An MIT Alumni Association Publication

MIT Alum Holds Guinness Record for Speed Jigsaw Puzzling

  • Katherine J. Igoe
  • Slice of MIT

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For many, jigsaw puzzles are a leisure activity, with the quiet satisfaction of laying out pieces and slowly putting them together. But for Tammy McLeod ’99, MEng ’99, they’re all about speed and precision: in 2020, she set a Guinness World Record (which she still holds) for completing their official 250-piece Hasbro puzzle in 9 minutes and 58.32 seconds. 

A photo of MIT alum Tammy McLeod piecing together a puzzle on a table
Click to watch Tammy McLeod show off her speed puzzling skills as she completes a jigsaw puzzle of MIT’s Killian Court.

Her love for puzzles doesn’t stop at the jigsaw variety. “The puzzles I like always have a single, correct solution. The certainty of working towards a solution really appeals to me,” she explains. She’s currently a known entity in a few speed puzzle communities, having started her “career” in high school with her first jigsaw competition. In 2007, she entered the US Sudoku Championship, on a whim, with no competition experience—and placed second—then went on to win the tournament in 2009. She also branched out to team-based escape rooms, of which she has completed over 500. 

At the Institute, McLeod spent a lot of her free time puzzling and even participated in the MIT Mystery Hunt—an internationally known puzzle hunt competition that started in 1981 and takes place on campus every January. She did the hunt with three of her dormmates—“we quickly realized we were overwhelmed,” she says with a laugh. But she returned to campus in 2019 with some puzzle-community friends; their “Team Left Out” won the hunt and they returned to host in 2020. 

Even her professional career has contained elements of puzzle-solving. She graduated from MIT with a degree in electrical engineering and computer science and spent the majority of her career as a software engineer at Google, retiring in April 2024. When she worked on consumer products, she says she loved solving bugs that were reported, because they’re essentially a puzzle. “You basically have the framework of what’s supposed to happen, and you have to figure out the changes to make it happen.”

Despite her long track record of puzzling success, McLeod is still modest about her skills, and says they’re a work in progress—which translates to her completing about 500 puzzles a year to hone her craft. Her style is actually a little different than that of many competitors. Some puzzlers take the large subset of the puzzle and break it into smaller subsets: finding the edges first, or all the pieces of one color. “I do the opposite thing, where I pick up a piece from the table, and I figure out where it goes. I’m a piece placer instead of a piece finder,” she says.


It was amazing to see all the connections that were happening between people—puzzlers who normally are alone at their tables at home, all coming together in community.

In her quest to hone her abilities and connect with fellow puzzlers, McLeod attended the 2019 World Jigsaw Puzzle Championship (WJPC) in Spain. In order to compete, each country needs a representative organization—and the US didn’t have one. McLeod wanted the chance to compete, so she started going to puzzle events and joining online groups to drum up interest in starting an organization.

In May 2020, she and a team of interested puzzlers founded the USA Jigsaw Puzzle Association (USAJPA). Since then, they’ve watched the community grow by leaps and bounds. USAJPA hosted the US Jigsaw Nationals in 2022 and 2024, livestreaming the event to tens of thousands of viewers. Over 400 people attended this year’s event, including the WJPC organizer, and a video of the participants speed-puzzling reached nearly 22 million views.

“It was amazing to see all the connections that were happening between people—puzzlers who normally are alone at their tables at home, all coming together in community,” she says. “Even in 2020, this event was our exact dream, and to see it go from nothing to touching hundreds of people just makes me so happy.”

A photo of Tammy McLeod MIT alum with three other women wearing shirts that say Golden State Puzzlers with a stack of puzzles on a table
Tammy McLeod and her puzzle team, the Golden State Puzzlers, in 2023 during a two-day speed puzzling "training camp."

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