11 Things You Didn't Know About Tetris
June marks the 30th anniversary of Tetris, one of the most iconic and, let's face it, addictive video games of all time. Since launching in 1984, it’s gone on to shape the mobile gaming world and became instrumental in the Nintendo Game Boy’s runaway success—it’s sold roughly 143 million copies worldwide. To celebrate, we went full-gamer nerd and dug up a few juicy bits of history you may not have known about the world’s favorite falling block bonanza. Eleven of them, actually. Enjoy.
1. The iconic theme song is an 19th-Century Russian folk song.
It’s called “Korobeiniki,” and tells of a meeting between a peddler and a girl who haggled over the price of goods. It’s a metaphor for courtship.
2. Andrew Lloyd Weber even turned it into an epic dance track
Working with record producer Nigel Wright under the pseudonym Dr. Spin, their eurodance Tetris themed track hit No. 6 on the UK charts in ‘92. That’s right, the man behind Cats and Phantom of the Opera also brought the house down with the Tetris theme. Treat yourself to the megamix.
3. The Tetris Effect is a real thing. And it’s kind of a big deal.
It occurs when people play for such an extended period of time that they begin to pattern thoughts, mental images, and dreams in such a way that brings them to imagine how real world shapes can fit together. (E.g., items on a supermarket shelf or buildings on a street.) It’s been the focus of renowned psychiatrists, and has even been studied as a model to rewire the brain to think more positively.
4. Despite its popularity, its creator barely made any money early on.
Russian programmer Alexey Pajitnov was working for the Academy of Science Computer Center in Moscow when he created the game. Thus when it took off—think Game Boy by Nintendo in ‘89—all profits went directly to the Kremlin. Pajitnov only began receiving royalties in ‘96 after founding “The Tetris Company” and taking over licensing responsibilities.
5. It's named after Pajitnov’s favorite sport.
It’s a portmanteau of “tetraminoes” (geometric shapes comprised of four square blocks), and tennis.
6. The records for the smallest and largest games ever played are awesome.
The smallest game occurred under an electron microscope, while the largest took place on a Philadeliphia skyscraper.
7. The original game logo was created by a legendary album cover artist.
His name is Roger Dean and he’s designed album art for a slew of bands, including YES and Asia. He also designed the “retreat pod chair,” which was featured in A Clockwork Orange, and he sued James Cameron for $50 million in 2013 for ripping off his imagery in the ‘09 film, Avatar. (The lawsuit is still pending.)
8. It’s been released on over 30 platforms.
Many of its earliest iterations are increasingly rare. A copy of of Sega Mega Drive version, signed by Pajitnov, was put up for sale in 2011 for $1 million.
9. Want to lose weight? Play a game.
According to the journal Appetite, food (and even drug) cravings can be lessened by playing the game. They attribute it to the fast-moving pace of the game, which distracts the part of the brain that produces imagery of the thing you crave. At some point, though, the whole sedentary lifestyle thing caused by constant video game playing will surely mess you up. So, stand up and play!
10. Frustratingly, you can’t ever win the game.
At least in its original NES version. The top possible score is 999,999 points—but even then there’s no such thing as defeating the game.
11. It’s considered high art, by some.
In 2013, the MoMA in New York acquired an original 1984 copy of the game for its collection.
BONUS: A Tetris TV commercial, circa 1989:
Joe McGauley is a senior editor at Supercompressor. He spent most road trips as a kid becoming a Game Boy Tetris expert.