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Block Party: Build Your Home Out of Tetris Pieces

Video gamers have been fitting together Tetris pieces for decades. Now you can find out just how many of them it would take to build your house.

Randy Nelson

Content Manager

116 articles, 53 comments

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If you’ve been reading the Movoto blog for a while, you’ll know that in addition to real estate, we’re also kind of crazy about video games. This borderline obsession has led us to examine such highly practical things as how much Mario’s coins would be worth in real life and the value of Bowser’s castle. You know—the important stuff.

Which lead us to our latest quandary: figuring out just how many pieces from the classic puzzle video game Tetris would be required to build a house. Not a giant game of Tetris like the gang at MIT in Boston did, as cool as that was, but an actual domicile you could live in. As it turns out, an average-sized home would take 1,351,458,219 of the pieces to erect (considering some factors we’ll get to in a minute).

Before we talk about how we reached this result (and built the calculator above), we thought it would be good to learn a little more about these iconic blocks—called Tetriminos (our runner-up name for a microwaveable Tetris snack food)—and where they came from. After all, if you’re going to take on a topic as serious as video games, you want to do it right.

Tetriminos: Know Your Building Blocks

The first thing that we learned in our quest to build a Tetri-house was that the Tetrimino wasn’t actually an original idea created for the game. In fact, the shapes (called “tetrominoes” and defined by Wikipedia as “geometric shape[s] composed of four squares, connected orthogonally”) have existed as a geometric concept for time immeasurable—or at least no one seems able to say for sure where and when they originated.

Like the domino, they’re a type of polymino (a “plane geometric figure formed by joining one or more equal squares edge to edge”). The name “tetromino” was coined in 1953 by mathematician Solomon W. Golomb. There are five unique tetrominoes and two variants:

  • I
  • O
  • Z
  • T
  • L
  • S
  • J

Tetrominoes were popularized in the gaming world by Russian computer programmer Alexey Pajitnov, who in 1984 created Tetris (the name being a mash-up of “tetrominoes” and “tennis”) during his stint at the Soviet Academy of Sciences. While the game originated on the PC, it rose to fame thanks in large part to Nintendo, which created versions of Tetris for its Nintendo Entertainment System and Game Boy, the latter selling more than 30 million copies.

Anyone who’s played Tetris can attest to its insanely addictive gameplay and the desire—nay, need!—it instills in those who pick up the gamepad to clear as many lines of blocks as possible. It’s sort of like the gaming equivalent of comfort food, which is one of the reasons why it rates so highly and consistently on various best-ever game lists, including those of your humble Movoto bloggers.

Stacking Them Up

While we knew where Tetriminos came from, we didn’t have an important figure we needed to get started: their size. Since the pieces exist in a virtual world, they’re without any real measurable dimensions. This meant that, in a rare and god-like opportunity, we got to decide how big they are. Would they be a foot wide? A yard? Even bigger, a la the utterly ridiculous Tetris: The Movie trailer with its spaceship-sized pieces?

We decided to go small-scale and use the Game Boy version of Tetris as a measuring stick (35 million or so people consider it to be the definitive version of the game, after all). To figure out how large—or, in this case, small—the pieces from this version would be in real life, we measured the Game Boy screen, then counted how many pixels (the basic elements of it) the blocks took up.

Each of the four cubes that would comprise our Tetriminos (since they need to be in three dimensions) ended up being 8 pixels square. That meant that our narrowest piece would be the “I” at one cube wide vertically and the widest would be the “I” at four cubes when turned sideways. Based on the size of the screen, the cubes were a diminutive .097 inches on each side. To give you some perspective, the “O” would be only .679 x .679 inches if brought into the physical world.

Next, we needed to figure out a standard building block we could use to construct the walls of our Tetri-abode. To do that, we calculated how many of our Tetriminos would fit into a 1-foot by 1-foot by 8-inch (the depth of a single-layer brick wall) space—while using as large a variety of the pieces as possible (after all, we could’ve just gone with all “O” pieces and called it a day, but what’s the fun in that?).

What we ended up with was a 1’ x 1’ x 8” unit comprised of 304,109 pieces, broken down into:

  • I x 101,370
  • O x 50,685
  • Z x 25,342
  • T x 50,685
  • L x 25,342
  • S x 25,342
  • J x 25,342

With that sussed out, we could do our math and create a calculator to determine the Tetrimino composition of our example home—a two-story, 2,500-square-foot residence—accounting for two windows and a door. Knowing how many pieces comprised our standard “building block,” we determined how many of those were required to construct the walls and roof. The result: a whopping 1,351,458,219 Tetriminos.

You can use the calculator we devised (above) to find out how many of these multi-colored building blocks it would take to reconstruct your home. Just bear in mind that, going by the the Nintendo version of Tetris at least, the blocks don’t drop into place any faster than two inches per second. Still, depending on who you call, that could be faster than some contractors.


Editor’s Note: Thanks to Glen Tickle from Geekosystem on the pointer to make sure we remove one block from every level of every wall so that our house doesn’t fall down. :)

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posted on: March 19, 2013
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