle came sealed in a plastic bag inside of the box. I also purchased 2 prizes on Amazon, a roll up puzzle mat and a set of puzzle sorting trays. I started advertising the event through social media and local posters about 5 weeks in advance. We kept a sign-up sheet at the front desk. Patrons were able to pre-register with teams of 2-6 people, and we asked that all participants be 5 years of age and older.  We had 6 slots for pre-registration, and then another 5 groups asked to be added to a waitlist. We hosted the program on a Saturday afternoon in the library’s community room.

21 total patrons came, with 1 team being a no-show. Before the event I set up stations with a puzzle and a pair of scissors, and set our speaker system to play some gentle background music. When the patrons arrived, I had them choose a team name and select a station. They received instruction that I when I called the start time, they could cut open their plastic bag and get started on the puzzle. When they completed the puzzle, they were told to shout out, and I marked their time with my stopwatch. The first team was done after 32 minutes, the last team around the hour mark. Every team got to take their puzzle home with them, win or lose.

What feedback did I get?

We had very positive feedback. Every team wanted to participate in another race, and before the event started they suggested that the winner should get automatic entry to the next event if we host one. For about half of the patrons, this was the first time they had attended an event at our library. The teams had fun interacting with one another, with some gentle trash talking back and forth. They weren’t required to, but every team stayed until the last group was done, cheering that group on as they fit the last pieces together.

What would I do differently?

I very much overestimated the amount of time the race would take. I booked 4 hours in the space, and we could have easily been done in 1. As this was our first event of this type, I estimated low registration numbers when, in actuality, I could have accommodated more teams.  I capped the teams at 2-6 players, but after registration filled I did have a few people inquire about competing solo. In the future, I would allow that as an option. I would also like to have some sort of trophy that we can add the winning team names to, even if it’s just a cardboard puzzle piece cutout spray painted gold.

Should you host a puzzle race?

This program was on the expensive side for my budget, with materials working out to about $3.21 per patron. It was worth it for us for the amount of enthusiasm it was received with, though. If you have the space to accommodate a program like this and it is in your budget, I very much recommend it. With some adjusted marketing a puzzle race could easily be specifically targeted towards older adults or teens. There is very little language dependence beyond the initial explanation.

Have you hosted a puzzle race before? Are you interested in hosting one in the future? Let us know in the comments below!

One comment

  1. If you had a team of 2, did the team of 2 compete against a larger team, or did you combine with another team?
    I will have my third speed puzzle event in January. I’m concerned teams will be unbalanced. Previously, I limited it to 5 teams. Some registered as 2, some registered as 6. I joined two small teams to make one team. It worked out fine, so far. The members of each team drew numbers to determine who takes the puzzle home. I had a (door prize), plus Oriental Trading trophies for 1st and 2nd place team members.

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