Alexey Pajitnov was supposed to be an artificial intelligence researcher for the Soviet Academy of Sciences, but when he got his first computer 25 years ago, he used it to write games. He tweaked and translated mathematical puzzles he’d always loved, and one stood out right away. “The program wasn’t complicated,” he tells the Guardian. “But I started playing and I couldn’t stop. That was it.” That was the birth of Tetris.
Pajitnov couldn’t cash in on his invention—the rights were owned by the Soviet government—but it was soon discovered by a Dutch games publisher and fatefully licensed to Nintendo. It became such a craze that some suspected it was a Russian plot to divert America’s youth. These days Pajitnov has the rights again. The official copies of the game he licenses must meet exacting technical criteria and, most importantly, contain the Russian folk theme song.