We Beat The Machine

The story of a 13-year-old gamer crashing the NES version of Tetris in a record-setting run is one of the best stories we have going right now.

By Ernie Smith

The world loves an underdog story, especially when that underdog seemingly comes out of nowhere.

And there’s nothing quite as elegant as an underdog that comes with the goods right away, beating difficult odds to see major success.

And the story of Willis Gibson, a Tetris player known as Blue Scuti, is one with all those elements. This 13-year-old kid, a nonentity in the world of competitive Tetris until a couple of months ago, is the first to experience something no other person had previously experienced—beating an “unbeatable” video game.

What makes Tetris “beatable,” in this context? Simple: He played so far into the game that its many parts were falling off the machine. In a modern competitive game of NES Tetris, the first thing to fall is the score, which tops out at 999,999 in the game. Second to fall was the original “kill screen,” a Level 29 that moved so quickly that, if you played using a traditional controller layout, you could not move your fingers quickly enough to keep up. (Players got past these limitations through a series of new techniques, the newest of which, “rolling,” was developed by an observant player, Christopher “CheeZ” Martinez.)

Next on the list? The level counter, which would eventually break at a certain point. Then, the game’s colors would change in strange, unexpected ways, as players far outdid the theoretical limits of this simple game, pushing up against the limits of the NES’ minimal memory. (A player named ErickICX first managed to reach this in the context of organized tournament play, which is wild.) Then, starting around level 155, the game would be at risk of crashing.

Blue Scuti, who has seen a huge amount of success in the roughly nine months he has been playing Tetris competitively, got past all of these challenges along with the broader community, which was collectively pushing past the limitations of an old game, as shown by the leaderboard.

Tedium on Patreon

Keep Us Moving! Tedium takes a lot of time to work on and snark wise about. If you want to help us out, we have a Patreon page where you can donate. Keep the issues coming!

We accept advertising, too! Check out this page to learn more.

But Blue Scuti’s individual achievement, reaching level 157, should not be lost here. He made the final four of the Classic Tetris World Championship last year in his first appearance. The player who won that tournament, MIT student Justin “Fractal” Yu, had been gunning for the same game-breaking goal as Blue Scuti was, but it was ultimately Blue Scuti who pulled it off.

When I spotted the video last week, I knew it was a truly special thing. I watched the whole thing, and it was just mesmerizing, a level of play I could not imagine for myself, or honestly, anyone else. But there he was, doing it, slowly breaking this machine.

There is also a human angle to the story about old technology breaking in a dramatic way. Less than a month ago, Gibson lost his father. I’m not in his head, I don’t know what he was thinking as he went through his roughly 40-minute run with no breaks. But having experienced a loss like that in my own life, I know it leaves a chip on your shoulder, and gives you something to prove.

With this mesmerizing run (as well as another earlier in the week, also an at-the-time world record), he more than proved it. There is something about the miracle of human achievement, of seeing someone do something for the first time that seemed impossible only a few years before. Video gaming has a few equivalents to the four-minute mile—the Super Mario Bros. speedrun, which has continually improved with a similar dynamic to Tetris, comes to mind—and breaking Tetris was one of them. Someone may best Blue Scuti’s achievement, as it is theoretically possible to go past the point where his game crashed. But he was first. That cannot be taken away.

We talk all the time about the dehumanizing aspects of what games and computers do to our brain. But watching a game like Blue Scuti’s is a great reminder that we’re absolutely in full control if we want to be.


Someone combined Steamboat Willie-era Mickey Mouse with a Stable Diffusion generator, and yeah, it’s pretty weird. Click “Compute” and try generating your own Mickey.

86 DOS

It is wild that it was not publicly available until now.

If you have a desire to see what DOS was like before Microsoft put their fingerprints all over it, the Internet Archive has you covered.

Rusty got Tabs off the Substack island, with Beehiiv becoming its new home.


Find this one an interesting read? Share it with a pal! And back with another one later in the week!

Clarification: A previous edition of this issue misstated the person who first reached the color levels in NES Tetris. The piece has been updated to correct the error.


Ernie Smith

Your time was just wasted by Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the editor of Tedium, and an active internet snarker. Between his many internet side projects, he finds time to hang out with his wife Cat, who's funnier than he is.

Find me on: Website Twitter