Monday, November 20, 2006

Tetris Moments

I had to explain to Helen what I meant by the term "Tetris Moments", so I thought I'd try and define it here as well.

The 1980s computer game Tetris involves the player controlling a stream of falling pieces, each made from a random configuration four 4 regularly-connected squares, so that when they land in a constrained silo of previously-fallen pieces, they pack as densely as possible. When densely packed, so that there are contiguous rows of squares from one wall of the silo to the other, that row vanishes, so that there is more vertical room for falling pieces.

If the player is careless, he will leave rows of squares with gaps in, which will not disappear and he will find the messy pile of incomplete rows growing upwards until he does not have time to rotate new falling pieces. He will quickly see the silo overflow and the game end.

I find Tetris psychologically rewarding because it is a fight against chaos, which rewards best practices, and appeals to my compulsive nature. It garnishes this worthy appeal with the spice of recklessness: specifically, it may be possible to allow rows of squares to build up with missing squares directly above one another, creating a long thin vertical space. When this is exactly four rows tall, and is the only space in those rows, the best possible piece to randomly appear next is one with plugs this gap perfectly. By rotating and positioning so that it then does just that, it makes those four rows all vanish at once, and furthermore, takes itself with them, leaving no detritus whatsoever. It is the single most efficient gambit, and combines the potential-to-actual benefit-redemption of a rugby conversion with an undeniable similarity to sexual penetration.

So what is a Tetris Moment? I think it's when you've been biding your time, laying the groundwork, and just hoping that the right opportunity will come along, and it does, by surprise: a combination of good planning and good luck leading to the best possible outcome.

This weekend seemed full of them. I planned to go to the barber's late so that he wouldn't be busy, and as I walked in the only other customer in the shop was paying and leaving. It wouldn't have been a Tetris Moment if I hadn't deliberately left it late, or the shop had been empty, or I'd had to wait at all. I set up my new compost bin just as Helen was repotting some plants, giving me a source of starter compost and dead shrubs to get going with. Best of all, I finally got round to filling in the missing episodes in my collection of Time Gentlemen Please recordings, by capturing the episode and a half needed from VHS, authoring the DVD volumes I was now able to, and then contemplating the complete set on my shelf.

I've been wandering what other people call Tetris Moments or what I would have before the advent of the game (I think I first encountered it on a Sun workstation in early 1989). It's come to me: Game, set and match.

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