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Plugged In

5 things you didn’t know about Tetris

Plugged In

If you've owned pretty much any computing device in the past thirty years or so, you've likely had the opportunity to play Tetris on it.

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The immensely popular puzzler has appeared on just about everything with a screen since its 1984 debut, and while the Game Boy version released just five years later would become the most widely played version, it's been a hit everywhere. Next up? A new board game version, Tetris Link, which arrived in Europe earlier this year and will hopefully hit the U.S. in time for the holidays.

But while you certainly know how to rotate blocks, did you know these five fun facts about the line-clearing classic?

- Its theme song is over a century old.

Doooo, doo doo doooo, doo doo dooooo, di doo doo doooo...on and on it drones, endlessly urging you to twist another shape, fill another hole, and remove just one more line. But while that impossibly catchy Tetris toe-tapper is a chiptune legend, it actually dates back a lot farther than its synthesized bleeps and bloops imply.

The Tetris theme is a remake of "Korobeiniki," a 19th century Russian folk song about the burgeoning love between a peddler and a peasant girl. In the Game Boy version, this was the 'Type A' music (one of several available musical selections) that has since become the game's de facto theme. Its arranger, Hirokazu Tanaka, is something of a video game music legend, having penned the theme songs from other massive hits like Duck Hunt, Metroid, and Super Mario Land.

- Its creator barely made a dime off it.

These days, it takes teams numbering in the hundreds to crank out hit games.

Back in 1984, it took Alexy Pajitnov.

The brilliant Russian programmer created Tetris while working at the Academy of Science Computer Center in Moscow. Almost immediately, a nightmarish licensing struggle between the Soviet government and a number of interested European game publishers ensued, cutting Pajitnov out of the picture. By the time it was released in the U.S. by Nintendo for the Game Boy, the man who actually built the game had earned next to nothing from it while the Kremlin raked in millions from royalties.

Eventually, however, Pajitnov would land in the U.S. himself and co-found The Tetris Company. Formed in 1996, the company now owns the trademark rights to Tetris and routinely goes about shutting down unauthorized clones.

- It's named after its blocks.

Pajitnov might have designed the game, but the famous Tetris blocks have been around for much, much longer.

The etymology of Tetris begins with "polyminoes," geometric shapes made up of smaller square blocks. There are 12 polyminoes, and many of them have been used in puzzle games dating back to the beginning of the 20th century.

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Specifically, Tetris uses "tetraminoes," which are polyminoes comprised of four square blocks. There are five unique tetraminoes, though two of them can be inverted, giving us the seven tetraminoes (line, square, T, L, inverted L, N, and inverted N) used in the game.

As for the game's full name? Legend has it has Pajitnov insisted on combining the 'tetra' prefix in tetramino with 'tennis', his favorite sport. Hence, Tetris.

- It's been played on buildings.

In 1995, a group of dedicated students at the Delft University of Technology in The Netherlands turned the Electrical Engineering Department into what was, at the time, the largest Tetris game ever. Taking up a full 15 floors, it was playable via telnet by anyone in the world.

But even that monstrosity pales next to the current Guinness World Record holder: The British television show 'The Gadget Show', who managed to drop blocks on a 1100 square foot board using 200 massive LED lights back in September of 2010.

- It really does make you see things.

You know a game's good when, even hours after turning it off, you're still playing it in your head. Tetris is notorious for leaping off the screen and seemingly infiltrating our real lives, causing us to see interlocking shapes around every corner.

But don't freak out if you find yourself rotating blocks in your sleep. For sailors wobbling around on land after spending months at sea, it's called 'sea legs'. For gamers, it's called the 'Tetris Effect' -- a legit scientific phenomenon in which habitual tasks begin to express themselves in dreams, memories or other mental images.

While that might sound dangerous, the Tetris Effect has actually been linked to some beneficial side-effects, none more profound than the way it can potentially help those suffering from post-traumatic stress.

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