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kottke.org posts about Tetris

Another Tetris World Record Completely Demolished! What Is Going On?!

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 19, 2024

Tetris was created by Alexey Pajitnov 40 years ago. The NES version has been out since 1989. You’d think that people would have “solved” the game long ago. But humans, properly motivated, are relentlessly inventive, and the past few months have seen a flurry of record-setting activity that is remarkable for a 35-year-old game.

It’s only been a little more than a month since a 13-year-old player named Blue Scuti reached the kill screen for the first time in history, a feat only performed previously by an AI. Now it’s been done twice more and the world record for points changed hands three times in three days.

And then just three weeks later, in mid-January, a player named PixelAndy absolutely destroyed the highest score world record. Here’s the engaging story about how he did it, including a surprising family rivalry and a clever strategic innovation:

I’ve written before about how great these video game analysis videos are at communicating how innovation works:

This is a great illustration of innovation in action. There’s a clearly new invention, based on prior effort (standing on the shoulders of giants), that allows for greater capabilities and, though it’s still too early to tell in this case, seems likely to shift power to people who utilize it. And it all takes place inside a small and contained world where we can easily observe the effects.

13-Year-Old Becomes First to Beat NES Tetris

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 03, 2024

13-year-old Blue Scuti is now the best Tetris player in the world after becoming the first human player to beat the NES version of the game by playing until reaching the kill screen. The feat took him 38 minutes (as well as who knows how many thousands of hours of practice) and also resulted in a new high score, new level & lines records, and something called a “19 Score world record”. Skip to the 38:00 mark to watch his last few lines and what happens when he wins.

See also: an AI beating Tetris just over 2 years ago and an explanation of the “rolling” technique that Blue Scuti used to beat the game. (via waxy)

The Greatest Classic Tetris Game of All Time

posted by Jason Kottke   May 22, 2023

In the finals of the Classic Tetris Mega Masters Championship held at the end of last month, two of the top Tetris players in the world played what is probably the greatest 1-vs-1 Classic Tetris game of all time. And then they did it again…

Even if you only have a passing interest in Tetris or video games, this is worth a watch and just as exciting as watching a hard-fought soccer or tennis match.

Fun fact: one of the finalists, Alex T, managed to score zero points in a match at a previous tournament. (via @peterme)

The Accidental Tetris World Champion

posted by Jason Kottke   May 08, 2023

Last month I posted a link to a story about a woman who discovered she was one of the world’s top Candy Crush players.

Since progress was tied to game score rather than PvP results, Rhoden kept getting pop-ups for milestones such as passing the quarterfinals, and then entering the semifinals as she was just casually taking part in her regular Candy Crush routine.

She was overwhelmed, so she texted the other esports athlete in the family: Her son. Xane was the best Meta Knight player in the midwest during the height of his Super Smash Bros. career. She asked him what a $250,000 prize pool was. After he explained that first place got half of the total pool, he asked why. “I’m in the semifinals accidentally,” she wrote.

In that vein, a reader sent me a link to this 2007 Boston Globe piece about a woman who discovers that she’s actually the world’s best Tetris player.

“It’s funny,” I told Flewin. “We have an old Nintendo Game Boy floating around the house, and Tetris is the only game we own. My wife will sometimes dig it out to play on airplanes and long car rides. She’s weirdly good at it. She can get 500 or 600 lines, no problem.”

What Flewin said next I will never forget.

“Oh, my!”

After I hung up the phone, I went to the bedroom and woke my wife, Lori.

“Honey,” I said. “You’re not going to believe this, but I just got off the phone with a guy who’s in charge of video game world records, and he said the world record for Game Boy Tetris is 327 lines, and he wants us to go to New Hampshire this spring so you can try to break the world record live in front of the judges at the world’s largest classic video game tournament.

Spoiler alert: she broke the record. Baker is still 5th on the all-time scoring list but her score was bested just three months later by Harry Hong, the original record holder, who achieved a score six times higher than Baker’s. (thx, euse42)

They’re Making a Tetris Movie. And It’s a Thriller?

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 17, 2023

Well, I was not expecting the next video game to be turned into an edgy drama (an 80s Cold War techno-thriller, no less) to be Tetris, but here we are.

Taron Egerton stars in a new Apple Original Film inspired by the true story of how one man risked his life to outsmart the KGB and turn Tetris into a worldwide sensation.

If you’d have told me that this trailer was a Saturday Night Live sketch from 6 years ago, I would have believed you — and as it is, the release date of March 31 gives me pause.1 But I’ll give it a shot.

  1. I don’t actually think this is an April Fools joke — Apple doesn’t usually go in for such nonsense.

Watch an AI Break Tetris

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 23, 2021

With nearly instant reaction times, superhuman button tapping frequency, and an inability to fatigue, an AI called StackRabbit can play Tetris better than any human player. But how much better? Well, it can play all the way to the end of the game, which…did you know Tetris ended? I didn’t. But before that happens, it plays flawlessly through hundreds of levels while the game itself is throwing up weirdo color schemes and scores from random places in its memory — the game’s creators didn’t imagine anyone or anything would get anywhere close to these levels. Also, I got surprisingly anxious watching this — it was just so fast with so much constant peril! (via waxy)

A Revolutionary NES Tetris Technique Gaining Steam

posted by Jason Kottke   May 03, 2021

The NES version of Tetris has been out in the world for more than 30 years now. Somehow, using the same controllers and human hands that have been in use all this time, a new technique has been invented that’s resulting in scores and maneuvers that no one using The Old Ways could have dreamed of. One YouTube commenter sums it up:

The fact that we are still out here revolutionizing the mere concept of pressing a button on a controller that is almost 40 years old. I love this community.

This is a great illustration of innovation in action. There’s a clearly new invention, based on prior effort (standing on the shoulders of giants), that allows for greater capabilities and, though it’s still too early to tell in this case, seems likely to shift power to people who utilize it. And it all takes place inside a small and contained world where we can easily observe the effects.

See also Jacob Sweet’s piece from the New Yorker a couple of months ago, The Revolution in Classic Tetris, which contains this unbelievable tidbit:

Dana Wilcox, one of the highest-scoring players on the Twin Galaxies leaderboard, discovered that she’d played for twenty years without knowing that the blocks could be spun in either direction.

(via robin sloan)

Delightful Acapella Versions of Familiar Jingles

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 04, 2021

This is a fun discovery, via Laura Olin’s newsletter: a Korean acapella group called Maytree that does impressions of famous cultural jingles and sound effects. In this video, they perform a number of movie intro tunes (20th Century Fox, Paramount, etc.):

Watch until the end…the Netflix one is *kisses fingers*. Here they do the music from Super Mario Bros, including the overworld, underworld, and underwater themes:

Tetris (which gets unexpectedly dramatic):

And finally, a bunch of sounds and jingles from Microsoft Windows:

Softbody Tetris

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 02, 2020

I thought you could use a video of some fuzzy Tetris bricks that automagically ease/ooze into their proper places. That’s it. That’s the post. (via @Remember_Sarah)

Urban Tetris

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 30, 2019

Urban Tetris

Urban Tetris

Urban Tetris

From graphic designer Mariyan Atanasov comes Urban Tetris, in which apartment buildings in Sofia, Bulgaria are turned into a massive game of Tetris. If you’ve played a bunch of Tetris in your life, just looking at these images should trigger the familiar theme song in your head. Next: make this actually playable. (via colossal)

Why Are Humans Suddenly Getting Better at Tetris?

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 08, 2018

Tetris was invented in 1984 by Alexey Pajitnov. It was a hit from the start but became a sensation after it was bundled with Nintendo’s Game Boy. It’s perhaps the most popular video game of all time and was played casually (and not so casually) by hundreds of millions of people around the world. You’d think with all those people playing, the limits of the game were fully probed and the highest scores reached, right? Not quite…

As John Green explains in this video, a few people are actually getting much better at the NES version of Tetris than anyone was back in the 90s. One of the reasons for this is that a smaller dedicated group working together can be more effective than a massive group of people working alone on a problem. Today’s top players can not only compare scores (as people did in the pages of Nintendo Power), but they get together for competitions, share techniques, and post videos of their gameplay to Twitch and YouTube for others to mine for tricks.

The two approaches boil down to ants solving problems vs. deliberate practice. The hundreds of millions of players were able to map out seemingly all corners of the game, but only up to a point. It took a smaller group engaging in a collective deliberate practice to push beyond the mass effort.

Green’s discussion also reminded me of something Malcolm Gladwell said in his conversation with Tyler Cowen:

The most interesting thing happening, to me, in distance running right now is the rise of Japan as a distance-running power. And what’s interesting about Japan is that Japan does not have any one runner, particularly in marathons, does not have any one marathoner who is in the top 10 in the world, or even the top 20 in the world, but they have an enormous number of people who are in the top 100. So, your notion of whether Japan is a distance-running power depends on how you choose to define distance-running power.

We have one definition that we use, where we say we recognize a country as being very good at distance running if they have lots and lots of people in the top 10, but that strikes me as being incredibly arbitrary and it goes to my point about we’re not encouraging mediocrity. Why? All that says is… OK, Kenya’s got 9 of the top 10 of the fastest marathoners right now — why is that better than having 300 of the top 1,000? It’s purely arbitrary that we choose to define greatest as just the country that most densely occupies the 99th percentile. Why can’t we define it as the country that most densely occupies the 75th through 100th percentiles?

Tetris today is like Kenya in distance running…all the best-ever players are active right now. With Tetris in the 90s, you had a much broader group of people who were really good at the game but none of whom would crack the all-time top 20 (or perhaps even top 100).

Maybe you don’t give a flying flip about excellence in Tetris or distance running, but how about education? Should we direct the resources of our educational system to ensure that most people get a pretty good education or that fewer get an excellent education? Having a few super-educated people might result in more significant discoveries in science and achievements in literature or music (that everyone can then take advantage of) but having a broader base of educated citizens would result in better decisions being made in untold numbers of everyday situations. Which of those two situations is better? Which is more just? I’d suggest the answer maybe isn’t that obvious…

An appreciation of the emergent beauty of Tetris

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 07, 2018

Martin Hollis has fallen in love with Tetris. In this series of tweets, he explains that “Tetris is good because of the emergent things that arise from simple rules”.

In the beginning, you gather heuristics like ‘try to keep the surface flat and without overhangs, and without holes’. These rules of thumbs are emergent.

As you learn more, you realize that every one of your heuristics is wrong, and in the right circumstances a hole can be built and destroyed in two moves, or in more, or in less, to your considerable advantage.

Ultimately, everything becomes dynamic, and the rules of best play turn out to be baroque. The complexity seems to me to be large compared to any other video game.

Hollis also rightly notes that like other great games, sports, and human endeavors, Tetris boils down to a battle with the self, which I’ve previously stated, perhaps absurdly, is “the true struggle in life”.

Tetris produces narrative, or narrative emerges from the shape and flow of the surface, your hopes and needs, and the wax and wane of your doom.

You come to believe you are in control of your fate and that as the board stacks up, that is a monument to your mistakes.

A reversal feels like a release from a crushing end, or an angel’s redemption. You snatch a victory from death. You put a twist in your story.

Tetris is about you. That is its simple power. (via ben pieratt)

General Tetris

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 12, 2016

Tetris General

This is a recent favorite of mine by Christoph Niemann, part of a series of six animations done for MoMA.

Tater Tetris

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 04, 2014

I went to the newish Barcade in Chelsea last night to get some dinner and play Star Wars (and Ms. Pac-Man and Tetris and Donkey Kong) and discovered their tater tots are shaped like Tetris pieces:

Tetris Tater Tots

ИOM ИOM ИOM. You can get these tots from a company called US Foods; they call them Puzzle Potatoes. Their sell sheet for the product is a wonder of corporate wishful thinking masquerading as marketing.

Here’s a menu item that will encourage kids to play with their food.

Yes! This is exactly what all parents want. Huge parental issue in America right now is that kids don’t play with their food enough.

When baked, these innovative Puzzle Potatoes are a fun and healthier alternative to regular fries…

Tater tots are not a health food. That’s the whole point. Also, aren’t regular fries also healthier when baked?

Puzzle potatoes are new innovative and interactive potatoes for kids.

Imagine the meeting. “Bob, what can we do about these smartphone? Kids just aren’t spending enough time with their potatoes anymore. Instead they’re Facebooking and Flappy Birding. Wait, I know… interactive potatoes!” [Cut to Bob being paraded around the office on his coworkers’ shoulders]

Our proprietary puzzle-piece shapes…

Well, someone else’s proprietary puzzle piece shapes, but why quibble with details?

Features & Benefits… 2D or 3D

I don’t. I can’t. What does that even mean? The sell sheet for these should be super simple: a photo of the tots and this caption in all-caps 120-point type: THEY’RE TATER TOTS SHAPED LIKE TETRIS PIECES! BUY THEM, YOU FOOL! (thx, kathryn)

Ecstasy of Order

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 02, 2013

Ecstasy of Order is a documentary about Tetris and the quest to find the game’s grandmasters.

Tetris. We’ve all played it, rotating the pieces (“tetrominoes”) and dropping them in the perfect place, or despairing as we discover a piece won’t fit. You may have even joked about “mastering” the game during a stint of unemployment, or as a child, before you could afford any other Game Boy cartridges. But what about the people who’ve truly mastered Tetris? Where are the Kasparovs and Fischers, the great champions who’ve dedicated their minds to solving its deepest puzzles?

One man made it his mission to find them. In an effort to legitimize Tetris as a pro sport, Tetris super-fan Robin Mihara summoned the greatest Tetris players from around the country to compete in Los Angeles at the 2010 Classic Tetris World Championship. Among them are the only players known to have reached the unthinkable perfect ‘max-out’ score on classic Nintendo Tetris: Jonas Neubauer and Harry Hong. Add in the top players for most lines, Ben Mullen and Jesse Kelkar, as well as newcomer Dana Wilcox and modern-day Tetris Grandmaster Alex Kerr, and a storm of Tetris greatness is brewing.

The film is also on Hulu (US-only) if you don’t mind commercials.

Tetris: winning an unwinnable game

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 08, 2013

Chris Higgins travels to the Tetris World Championship and profiles a couple of the game’s top competitors. The issue at heart is: how do approach playing and mastering a game that you can’t actually win?

When Steil achieved his current high score of 889,131 points (and 222 lines) in October of 2012, it felt like a loss. Despite being Steil’s best game to date, it represented a failure to reach the perfection of a max out. When he posted the score on Facebook for his Tetris friends to see, he wrote, “Another new high score, but what a choke job at 222 [lines]. Each new high score is a minor success as well as a monumental failure.”

This attitude pervades competitive Tetris, and it highlights the perverse aspect that the best game is still a loss. Faced with this harsh reality, NES Tetris players have devised ways to compete (the Championship), milestones to achieve (max outs and high numbers of lines per game), and ways to measure performance (max outs achieved starting at higher levels are more difficult due to the game’s speed). Fundamentally, however, players compete against themselves and lose every time.

Here’s what getting a max score on Tetris looks like:

(via @VintageZen66)

OSU Marching Band tribute to classic video games

posted by Aaron Cohen   Oct 07, 2012

The halftime show of the OSU vs Nebraska football game featured the OSU Marching Band’s tribute to classic video games. This is a 9 minute video, and I surprised myself by watching the whole thing. Tetris at 1:25 is fantastic, and the running horse at 6:00 EXTRA fantastic.

(via @wilw)

More than you could possibly want to know about Tetris

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 13, 2012

After reading Noah Davis’ piece in The Verge about Tetris, Aaron Cohen collected a bunch of other long articles about Tetris.

Also worth watching is this hour-long BBC documentary on Tetris.

Alexey Pazhitnov, a computer programmer from Moscow, created Tetris in 1985 but as the Soviet Union was Communist and all, the state owned the game and any rights to it. Who procured the rights from whom on the other side of the Iron Curtain became the basis of legal wranglings and lawsuits; the Atari/Nintendo battle over Tetris wasn’t settled until 1993.

And there’s always the kottke.org tag for Tetris.

World’s best Tetris player

posted by Jason Kottke   May 26, 2011

You think you’re good at Tetris? Think again. Hell, you think you’re good at anything? Think again, again! Tetris grandmaster Jin8 shows you how it’s done:

It starts getting insane around the 3:00 mark and then, at 5 minutes in, all the blocks turn invisible and he keeps right on going! It’s like he’s playing blindfold speed chess on the hood of a stock car!! I mean, !!!!!

Tetris Tetris everywhere

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 01, 2010

A selection of photos of objects that look like Tetris pieces.

Tetris Everywhere

(via flickr blog)

First person Tetris

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 15, 2010

Completely trippy version of Tetris where pushing the rotate button ROTATES THE WHOLE WORLD. (thx, ryan)

Tuper Tario Tros

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 30, 2009

Super Mario Bros + Tetris = Tuper Tario Tros. (via waxy)

The Game Boy is 20

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 27, 2009

The Game Boy just turned 20; here are six reasons why it was so successful. Surprisingly, the list is not:

1. Tetris
2. Tetris
3. Tetris
4. Tetris
5. Tetris
6. Tetris

Tetris didn’t start with the Game Boy, of course (Pajitnov created it for the PC in 1985), but the Game Boy made it mainstream. Ultimately, Tetris proved so popular that it quickly drove sales of Nintendo’s handheld console into the millions. Tetris’s grown-up gameplay also attracted adults to Nintendo’s new platform, expanding Game Boy’s potential audience beyond the usual adolescent NES set.

Somewhere, I still have an original Game Boy with a Tetris cart wedged into it.

Game (almost) Neverending

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 25, 2009

Even after two weeks of letting Tetris HD play by itself, the screen is only about 2/3rds full. It’s a fun image to see but the browser chrome is perhaps just as interesting…the Google search for “fuck fuck fuck” and a tab containing the Wikipedia page for “Anal sex” for example. (thx, my main man dj jacob)

Tetris HD

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 10, 2009

Who knew that radically expanding the size of the game board in Tetris makes the game almost completely unplayable, unless the object is to die in the least amount of time possible. Reports, which I have sadly corroborated with my own play, say that it take 15 minutes to complete one line. OCD, anyone? (via waxy)

A history of matching tile games (like

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 16, 2007

A history of matching tile games (like Tetris, Dr. Mario, Bejeweled). Don’t miss the family tree of matching tile games about a fourth of the way down the page (larger version here). I’m no matching tile game scholar, but where the hell is Snood?

Update: Aha, it’s because Snood is a rip-off of Puzzle Bobble. (thx, greg & kevin)

Statetris: “Instead of positioning the typical Tetris

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 17, 2007

Statetris: “Instead of positioning the typical Tetris blocks, you position states/countries at their proper location.” There are versions for the US, Africa, Europe, the UK, and more.

Andrew of Songs To Wear Pants To

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 26, 2007

Andrew of Songs To Wear Pants To makes songs from suggestions you send him. You can even commission a song from him for a special occasion like a birthday or anniversary. Recent tracks include a Tetris rap and a song written for a guy who likes a girl but doesn’t know how to express it (she’s got “beautiful light blue eyes, long brown hair, and great athletic body” which Andrew translates as “I don’t even care about her personality” in the song).

A group of people who are interested

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 12, 2007

A group of people who are interested in preserving video games as culturally and historically important artifacts has chosen their list of the top 10 most important video games of all time: Spacewar!, Star Raiders, Zork, Tetris, SimCity, Super Mario Bros. 3, Civilization I/II, Doom, Warcraft series and Sensible World of Soccer. Sensible World of Soccer?

A review of Nicholas Negroponte’s influential Being

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 31, 2007

A review of Nicholas Negroponte’s influential Being Digital, 12 years after its publication. “Page 204: Today a game like Tetris is fully understandable too quickly. All that changes is the speed. We are likely to see members of a Tetris generation who are much better at packing a station wagon, but not much more.” He wrong about Tetris *and* the future availability of station wagons. (via matt)