Picks and Pans Main: Bytes

updated 09/08/1997 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/08/1997 AT 01:00 AM EDT


Alexey Pajitnov doesn't feel guilty about the time frittered away playing Tetris, the game that addicted millions to fitting falling puzzle pieces into orderly rows. "I never force anybody to do it," says Pajitnov, 42, who, as a researcher at the Soviet Academy of Sciences in Moscow in 1985, invented what would become the planet's most popular computer game. "And I am proud of myself that I give to so many people so many happy hours."

Pride was the only reward Pajitnov reaped from Tetris, which spread around the world, passing freely from user to user until U.S. and Japanese companies began selling commercial versions in 1988. "At that time in Soviet Union, nobody think of making money on software," Pajitnov says. Hoping to cash in on his talents, he came to the U.S. in 1990, soon followed by his wife and two sons. But his solo efforts didn't take off. Last year, Pajitnov took a job at Microsoft, where he oversaw the new Microsoft Entertainment Package: The Puzzle Collection CD-ROM (and wrote four of the 10 games). Tetris fans may like Pajitnov's favorite: Finty Flush, whose title derives from the Russian fintifliushka. According to Pajitnov, that is loosely translatable as "some kind of strange, amazing unknown object for entertainment."


Miss Tasso Polk at ten-ten alighted from the elevator onto the olive tiles of the nineteenth floor only lightly nagged by a sense of something wrong." So begins "Murder Makes the Magazine," a short story started July 29 by author John Updike—and being extended paragraph by paragraph in a daily contest at Web bookseller Amazon.com. Staffers judge the entries, 200,000 of which arrived during the first two weeks. On Sept. 12, Updike—who called his role "putting his head in the mouth of the electronic lion," says Amazon.com spokeswoman Kay Dangaard—will tie up the wildly swinging plot, with its myriad mini-cliffhangers and oddball references to Presidents Richard Nixon and James Polk. All publicity stunts should be this entertaining.


As the latest manifestation in this year's virtual pet trend, the new CD-ROM Aquazone ($29) strives for fishy verisimilitude. Owners feed their screen fish once or twice a day and track such details as water temperature; if the initial supply of neon tetra, leopard catfish, angelfish and black molly goes belly up, they'll have to buy more. A top seller in Japan, Aquazone was inspired by popular piscine screen savers, says Ron DiCarlantonio, president of developer 9003 Inc.: "We wanted to make something that was just as beautiful, but had depth."

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