Sophie de Goncourt: a life in pieces (of a puzzle)

Sophie de Goncourt is essential in the small world of competition puzzle. This enthusiast has literally let the puzzle guide her life. Just an adult, she entered a puzzle contest almost by chance, a contest she won hands down. And there is the revelation.

We don’t know we’re good until we win nothing“, she says with simplicity.

Sophie de Goncourt gets caught up in the game. She wins another competition, then another, until she becomes an essential champion in the microcosm of puzzle enthusiasts. Today, his track record is impressive:

“With my husband, we were French champions in 2000, we won the 24 Hours of Belgium for ten years with a French team, we won the Russian championships and we have just won the Luxembourg championship. Individually, I have won the Spanish championship three times and I have won the world championship three times.”

Part of Sophie’s puzzle collection
© Radio France

Cedric Dumaine

In the couple’s house, an entire room is devoted to their passion. In the center, a large table that can accommodate gigantic puzzles. All around are piled up pell-mell game boxes in different languages, trophies and curiosities, such as this puzzle from the luxury brand Hermès or this vase in the shape of a shoe, made up of about fifty pieces.

The competitions are an opportunity to meet other puzzle enthusiasts:

“I’ve met a lot of madmen like me, who play puzzles. Besides that, we’re very settled in life, we come across notaries, magistrates, doctors… So we’re not more completely wacky, but we have a game that brings us together and allows us to have such masterful parties after the competitions.

The secrets of a champion

As with any discipline, you can’t pretend to be a world champion in puzzles. Sophie de Goncourt practices rigorous training:

“It’s true that I train a lot because instead of watching TV, I’m going to do a puzzle.
Like someone who knits or embroiders or reads, this is going to be the main activity in their free time. So it’s true that in the evening, instead of a movie, I’m going to do a puzzle. The training is permanent and daily.”

And to go faster than the others, you have to forget your bad habits. If you open the box and start by setting the edges aside, you’ve got it all wrong. According to Sophie de Goncourt, you have to start by sorting the pieces by color, because “the edges are one color like the others“. We then obtain heaps of parts sorted by color or by “mood” which are much easier to assemble. The rest is just a matter of observation and dexterity.

It is thanks to this simple technique that Sophie de Goncourt has a string of victories. During competitions, she receives medals and gifts offered by advertisers and partner brands, such as this competition where she is offered nearly 30 kilos of chorizos. Most often, she receives puzzles that will enrich her own collection or those of her friends.

The collection before the competition

If Sophie de Goncourt is indeed a puzzle champion, she is above all a passionate collector.

“My friends and family know that I am a collector so they will look for improbable puzzles like local brands from the other side of the world. Others look at second-hand shops and will find me puzzles from the end of the 18th century century because we also collect very old puzzles which are made of wood and which have been made by hand.”

“Impossible” puzzles like these autumn leaves which give all identical pieces.
© Radio France

Cedric Dumaine

Beyond these more respectable puzzles, Sophie’s collection includes a few explosive boxes such as that of a chip brand which offers a puzzle in her colors or these totally kitsch portraits where crowned heads meet charming dancers. Looking closely, we find a few duplicates, like this parody where the Mona Lisa is replaced by a duck from Disney studios.

“People who know me less will buy a brand or a classic off-the-shelf image, often that I already have, too. It’s always risky to buy a piece from a collector, but those who know us well buy very special things.”

Micro-puzzles, in the collection of Sophie de Goncourt
© Radio France

Cedric Dumaine

Sophie’s collection is alive, it evolves over time. She sometimes gets rid of some puzzles by trading them with other collectors. This is also how she unearths finds that she lacked.

“I get rid of some puzzles, because there are still a large part of them that I win in competitions, of which I have not chosen either the images or the brands. I gladly get rid of them by exchanging them with all the puzzle enthusiasts I know because we don’t all collect the same thing.
There are brands that I deeply hate because they are not of the quality that suits me or they have designs that I find outdated for 30 years and there are brands that I love because they are creative, they have a good cut, they are of good quality. There really are differences between puzzle brands.”

The philosophy of Sophie de Goncourt
© Radio France

Cedric Dumaine

During the last world championships, Sophie de Goncourt failed to reach the podium. A small pebble in the champion’s shoe which in no way diminishes her love for these small cardboard pieces. Her passion also opened the doors of the cinema to her, when she was contacted by various film crews to create puzzles used in sets. She thus has her name in the credits of the First name with Patrick Bruel and Valérie Benguigui, film in which appears a puzzle of 9000 pieces that she made.

Sophie de Goncourt: a life in pieces (of a puzzle)