Next Level of Tetris

So you’ve chosen your destiny by proclaiming that you’re a serious Tetris player. Now what?

It’s time to put your money where your blocks are. It’s time to get good and etch your name on that high score board. But before we jump into the tips and tricks of the Tetris trade, let’s look at some vital statistics of the people behind making Tetris the best game of all time- the loyal fans.

While there is conflicting data and no real way verifying for sure until we form some sort of Tetris-review board attached to the annual Tetris-Journal (I hope that never happens); one of the more fan-trusted high-score trackers is the website Twin Galaxies. The highest ranked Arcade score, an absurd 1, 648, 905 points, belongs to Stephen Krogman, verified in May, 1999. Breathing behind his neck, James P Clewett comes at a close second with a score of 1, 531, 771 points, also made in 1999, but 3 months later in August.

On Game Boy Color, played on Level 9, the highest score belongs to Spencer Glende, with 53, 145 points verified in June, 2008. The highest scores for Game Boy Color are deceptively more impressive when started at Level 0. The first ranked high scorer, Uli Horner garnered a total of 593, 286 points. The second in-line to the Tetris Throne is Rob Cheung, with a close 589, 694 points. The way Twin Galaxies verifies these scores is either through a referee or by videotaping the historic game. There may just be others, quietly dedicated to the Tetris high score board, who are making stellar scores. But who they are and how many points they made, we’ll never really know.

The question is, how do YOU become one of these hidden gems of Tetris devotees? If you’re relatively new, and don’t want to get better through your own trial and error, here are some useful tips:

Start at a HIGH SPEED. No I don’t mean jumping to Level 8 on your first game. (Can we say ‘Suueeiiicide’?) At Level 0, the bricks at literally crawling their way down. You can go and wash a load of laundry, fix yourself a bowl of cereal, and pick your nose clean while waiting for it to reach base. But you don’t want to do that, do you? So just liberally use the drop key. On a PC, this is the space bar. On the handheld games, this is the Down button. Making the bricks fall faster on your own terms prepares you for when the level increases and the tetraminoes fall faster by default. You’ll barely feel yourself whizzing through the subsequent levels. Before you know it, you’ll reach Level 9 where the bricks fall as if your thumb was stuck on that space bar. And your score will be pretty impressive as well.

Avoid sticking out. We all appreciate an eccentric once in a while, but the objective of Tetris is to wipe out lines. And the only way you do that, is when you blocks fall in line. Try to arrange your tetraminoes so that they always complement each other so that there are no blocks awkwardly sticking out of a line. For example two L pieces fitted together can make a nice cuboid. If you had 3 more of those arranged on the base- you can get rid of 2 lines AND clear the Tetris glass empty. Doing this bumps up your points like crazy. It alos keeps your glass as low as possible and prevents that sudden pile-up at the top once the alacrity of falling pieces increase.

Lay low. Many people play Tetris and focus only on vanishing lines. They forget the reason you get rid of the lines is because you don’t want to reach the top of the glass. So minimize arranging pieces in their upright or vertical position. Think in term of physics. The most stable structures are the one with reduced center of gravity. In simple English- maneuver your pieces to lay low.

Get 4 birds, not just 2, with one stone. The best Tetris piece is also the one that can destroy the game. The I piece. If you can arrange your pieces to make 4 clean lines- except that one gap made specifically for an I piece- then you’ll be generously awarded if lady-luck tosses you an I at the right time.

Think ahead. Thankfully, you don’t need to be clairvoyant to do this. Most Tetris versions provide a preview of the upcoming piece. Make sure you give a glance at this blessed box so you can strategize properly. Always keep in mind that you want to avoid gaps and stick-outs, and that you want to eliminate 4 lines simultaneously. The preview box gives you a heads up, and your chances of achieving the above increases greatly.

Damage control. To err is human. Sometimes you can miss a shot right under your nose. I’ve once sent an I piece down at breakneck speed, only to land it on top of another I piece while aiming for the gap beside it. Sometimes it’s vision impairment, sometimes it’s your fingers having a life of their own. It’s never your fault, so don’t worry about it. Worry about fixing this problem- ASAP. If there’s a sticking piece or a gap between lines, strategize around getting rid of them first. They will only be more of a nuisance as the game progresses. Then again, serendipity can always happen. A 4-block vertical gap can suddenly be uncovered just before an I piece drops from heaven. It’s a cause to grin and cry Eureka! But as most fortunate accidents go- don’t count on it too much.

And there you have it: some general and basic tips for surviving Tetris, at least to Level 9. Other than that, keep your cool, get into the rhythm, and have fun. Don’t knock yourself up too hard if you do something dumb like put an O where you couldn’t perfectly fitted an S or a T. Chances are, it was your possessed thumb that did it.

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