Celebrating 30 Years of Block-Stacking Bliss With a 29-Story Game of Tetris

Somewhere between the planning and coding of the last month, the serendipitous timing of Frank Lee’s towering game of Tetris was brought to our attention: The skyscraper-sized iteration of the classic game is actually taking place 30 years after Tetris was first coded.

And what better place could there be to spend a 30th birthday than Center City Philadelphia, with throngs of people who grew up playing the game…and a 29-story edificial tribute?

On Friday, April 4, Frank Lee will turn the Cira Centre into a giant game of Tetris.
On Friday, April 4, Frank Lee will turn the Cira Centre into a giant game of Tetris.

Henk Rogers, co-chairman of The Tetris Co., thinks so anyhow. He’s one of the celebrity guest players stepping up to the game controller at Eakins Oval to try their hand at the arcade classic writ large.

Rogers is the man responsible for putting Tetris on Nintendo’s Game Boy platform, which arguably sparked the mobile game wildfire that is angering birds and crushing candy to this day.

For Tetris, the last 30 years have been quite an odyssey to say the least. From the Soviet Academy of Sciences, where creator Alexey Pajitnov first coded it in 1984, to launching on PCs in North America and Europe — the first glimpse of Tetris outside of Russia– to the 1988 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, where Rogers first discovered the game, those little blocks have traveled quite a way.

It’s also been credited with fueling the Cold War, occupying your dreams, helping people recover from PTSD, and ending the Cold War along the way. And it has its own psychological disorder –that actually helps people put things in order…and was likely the genesis of Lee’s vision for putting Tetris on the Cira Centre.

He was an undergraduate at the University of California at Berkeley in the late 1990s when he spent a marathon 20 hour session playing the game. Immediately after powering down, Lee went to a meeting in San Francisco.

“I was crossing the Bay Bridge, the sun was setting, and the light was reflecting on the skyline just right. I began to hallucinate seeing Tetris squares falling in the windows,” Lee said.

Nearly two decades later, Lee was driving along the Schuylkill Expressway and had a similar vision.

“It was 2008, at dusk, and the lights of the Cira Center were on. And again, I saw little Tetris shapes in my mind’s eye,” Lee said. “That’s basically what led me on a path to play the game on that building.” – Philly.com 3/31/14

The common thread is this: Tetris is ridiculously addictive.

If you want to get in on the action at 7 p.m. on Saturday, April 5, visit Philly Tech Week’s Arcade at the Oval event page for more information.

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