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HOW TO: Train your Tetris Apprentice

September 23, 2010

I have been engaged in the art of Tetris for over a decade and each day my passion for the game grows and grows. When I was younger there was an obsession with becoming a  “Tetris Master” a title that lights up on the screen once one has accumulated a score of 30,000 or higher. I practiced relentlessly and in time finally acquired the hard-fought-after title. And yet, with all my achievements, my high score, my techniques, my blistered thumbs, I had no one to share my success with. Until one day I met young woman (at the time my roommate) who had the potential of being a Tetris Master herself. I knew that she would be my apprentice.

  1. Familiarize apprentice with the basics

There is no use bombarding your apprentice with fancy moves. Highlight the role and unique quality of each block:

S block and Z block

Twins of versatility, designed to fill in short-term gaps in a pattern. Learn each shape individiually as it is easy to confuse the two

Master “T” block

Almost always a useful piece, with each rotation it is as if it transforms into a new block. So amazing.

Rock block

A stubborn yet powerful piece, if used correctly can fill largers gaps but it is limited to one shape and is the least versatile.

L block and J block

Cunning, fanciful, these blocks are often used in the position presented but if rotated on its side(s), it can open a world of possibilities. Remember, remaining horizontal is the key to avoiding the top.

Behold, the Line block

The only way one can achieve a Tetris is to utilize this pieces once a 4-block high structure is established without gaps. As a master you must use your own discretion as to how much emphasis to place on one single piece. It is easy to forget the greatness of the other 6 pieces.

2. Observe and ascribe a playing style to your apprentice

It is likely that you were a self-taught Tetris Master, having to find out the hard way what your playing style is. Before demanding your pupil to mimic your own techniques, identify a specific strategy that (s)he may already possess. Your apprentice may be a skillful builder, perfecting the art of stacking blocks in preparation for the line pieces. Or perhaps your apprentice is a cascading genius, a proactive player who is aware that the one right move may lead to a sequencing of lines to come. You may even have a show-boat risk-taker, making dangerous decisions only to display fast-pace moves that clear lines one-by-one. Whatever style your apprentice displays, make it known to him or her and give them space to perfect it. This will be their specialty, their signature move that will lay the foundation of his/her Tetris mastery.

3. Distill Tetris playing into your apprentice’s everyday life.

It is a given that you will push your apprentice to perform his/her best in front of the screen, however if you are to make your student truly great, (s)he must eat, sleep and breath Tetris. On top of a rigorous schedule of Tetris play-time (the intensity of the training is entirely up to you but 3 times a day is a good start), extend Tetris philosophy to things like packing groceries in a bag, stacking dishes in a dishwasher, maximizing space in a suitcase. It is up to you as the sensei to enlighten the student that Tetris it all around us.

4. The Test

Administering an appropriate Tetris test is the single most challenging thing a Tetris sensei can do. The test not only demands that the student must exhibit all his/her skills to their maximum potential without flaw, but the test intiates Tetris novices into Tetris Masters.

Suggestions for administering a test:

  1. Point Dependent: although not a personal preference, this is the most traditional way of judging the student’s skill level.
  2. Dual: Challenge your apprentice to a one-on-one battle (depending on your platform of Tetris) in the ultimate show-down.
  3. Tetris Nirvana: The screen begins blank and in time, blocks fill up the space. By clearing the lines, space is freed once more. If your pupil clears all the blocks on the screen, even for a moment, nirvana will be achieved and your apprentice will be a worthy Tetris Master.

The Journey does not here for the new Tetris Master. Your apprentice must journey on his/her own path, and surely make mistakes but it is with your wisdom and guidance that they will conquer all obstacles. Perhaps (s)he too will find a young gamer in their midst and bestow the knowledge you shared to their very own apprentice.

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