We had a puzzle contest at the library. I may have mentioned it here on the way to making a joke. But I enjoyed working the contest as a sort of judge, timekeeper, and photographer. Groups of four were given identical 500-piece puzzles picturing doughnuts. The rules were straightforward: The first to finish the puzzle were the winners. They received an engraved block of acrylic and the opportunity to have me visit them and maybe tell them my doughnut joke.
The first-place team was very fast! They won the contest in a time of just over 31 minutes. Second place was eight minutes later than that. Third place was another ten minutes later. By the time we got to fifth or sixth place, people had taken nearly double the time of the winners! It was a slaughter!
And yet, something sticks with me.
There wasn't anything really different about the winners.
I am sure there is some secret in there.
Maybe it is the secret of the no secret.
Many of the later finishers, even ones who did quite well, very politely asked me if I could tell them what secret, what technique, what special method the winners used to do so incredibly well on this puzzle. I mean, they said, only if those people were okay with me saying.
But I had watched the contest carefully and followed along with everyone's progress. I saw how people all divided their labor and the sections. I saw how everyone separated by color. I saw how everyone started to assemble the sections using the border pieces. The winners were not better trained. They did not have more experience that I could tell. And their concentration and manner seemed no different to me than any other team.
And so, in the end, I could tell everyone the disappointing secret that I will tell you too:
The winners were just... faster.