The game faces were on for this year's Puzzle Palooza held at Elmwood School Gym held on January 19th.

The event is a fundraiser for Altona and Area Family Resource Centre.

"It was awesome! It was so much fun!" said Nina Edbom-Kehler, centre coordinator. "We had a completion - in an hour! It only took an hour. It made me think maybe our puzzle was too simple - 750 [pieces]. Last year we did 1000.
But then in the comments we had later [people said] if it was this simplicity this year, it could have been 1000 and it would have taken longer. But I really love the finishing! The funny thing is, yes, the first place was at an hour. Within the next 15 minutes, five people finished."

A new champion was crowned at this year's puzzle-off.

"It was a local group," said Edbom-Kehler. "It's kind of funny because Sarah, who's at Only Local in Altona, was putting her sisters and some friends together [in a team], she came in first. [It] was really funny because we were so excited about the win and we're taking pictures with the trophy and we're cleaning up when I realized - I forgot to give them the prize! And she's like, I just wanted the bragging rights!"

The success of this year's event can be attributed to two factors.

"We did it a bit different. Last year we had two family teams and then I think we had eight competitive teams. We were up quite a bit [this year]. It was nice. It was a full gym, really comfortable. And we also hosted in January. Last year [it was] in April. I think by that time it was getting nicer so people were outside, whereas now it's prime puzzle time, I'm told."

This year's event involved twelve teams (including one from Morden) made up of four members each, an increase over last year.

And it wasn't difficult to tell apart the competitive from the casual. 

"I'm not a really big puzzler. I won't put the 1000 or 10,000-piece together or anything," said Edbom-Kehler. "But I've done it a bunch more with my kids. But here, there's a big division between the competitive, really serious, nose down, don't-talk-to-me-I'm-puzzling and the other ones, [who] are like - where's the coffee, I'll go grab a cookie, ah you know, let's go put some music on. But it was nice. Everybody had a great time."
Moving around the gym observing the action, Edbom-Kehler noticed the different strategies employed by puzzler.

"Some of them are, okay grab all the edge pieces, put the edge together. Some of them are just grab all the colors that go together and let's put them together in groups and then put it together. It was really interesting how there was rhyme and reason."

They even brought a variety of tools to get that all important edge, such as special trays used to organize pieces.

"I never knew that was a thing. But I remember when we did it the first year somebody asked can I bring my organization trays? And I'm like, pardon me? And I'm like, sure. So yeah, this year some of them had a headlamp so that they could see a bit better. Some of them came with a special stand so that they could put the box to stand, so that the box didn't fall over so they could see the picture. It's a it's a serious event."

The event raised approximately $1200, most of which will go to pay staffing costs at the non-profit agency. The only real expenses were good quality puzzles, purchased locally at Janzen Hobby in Winkler. The school gym was provided rent-free and prizes for the rainbow auction were donated by the community.

Looking ahead, Edbom-Kehler will be surveying participants as to what type of puzzle should be used at next year's event.

"I'd even like to do the same one next year and see if really we have a different winner or if there is any strategy behind it. Some of those people said they would know, and they would have a different strategy, so, I'll see, I don't know. I wouldn't! I mean, you could give it to me today and I'd still be like, I don't know." 

The evening included a few extras as well.

"We had a fantastic rainbow auction! We had 16 different prizes set up. At first, we were just going to do it and post the numbers. But it was kind of exciting that when it finished early, we did it live. There was that anticipation, and I called the number slowly so that everybody would look at their tickets and they're like, oh, that's me. So yeah, it was pretty fun that way."

An Altona-based photography/videography company - D&W Productions - was on site to record a fascinating time lapse of one team assembling its puzzle. The video can be viewed on the centre's social media page.