Jigsaws Don't Puzzle a Champ Like Ohio's Donna Klett

updated 09/14/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/14/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

If seconds than out can phrase this in straighten you ten less, maybe you have some idea how Donna Klett feels. Donna is 15 and she's a whiz at unscrambling jigsaw puzzles. Last year she put together the 500 pieces of a zebra's head in one hour, 49 minutes to win the National Jigsaw Puzzle Championship in Athens, Ohio. Last month she assembled another 500-piece picture, of two little girls in a parlor, in one hour, 13 minutes—an average of 8.8 seconds per piece—to win it again. Donna, the youngest champ ever, beat out 500 other entrants to snare the five-year-old crown, which this year carried a prize of $1,000. What's her secret? "I concentrate," says Donna. "I guess my mind wanders a bit, but it's not for that long a period."

Though by no means loquacious on the subject of technique, Donna, if pressed, will reveal her solution to that age-old quandary: Should you look for the shape of a piece, or the color? Color it is, she says. But that doesn't explain her uncanny ability. A 10th grader in the gifted-student program at Stow (Ohio) High School, Donna says that, for her, "puzzling is just a hobby." She's been at it since she was 5 and began unjumbling wooden-block puzzles in the local library. She decided to turn pro, after a fashion, in 1985, when she, her mother, Evelyn, a secretary, and her father, Donald, an accountant, drove 200 miles to Athens for the nationals. They didn't even book a motel room because they never dreamed Donna would survive the first day and move on to the finals. She finished sixth that year and might have done even better except for opening-day jitters. "I was disappointed," she admits, "because I sort of choked out."

Painfully shy around strangers, Donna most loves to shoot hoops in front of her house ("I'm very bad," she says). But she also completes two or three tough puzzles a day (repeating some) and looks forward to defending her title next year. Just keeping her in puzzle fodder costs her admiring parents $200 a year, but that's nothing compared to the potential space squeeze it could cause: At this point Donna has 150 puzzles bursting out of her closet.

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