Monday, February 09, 2009


(From probably about two years ago…)

One of Rees' friends gave him a handheld Tetris game for his birthday. I have co-opted it and am a bit addicted. Again (after a serious addiction in the '80s). I don't know what it is I love about the game but there is something so elegant about the five kinds of shapes that are made of four squares and trying to fit them together in the most efficient way. Efficiency, I love it! (See post Open, press, scoop, stir for more on this topic.) Or maybe it is addicting because the way the game is set up: you go along fine for a long time and then at the end usually everything goes haywire all of a sudden, so of course you have to try again. I don't know what the best strategy is, but I do have some thoughts about the game I'd like to share. Actually, I have specific feelings about each piece and specific purposes for each one. This is just a tad too nerdly to share face to face, but that is why this blog is so freeing.

The line
This has just got to be everybody’s favorite piece. Made of four squares in a line, there is never a time when you can't fit it anywhere. It will almost always be used vertically to fill in a hole, but I see it as a good sign when I can use it horizontally and I’m not desperate to use it to fill a hole. In fact, I try not to have too many deep holes to fill while waiting for those all-too-rare lines. Prevention is better than cure. Avoid the deep pits. Opportunities are made this way. If you depend on the line, you will be forsaken. But if you do fill a pit with one, it is the only shape that can get you four lines in one fell swoop. That sure feels good.

In games where you try to complete as many lines as possible in two minutes, it is definitely a waste to use the line vertically. In these games, I strive to keep things low and horizontal.

The T
To me, this is the next most friendly shape. It is bilaterally symmetrical and has one friendly square coming off of three sides. The final side is nice and flat and three squares wide. You can almost always find a nice place to slot in your T. If you don't have any steps, then you likely have nice flat space where three in a row will fit nicely. Symmetry, simple steps, a nice broad flat side, these are good qualities in a shape.

The Z's
The Z's can be a really friendly shape. Their good quality is that they also have just one square jutting out so usually there is an easy fit. But there are two bad qualities to the Z's. First, they are not symmetrical, so there are two different Z's. Because there are two, it is sometimes difficult to determine that a Z will fit and you don't always get the Z you need. The second difficult aspect of Z's is that they have no flat side. If you don't have any steps to sit them on, then you are forced to leave a gap. This is not usually a big crisis, but it can be frustrating.

I have found a really good use for Z's, though, and that is in helping to fill in the deep holes. I used to try to wait for a line, or barring that, use the long side of an L, but it turns out that Z's are even better. If you use an L to fill in a deep hole, its cap will almost always be left on top, blocking the gaps underneath. But, if the rest of your game is “tight” (no gaps), and you can put a Z into a deep hole, only the bottom half needs to disappear to keep the gaps below exposed. If you do this, your hole gets shorter, doesn’t get capped, and stays open so it can still be filled or “Z-ed” down to oblivion.

The L
The L I find slightly annoying. Like the Z’s, there are two different versions, which can be confusing and frustrating. Also, it has this long tail that can be great for filling in shallow holes, but can also really get in the way. Still, it does have a nice, short, flat side that’s two square wide, and a longer flat side three squares wide. These can be used to bridge gaps to complete a line, especially if the nose/tail does not get in the way and block gaps underneath. Also, the little nose is a nice one step that can often fit into spaces on flat surfaces. But when I have trouble is when the L's just keep coming. It can be hard to find place after place for an L. It has its purpose, but is best in small quantities. Not as friendly as the line, the T, or even the Z’s.

The box
The box is a tight little bundle of four squares, completely symmetrical all around. It is easy to comprehend and easy to place, if you have a place for it, that is. When you do have a double space, it is a great way to fill it in quickly and compactly, but if you don't have a double space, only steps, it can be trouble. It can also be a real problem when one box comes quickly after another. The temptation then is to build the dreaded tower. So, it is good to keep a double space ready at all times for the box. You will be glad you did and you will be able to quickly fill it in when the box arrives.

So here are some of my key strategies:

1) Don't create deep holes. Two squares is plenty deep.

2) If you do get a deep hole, try to fill it in with a shape that will disappear immediately, even if it doesn't completely fill the hole. This beats waiting for a line.

3) Leave a double-wide space whenever possible. This keeps your options open.

4) Don't build towers. This limits your options.

5) Don't panic.

While I prefer to have a “tight” pattern with few holes, I am currently investigating ways to use pieces to complete lines even when they leave a gap. It is often a better investment to have the piece disappear in a completed line and be rid of it than to fit it in somewhere that has no gaps but leaves a tower or a hole. I am trying to get out of my compulsion to “fit.”

If you found this readable (and perhaps even interesting) and have thoughts/strategies of your own to share, let me know, I am all ears! What is your favorite Tetris piece? What is your best Tetris strategy???? Together, we are stronger...

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