My mad Tetris summer

There is a sketch on the ever-excellent Mitchell & Webb Sound in which a man enters limbo and two angels take stock of his life. The total accumulation of his life’s work comes down to, as they say “372.651 out of a possible 4,804,560”. Slightly confused he is then informed that that is his score on Solitaire. He spent so much of his short life playing that it must have been his life’s work. “At first we thought you may get some religious ecstasy from the animation at the end, where all the cards fly off the screen, but then we found you usually skipped that part.”
I thank God and all His Angels in Heaven I am not religious because I fear similar rebukes in the afterlife. My particular vice would be Tetris. I shudder to think how much accumulated time I have wasted in my life on that digital drug.

My addiction commenced with the PC version of the Spectrum Holobyte game and reached its peak with the original Gameboy version. It caused not only “Tetris Dreams”, tossing and turning in bed as falling blocks littered my dreamscapes, but also all manner of circulatory problems as I’d take my Gameboy to the toilet and couldn’t stop until I cleared game B on level 9, regardless of what natural processes had brought me there hours previously. These days I fill my wasted hours, on trains, in front of brand shops, lunch times, playing G-mode’s Tetris Red on my mobile phone.

I have spent a small packet on trying various mobile games but they generally suck eggs. Tetris, however, is as perfect on the device as it was on the Gameboy and the single-thumb control works a treat, even with my sausage fingers. G-Mode’s version, one I spot regularly on other people’s phones too, does the job very well, offering two play modes and a local-only ranking table. It was in the hot mad month of August 2007 that I suddenly noticed the little timer on the side of the screen too, where the game kept tally of how long I had been playing that particular game. As I often just played a few minutes here and there and the game could be suspended whenever it was necessary, I often had no idea how long a game would take. When I first noticed it, the display read “3.15.00”, three hours and fifteen minutes. The addict in me was fired up immediately. Here is the report of my marathon session, one game which lasted the larger part of the month.

T 0
I start the game with no expectation. The first Tetris block, the straight row of 4 blocks, that appears is switched to my “hold box”.

T 3.00.00
A momentary lapse causes a Swiss-cheese field that goes right to the top. There is only one clear line between the upper-most row and the top of the field. Blocks that rotate still appear half off-screen. Lady Luck favours me and throws a few lucky pieces my way. Within minutes the field is all the way down again, ready to restart on the Tetrisses. That was too close!

T 5.50.00
I have broken my personal best time. A previous game ended around this time when I foolishly and halfheartedly continued a game whilst not in the mood. The field was fairly clear but I killed it within minutes. I pay extra attention so as not to crumble again this time, which I don’t.

T 6.30.00
I am in a Commuter Altercation, an old salaryman wants a fight with me, but I ignore him. He pushes me needlessly and aggressively tries to shove his face in mine. Again, I ignore him, though the idea of head butting him is both enticing and possible. He gets off the train and gives me a marked look. Despite my self-control my veins are brimful of adrenaline, so close was I to physical violence towards this homunculus. I foolishly try to play some of the game but the shaking in my legs and hands cause me to make some disastrous choices. The field is high and full of holes.

T 7.00.00
Nothing happens. I am in a kind of spiritual Zen state of play and everything goes smoothly. The field stays low, all lines cleared are Tetrisses.

T 7.30.00
I notice with a glance that I have cleared 9000 lines. I mentally set a new goal of reaching, at least, 10,000 lines, which should be possible during the 9th hour.
T 8.00.00
The first half of the ninth hour is pure frustration. The commute during which it took place wasn’t bad at all, so maybe I was just tired after a long day’s work, or maybe I was just unlucky. A half-filled field full of holes just refused to be cleaned up. Clearing a single line here, or a double line there was immediately countered with an implacable S block or a badly managed T block. By the end of the session the field is back to the bottom and I can start aiming at Tetrisses again, but very little progress was made. A real uphill struggle.

T 9.00.00
I notice that some time in the last half hour orso I seem to have passed the 10,000 lines cleared goal I had set myself. What next? Judging by the space in the score box there is room for another 5 or 6 digits, easily. I may be getting ahead of myself a little.

T10.00.00
Paranoia sets in. Though recently it’s been fine, my phone has had the tendency to reset itself periodically for no reason. This would mean a loss of the suspended game and no way to prove my lengthy game. What if that happens now? All this hard and boring work gone. I make a mental note to at least make doubly sure I recharge the phone every day, as a flat battery has the same effect.

T10.30.00
The commute isn’t so bad. There is plenty of space but maybe because I’m tired or maybe because I’m unlucky, or possibly even because I’m bored, the field fills up steadily with badly placed blocks, creating a maze of holes. I’m not worried though. During this mammoth session I have built up to the top countless times only to steadily break it back down again. Now, too, I find myself squeezing blocks right at the very top of the field, but the game isn’t providing me with what I need, so I switch to the Tetris block I have in my hold box when suddenly…

T 10.47.52
…GAME OVER… I am stunned. I actually find myself pulling a face! Apparently, and this is something I wasn’t aware of, when you switch a block from the hold box it doesn’t appear from off the top of the screen but on the first row of the field. Before I can slide it sideways and rotate it into a handy gap, before I can do anything really, the block is anchored and blocking the open gap through which new pieces appear. It’s an instant end to the game.

The next milestone would have been 12 hours, then 24 hours, and to be honest, that prospect didn’t entice me at all. I’m done with Tetris for a while now. It holds little mystery to me anymore.

Some lessons learnt:
- The simplified controls mean there is only one rotate button, which rotates clockwise. As such the pit you build for your Tetrisses should be on the right hand side of the screen. It’s much easier to rotate-flip a Tetris block down there, as a slight obstruction on the left hand side and the clockwise rotation would often snap it short of the hole.
- The highest speed of Tetris Red isn’t that fast. You don’t need to panic until you reach the top 6th of the play field.
- Though it makes you feel dirty, there is no shame in clearing 1, 2 or 3 rows on occasion. Once longevity is your goal, keeping a clear field is the most important thing to achieve, so if you have an unlucky run of blocks, don’t be afraid to use them to clear fewer lines at a go for a while.
- The “hold box” is a Godsend. It again feels like a dirty thing to do for any true Tetris fanatic, but I feel the compromised controls can allow for such a break in tradition. Obviously one keeps Tetris blocks there and you swap them out if the field gets up too high and no Tetris blocks are being offered, or an unlucky block threatens to cause gaps. Priority number one after swapping is to swap a new Tetris block in there as soon as is possible.
- The “hold box” is a curse, as it ended my game all too suddenly by releasing the held block on the first row, rather than from off the top of the screen.
- All clears are RARE! During this marathon game I achieved exactly: none. Occasionally I had just one or two blocks in an otherwise empty field, but an all clear remained elusive.
- Tetris Red has infinite spin. I usually park a 2x2 square in its place and keep rotating it so I have some time to check out the score, lines cleared and time, which require a fair amount of squinting from my part.

And there you go, the proudest achievement of my life. Though I am convinced of my own Tetris skills, or is that “skillz” these days, I know this record can easily be broken by anyone with enough patience. For me, though, it’s a personal milestone in my life of Tetris that any future obituary writer may want to take note of. Hemmingway wasn’t entirely complete in his to do list of manhood. I propose “Raise a child, write a book, fight a bull and play a 10 hour game of Tetris”. I’m a quarter way there already!

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