Plugged In

MIT students complete “The Holy Grail of Hacks” by turning building into playable Tetris game

Plugged In

A plan several years in the making finally comes together

By Mike Wehner, Tecca

We should know by now that whenever the bright minds at MIT set their sights on something, it's bound to happen eventually. According to the official MIT hacks gallery, the computer gurus at the institute have long considered turning the campus's Green Building — a 21-story facility which houses the Earth and Planetary Sciences department — into a mammoth game of Tetris to be "The Holy Grail of Hacks." Well, they did it, and yes, it's just as amazing as it sounds.

The building itself was originally built in the early 1960s, and its grid-like window layout has made it the perfect platform for a variety of interesting projects in the past. For example, on the 10th anniversary of the September 11th attacks, the building was outfitted with a litany of LED lights to turn it into an animated American flag waving in the wind.

The following morning, the students tinkered with the lights to create a makeshift Tetris display, but it was too buggy to be played and quickly aborted. Apparently, that failure only served as motivation for the hacking experts, as they spent the next year and a half perfecting the concept. Debuting the official, completed version this month, the crew have clearly perfected the software and added a ton of cool touches.

The game is just as you remember it from your childhood — or perhaps adulthood — complete with a scrolling Tetris logo to start the game and brightly-colored blocks. The player can rotate and speed up the movement of the blocks just like in the original version, and yes, the beloved long, skinny block is still a rare commodity.

The MIT version of this classic puzzler includes a very unique difficulty curve, utilizing the LEDs to alter the colors of the blocks after a player completes each level. As the game progresses, the colors become paler and paler, making it harder to identify each block at first glance. More advanced levels feature color-changing blocks meant to disorient the player, and when the game eventually ends from too many misplaced pieces, the blocks tumble down the side of the structure creating a very cool visual effect.

So now that the goal of Tetris on the Green Building has been bested, what's next for the MIT hacking gurus? We're not entirely sure, but given the school's apparent affinity for retro games, we shouldn't mind seeing a 21-story version of Space Invaders as the next project.

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