What's behind Minnesota's puzzle passion?

It's one of the oldest and largest competitions of its kind in the country. The St. Paul Winter Carnival Jigsaw Puzzle Contest has become a classic! But why is Minnesota such a hotbed for competitive puzzling?

For most of us, putting a puzzle together is something relaxing to do to pass the time. 

But for the people taking part in the St. Paul Winter Carnival Jigsaw Puzzle Contest at the Union Depot in downtown St. Paul, it's a competitive sport complete with spectators and teams wearing matching accessories.

"I like to think of it as a sport. Maybe not for the Olympics, but the people who compete are just as intense as any athlete," said contest organizer Cynthia Schriener Smith.

Sarah Schuler has been putting puzzles together since she was a little girl.

"What's not to like about puzzling? It's just the feeling that you get when you complete a puzzle. It's very stress relieving, gets you really happy," said Schuler.

She started competitive puzzling as a teenager with family members at the Winter Carnival, and she's been hooked ever since.

"I think competitive puzzling just adds an extra element of fun to doing a puzzle," said Schuler.

The 28-year-old is one of the top-ranked speed puzzlers in the country. She recently came in second in pairs and teams at the World Jigsaw Puzzle Championships in Spain back in September.

"It was just crazy to be second in the world at anything and I love its puzzles," said Schuler.

Puzzling isn't just Schuler's passion. She makes a living as sort of a goodwill ambassador for the sport.

"Oh my gosh, I could never get sick of puzzles. I know that sounds crazy, but they are just so fun," said Schuler.

Schuler is one of several top players to come from Minnesota, a fact she attributes to spending a lot of time indoors during our long winters.

"I think Minnesota is just a really good place for puzzlers because it gets really cold in the winter, and it can get really hot in the summer, or it can rain when you're at the cabin, and it's just a great place to do puzzles," said Schuler.

The 1,500 competitors in this year's contest all seem to have their own strategy.

"If you are a real competitive puzzler, you care about what puzzle table you have. So I definitely run for my puzzle table," said Schuler.

"I wear my heart rate monitor, and it will get up into the exercise zone cause I'll get so amped up. I was just sitting at the table before, and it was 120 beats per minute. I was like this is a little high for being a puzzle contest," Schuler added.

Once the pieces are in play, it's a flurry of fingers in a race where every second counts.

By the end of the day, Schuler and her teammates take first place in the 1,000-piece category in just under 50 minutes.

"That was awesome. That was so hard," said Schuler.

Minnesota may be the state of hockey, but it's also a puzzling powerhouse as well.

"I'll just keep going until I don't want to do puzzles anymore, which I don't see happening anytime soon," said Schuler.

Schuler blogs and reviews puzzles on her website, here, and on Instagram, here.

For more information on the Winter Carnival Puzzle Contest, click here.