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YouTube / Nathan Pryor

11 Bizarre Ways Tetris Has Been Played

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YouTube / Nathan Pryor

Tetris has cost me many hours. And I wasn't playing it on a pumpkin! Here's a roundup of the weirdest ways we've seen Tetris played—share yours in the comments.

1. On a Business Card

This is the Arduboy, a tiny prototype computer that's the size of a business card. Although the buttons and screen are tiny, that's definitely real Tetris. Complete with sound!

2. On a Skyscraper in Philadelphia

If tiny Tetris isn't your thing, how about gigantic Tetris?

3. On a Pumpkin

Built for Halloween 2012, Pumpktris is a full version of Tetris built into a Jack-o-Lantern. It's playable using the pumpkin's stem as a handle. And you can build your own (warning: extremely complicated).

4. Using People as Tetrominoes

Artist Guillaume Reymond has "performed" a bunch of video games using people and stop motion. Behold, Human Tetris (complete with "next" box in upper right:

5. Using Gummy Bears

Tetris is only a brief part of this gummy bear stop motion extravaganza made by Sam Q. Kim:

6. Using Waffles

One of Ten Tetris Treats is this DIY waffle version. No video, just a still. Because, let's face it, this game is going to end in a flood of syrup.

Image courtesy of Technabob.

7. Way Too Fast

This is a Tetris "line race," which you can file under "I didn't know humans could do this." What you're seeing here is a person trying to clear 40 lines in the minimum possible time. This is actually happening:

8. At MIT (On Another Building)

MIT is famous for its hacks. Perhaps the biggest is this transformation of the Green Building into a Tetris game. You can read all about this hack from MIT.

9. At Burning Man

At Burning Man, giant 20-foot "versus" matches of Tetris are held. Here's an example, though apparently in 2008 the game required players to climb a tower, and also projected players' images above their stacks. Anyway, here's a video from 2010's Burning Man Tetris:

10. Without Seeing the Stack

In some versions of Tetris: The Grand Master, the stack of tetrominoes at the bottom becomes invisible, forcing the player to memorize the positions of all the placed pieces (!). If you can survive this, you are truly a Tetris (Grand) Master.

11. Upside Down or Sideways

First Person Tetris is a bit funky; you rotate the entire world rather than the piece. Here's the least annoying playthrough video I could find, and you can try it yourself if you like!

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Name the Author Based on the Character
May 23, 2017
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