The two-hundred and ninety-five feet (ninety meter) tall Building 54 on MIT's Cambridge campus has become the canvas for a number of carefully planned and daringly executed visual displays over the years, not strictly allowed by the administration but often looked upon with some appreciation. The building is home to the Institute's Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Science (EAPS) and has a host of meteorological instruments and radio communications equipment on its roof - but its the grid-like windows to the front that have become the main attraction to hackers, as they are known. The latest hack is the successful realization of a long-standing challenge, a huge playable game of Tetris.
No doubt most readers are familiar with Tetris. First developed in Russia, the ubiquitous tile-matching video game has players rotate and move random geometrically-shaped blocks as they fall from the top of the screen to try and make gap-free horizontal lines at the bottom. When a full line is created, it disappears from the matrix playing area but lines containing gaps remain onscreen until there's no more room for the blocks to fall and the game is lost. I first discovered the strangely addictive game on an Amiga system, then later on a Nokia mobile phone but it's appeared on many platforms in a number of different variations.
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Looking up at the windows to the front of the 21-story MIT building - which is also known as the Green Building (named after its principal donor, Cecil Howard Green, and not because of any environmental ticks in the plus column) - it's not too difficult to understand why a Tetris hack has become central to the IHTFP hacking community. The windows are arranged in an 18 x 9 grid, not quite the 20 cells high and 10 cells wide that's become a display standard for the game but close enough.
As is common with MIT IHTFP hacks, those involved haven't given away how the game of Tetris was achieved but the visual evidence suggests the placement of multi-color LED lighting modules in each of the windows to form a 9 x 17 grid display, with gameplay wirelessly controlled from a console pad at ground level.
Ahead of gameplay, the word TETRIS was scrolled across the middle section of the display grid and the game itself consisted of three levels. The first featured block shapes of vivid coloring, the second threw in some paler hues and the last involved changing the block colors as they descended. When the luck of the player on the ground ran out and the game was lost, all of the blocks would tumble down the grid screen.
The source link has some links to videos taken of the hack, which do show a few dead "pixels" in the grid but this doesn't detract from a hugely impressive visual treat.
Other hacks of note include a huge VU meter on display during a concert in 1993, a huge illuminated Oscar to celebrate a double win for the film Good Will Hunting in 1998 and an American flag for the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
All photos courtesy of Erik Nygren.
Source: MIT IHTFP HacksView gallery - 7 images