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An Interview with the Tetris Grand Champion by Kayode D. '27

Meet Fractal161, an MIT Student who's the second person ever to beat Tetris.

I Love Tetris. 

I think it was the first videogame I ever played at the age of 3, and I thought the goal was to stack up the tallest tower. Ever since then, I have been obsessed. In high school, it was my go-to game to avoid doing work, and I go pretty good at the version. There is a thing called the Tetris Effect, where you see tetris squares in everyday life after playing the game for a while. I remember I had trouble sleeping in high school because I was always seeing the tetris pieces in my mind. But now it’s gone and I love tetris! 

A movie (“Tetris”) also came out last year about the making of tetris and it’s so great. It’s about the insane story of how Tetris was made, and the Creator Alexey Pajitnov’s journey with Henk Rogers to get the game out of Soviet Russia. One of the posters for this movie called it “The game you couldn’t put down. The story you couldn’t make up.” Go watch it on Apple TV after this blog! It’s my second favorite movie from last year. 

Now that I’m at MIT, I play tetris almost daily. In the beginning it was fun, then it was an obsession, then it was a challenge. One of the GRAs in Simmons has her tetris score posted on her door, and it is my goal to beat it. Recently, though, I’ve gotten into watching Tetris live streams. Last December, a tetris player by the name of Blue Scuti became the first person in human history to beat tetris. It’s a crazy interesting story, and you can hear about it from people more qualified than me here.

After watching a video on the topic, Youtube started recommending a live streamer to me named Fractal161. Little did I know, Fractal 161 was a current MIT student, AND the current NES Tetris World Champion! I began watching his streams when I saw them, and on Jan 3, 2024, I witnessed another historic moment: Fractal beat Tetris. Here’s the video: 

[Game Crash at 39:40]

After popping off in the Admissions group chat to spread the news, Ceri suggested I interview Fractal for the blogs. So I did just that! 

I know that MIT News has already done 2 amazing interviews with Fractal about becoming champion and the game crash, (and if you want more info go read those!), but hopefully these questions give you a different perspective and a little more info on the Tetris scene at MIT. 

I give you my interview with Justin Y. ’25, aka Fractal161!


When did you start playing Tetris? 

It’s a bit of a multilayered answer because there are actually a lot of different versions of Tetris.
My earliest memory of watching Tetris was to see my dad play it. At the time I thought that he was the greatest player alive. My earliest memory of playing it was in the waiting area for the dentist that I used to go to, I would’ve been like 7 or 8 back then. But then we get to classic Tetris which is the specific version of the game that I play the most, and that I played in 2018. And the reason I did so is because I had a friend. I had been watching it for a couple of years, and I had a friend who started playing by himself, and he would send me pictures and say like “Oh, I reached level 22 for the first time, I hit 500k,” And I was like “huh, I want to beat him.” So then I started playing and I played for months and I could never get anywhere close to his scores. He eventually quit the game but at that time I just wanted to keep playing because I genuinely liked it and that feeling never went away. 

[Kayode rambles about how he used to think the goal of Tetris was to reach the top of the screen. Then I talk about the RA with a Tetris score on door 773,000 (that’s my goal.) Then I tried to flex my current score of 477,000.]

What do you think of my high score of 477,00001 since the interview, my high score is up to 611,986 on Pretty good, eh?

I have seen videos of the recent records on this version and it’s like 3.6 million. [Kayode gets flabbergasted]. Which is incredible because what’s happening is that they are just setting up for perfect clears every single time and they have these very specific things because the scoring system is unique. [Kayode doesn’t know how to get perfect clears.] There’s setups, there’s a lot of practice, and they also have these things called T-spin loops where–have you heard of T-spins before? They have these patterns that they do over and over and over again. It’s just that they get the same amount of points for a Tetris every time–I’m digressing.


Back on topic, what does it mean to crash Tetris?

Tetris is marketed as the game that doesn’t have an end. But actually most games of Tetris that are released have an end in one form or another. For example,, like we were talking about, has an end at level 30. If you clear it then you have beaten the game. [Does the game really just end at level 30?] Yeah, there’s this cheap “yay!” sound effect and that’s your score. If you look up this thing called Tetris the Grandmaster, that game ends when you hit 999 levels, where that game has a weird definition of a level. But classic Tetris, the one that I play, was programmed to go on forever, as far as the game allowed. However, it’s kind of an old game and it was not really optimized for the current level of gameplay that we can go for and one of the things that is not optimized is the scoring system. 

So in classic Tetris, the way that the scoring works is you take the current level, you add 1, and then you multiply by the value of a line clear. For a single that’s 40 points, for a Tetris– four lines at once– that’s 1200 points. The issue is that the game chooses to compute the score with level times score value using repeated addition, and this was pretty fast for small numbers, but when you get to the higher and higher hundreds, it begins to take more and more time, and eventually the game tries to fit more calculation then is physically possible into a single frame. And this causes some weird desyncs, and there’s specific conditions that can trigger, or cause the game to like– you know how there’s like RAM Memory and code memory? It jumps from code memory into the Random Access Memory. And that’s just like garbage. So there’s no telling what happens when you get there but usually the game just freezes. 

[We take a minute to eat at this point]


How many people have done the game crash at this point? 

3 people. The first was, of course, Blue Scuti. I was a week, maybe 2 weeks afterwards. Then P1xelAndy was less than a day after I got mine, I think. 


So now that the game has been beaten, what does the future of Tetris look like? 

For Classic Tetris, if you’re thinking just in terms of natural progression with this achievement in particular, you can think of this as the sort of Any% completion of the run, which is like beating Tetris with any means possible. There’s also this notion of the 100% completion. Which means you go through every single possible level. There are 256 of them in total, because the game can only fit 256 levels–it stores levels in a single byte, so there are 256 values. So in order to get that, you need to make sure that you don’t crash the game. So there is this entire strategy in theory to avoiding the game crash: to just invert every single setup that we have to attempt to trigger the game crash. 

[Kayode stumbles over his words looking for the next question.]

I can elaborate– For example, I got my game crash by clearing a single at 1489 lines in. So if I cleared a double or a triple, I would not have crashed and I would have had to keep playing, and that’s actually what Blue Scuti did. He cleared the triple at that line count so he kept playing and that’s why he crashed the game later than I did. 


So going forwards, it’s just going to be about trying to circumnavigate all of the crashes?

Right, for this type of gameplay. But it’s honestly, I think, the least interesting way that you could play classic Tetris, to be honest. Because it is a game that is defined by taking risks. And this is the version of gameplay where you are encouraged to take as few risks as possible. Which I think is just not as great of a game. So what is the version where you take as many risks as possible? I think that is where you go and try to get those high Tetrises. 

I think there are some people who are trying to go for it. This is off topic, but there is a version of the game that sort of just patches out the crash and offers a bunch of other training features that people are playing on. And I think some people might go for level 255 on that, which is different than what people would expect. So there’s kind of a split: do we go forward with the original game or do we do what makes sense? 


Congratulations on your game crash! I guess we’ll pivot to talk about the tournament you held recently at MIT, The Boston T-Parity. How did this come about?

The story for how this started was that there were a couple of friends that I knew online that decided that they wanted to come to Boston for a week and visit and just hang out for a while. And we talked about things that we could do in Boston, to hang out and play tetris, and then eventually we kept throwing out bigger and bigger ideas. Then one of them was like, “Why don’t we host our own tournament?” and I was like, “Huh, I’m a student here, I should be able to have access to get a classroom, then all we need is equipment.” At the time I did not know the full significance of what that equipment was. And then we just went with it. That was about 4 months ago, I think, so I’ve been sort of gradually planning it and it really ramped up in the last week. 


How many people were in the tournament, and were they just your friends, or did members of the MIT community jump in? 

Yeah, pretty much. The thing about the classic Tetris community is that it’s very small and pretty tight knit. So as far as people who would play in the tournament, I knew just about everyone who was coming in. And I’d say about 18-20 people actually qualified, and there were 12 people who would play in the main bracket. I think the part that I didn’t expect was the fans. People that had no interest in playing and just came to watch. There were a lot more of those than I kind of expected and I didn’t even plan for that. I just envisioned it as a  place for us to meet up and hang out for a bit with Tetris on the side. And I think it ended up being a good mix of both. 

View of Tournament, held in a lecture hall in the Stata Building. Good turnup!

View of Tournament, held in a lecture hall in the Stata Building. Good turnup!

Kayode – “Yeah definitely. I was one of the fans in the crowd that stopped by and I saw a lot of people hanging out in there. It was less about who won the tournament and more about hanging out.” 

Yeah, exactly! That’s what I was going for and I think that I achieved that. 


I noticed during the Tournament that you all weren’t just starting at level one and playing to the end. How was the tournament Structured? 

I wanted to try and be a bit experimental with the tournament format itself, just for the fun of it. And one of those things was just like, these are a bunch of rulesets that we have tried out over the years, and some that we haven’t tried out. Let’s put them all together and have the players choose which one they play for every single game. So you’ll have things like instead of starting on level 18 (which is the competition standard), we start on level 19 and get to the end really fast. And what we do at the end is also different. We had to institute an artificial end in gameplay because the idea of having matches that last 30-40 minutes per game is not appealing to tournament organizers, and honestly not appealing to players either. What happens now is that the pieces fall twice as fast as the fastest level, and it’s called double kill screen, and it’s pretty effective because there’s just so much less margin of error, you have to be perfect. And that’s not something that’s required in anything else, so it works pretty well as an end. But there are other ways, like you can make the pieces invisible, you can have the floor continuously rise and push you to the top. One of the ones that I particularly like that we included was no rotations. So you can’t rotate the pieces anymore. So we decided to combine all of these into one big tournament and let players pick which one they wanted to have. It was pretty chaotic, lot’s of fun. 


Who did end up winning the tournament? 

A guy named Sodium Overdose. He beat me in the semifinals. I’ve known him for years too, so. 


Wait, Is it Fractal One-Six-One or One-Sixty-One?

Whatever you want. They’re just numbers. Quick question, do you know what the 161 references? [No, I do not] It is the Golden Ratio, It’s the first three digits. I just kind of picked something. I made the username in 2014, so I would have been…12? 

[We proceeded to be shocked that 2010 was 14 years ago.]


What’s the future for Fractal161?

Future for me–let’s stop talking about the past. I want to keep playing Tetris. I’ve had a lot of success with streaming recently, so I would like to put more effort into that, or making and uploading videos. Tournament wise–I would like to keep winning. This year the world championships is going to be in June and it is going to be in California. The first time in about a decade itself that it is changing locations. It’s usually held at the Portland Gaming Expo in Portland, Oregon. Other than that, I think with gameplay achievements, I could go for level 255 if people really want it, but I’m not going to be focusing on that. I want to focus on shorter games where I’m trying to get much more Tetrises, and maybe try out more categories that I haven’t put as much time into. I think invisible pieces is maybe an obvious one. (Invisible Pieces: When the pieces hit the ground the disappear and you have to use your memory to know where they are. I’ve never been able to wrap my head around it.)


To wrap up, what are you doing next? 

Play more, try to do stuff, CTWC in June, I don’t know. I’ll just figure it out. I don’t have any definitive plans. Ultimately I want to be playing for fun, more than anything else. If the game is not fun then I will stop playing, and then if it becomes fun again I will start playing it again.(Kayode: You’ve also hit the pretty peak achievement of being the best in the world) I have, but I could do it again. If I don’t defend my title this year then I will be the shortest lived CTWC Champion because it’s usually in October, so instead of getting a whole year, I only get 9 months. There’s a bit of incentive there, but also so many strong players. 

You can Watch Fractal161 stream live on YouTube and Twitch here (They’re pretty fun streams!!)


  1. since the interview, my high score is up to 611,986 back to text