The Tetris Effect and Markov Paul Graham

My head obsesses. I get songs stuck in my head so badly that I have to leave the room when "I'm On A Boat" comes on, and anyone who tries to troll me by singing "Party in the USA" gets warned and then ferociously tickled. (It's self-defense.) I don't like watching TV shows and have to limit movies because the scenes and plots continue to play in my head for days afterward, displacing the top idea in my mind.

The most interesting case of this is the Tetris effect. This where you do a repetitive activity so much that it takes over your subconscious, visually superimposing its patterns over your life. It's most noticeable when you're falling asleep. Tetris addicts would turn things they see into tetrominos, and their brains would be playing Tetris as they slept.

I have it bad. I've had the Tetris effect not only with all sorts of video games, but with things like coding, typing Dvorak, fixing grammar mistakes, responding to emails, hiking, tweaking CSS, and designing particle effects. Up until this week, though, it had only been visual, perhaps with some motor component.

It turns out I can get auditory Tetris effect, too. I had just spent the entire day strategizing about CodeCombat with George and Scott, talking startups with other Y Combinator companies, and listening to the YC partners dispense wisdom. As I was falling asleep, I heard a perfect Markov chain generator produce a conversation between Paul Graham, George, and Generic Startup Founder, complete with voices and appropriate verbal mannerisms, that went something like this:

pg: "The most important thing, um, investors want to focus on your metric, right, and anything Jessica knows is a forcing function we tell you. Talk to your code and founder distractions! Y Combinator won't help silver bullets get revenue. Your growth rate."

George: "That's interesting. Do you think recruiters have a point there? I hear you saying the most important metric can get us office hours, but if we double down on traction, I can't email enough content to engage investors. Sprite art avatars? It's not even a growth rate."

Startup Founder: "We're building a bit different C++ before YC. Our target early stage product is users. Oh, can you intro us to a demo? Saw you guys open source 120 hour coding at Startup School; must have been revenue on stage like investors! Yeah, beta. In NYC, but Firebase now."

And it just kept going like that for many minutes. I was lucid enough to marvel at how natural it sounded while managing to make no sense at all. It was not only more grammatical than other pg generators, but it did the voices!

Does my hypnagogic mind have a similar mechanism to Markov chain generators that it can use to produce Tetris effect hallucinations? Is my Tetris effect vulnerability related to my weakness against pop music and movies, or even my lucid dreaming ability? Have you ever had an interesting Tetris effect experience?

PS: just for kicks, I put my book into an online Markov chain generator and was amused at what I would sound like as my own Tetris effect voice:

  • Never again will I tell a story about the acceleration of addictiveness in which I had apparently been landing too hard on my right speaker to signal poor planning and on your studies when some big project looms, then those due reviews keep building up.
  • The paleolithic diet: don’t eat any foods that our ancestors didn’t eat anything except Reese’s cups for the $30K grant.
  • If you’re extraordinarily talented at introspection, you might need to turn into a frenzy with months of posting near-daily sneak peeks.
  • After finishing that first week as my EverQuest paladin Warp, whom I had needed to put on headphones and to find an inescapable way to prosperity? No—he would strive to ignite all the freedom to sell their junk and travel as in Life Nomadic, then return to the final test, I took up an insane rifle of gratuitous power and sniped a bullet over to me: “Oh my God, Nick!
  • Use Piers Steel’s book, The Procrastination Equation, which details the motivation equation in a pirate ship, which doesn’t actually happen in real life, then I must be the uncomfortable hero of your job.
  • Well, I can’t remember why I have given you the most if you can’t even see the reincarnated thetan of L.
  • But this fifth failure—the failure to be a trap.
  • I hope you will decide to muster for a deal on a vision quest with me?
  • Sooner or later, you’ll give up right away.
  • One guy failed to increase our happiness end in failure because we don’t spend more time encoding and studying a fact with an SRS.
  • They should drench you in a way of degirlifying things in revenge for the month before starting this project, I ran it.
  • It’s not perfect, but perfect is the Fool’s Defense: you signal your inability to perform a task samurai and doing dwarf dishes.
  • George is a caveat here that if I could ask inventor Elon Musk for great insights on the wedding ceremony, there’s a guy who is smiling that blissful wind-tunnel smile.


Hacking on CodeCombat, a multiplayer programming game for learning to code. Mastermind behind Skritter, the most powerful Chinese character learning app.

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