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IMG_3736We recently spoke with Patrick Moberg who created the incredibly popular mobile game Dots, but somewhere in between chatting with him and actually publishing the interview there may or may not have been a couple hundred games that transpired.

In addition to learning that I should never try and write about heroin, all three of us at Cultivated Wit have learned a thing or two about Dots. More specifically, how to crush out 400 points without breaking a sweat. I don’t mean to boast, except that I do, but we’ve gotten pretty fucking good at Dots.

So now, along with friend of Cultivated Wit and fellow dotminator Zack Teibloom, I’d like to present our quick guide to getting incredibly good at a trivial thing.

1. Name one simple strategy tip.
Craig: Right off the bat, if you aren’t one shrinker away from a square, restart. Crushing squares from the outset is the only way you’ll break 500.
Baratunde: The secret to Dots isn’t squares, it’s circles. You have to complete squares quickly by sweeping in a circular motion. Follow through is key. I can’t tell you how many people fail to close the loop.
Brian: For one, buy the power ups. This isn’t a plug, it’s just a fact. You can’t be worried about rationing bullets in the middle of war. Also, caffeine. That is the fourth, undocumented power up.

2. Explain your power up approach.
Craig: When I was in the Dots farm league, I used time stops at the beginning of each game to survey the board and plan my attack. I’ve since learned to recognize a good board much faster so I save these until there’s about 10-15 seconds left and use one if I feel* a high score might be in reach. (*I say “feel” because I never look at my score while I’m playing because it would slow me down.) That way I don’t waste valuable dots on a Time Stop each round and can put them towards Shrinkers. Shrinkers are my bread and butter. I always opt to use shrinkers over connecting a line of dots because having lines of dots is actually a really good thing and I try not to break them. Lines of dots lead to squares, and squares are for closers. One mini tip: If you play fast enough, you can actually shrink a dot and start making a square while the last dot is falling into place. As for expanders, I don’t want to discount these just yet, but I haven’t been able to use them in a way that justifies their price.
Zack: Shrinkers: Use them constantly. They are the lifeblood of squares. Make sure you have at least a dozen on hand before every game. Time: Use in the last five seconds of a potential high score game only. Expander: Use in the last 15 seconds of a potential high score game when you’re on a roll, but can’t find a square for the life of you.
Brian: Craig and Zack nail it on shrinkers and time stops, but I’ll just elaborate on expanders. I’ve read some advice to use them early, but that seems foolhardy. You know when you are on record pace: just square, square, square on repeat for a good 30-45 seconds. You start getting shaky with excitement, then comes that fateful square after which you’ve got nothing. *SHIT*. What do you do. Panic? No. Expand that shit. Don’t be choosy, act fast and just eliminate a color from the board. The animation take a second allowing you to scope your next square and finish on one last string of squares.

3. Explain your approach to playing. What’s your ideal physical positioning? Do you play in spurts or sessions?
Brian: Index finger all the way. Thumbs are too meaty and clumsy. Seated is good, but after too long I feel hunched. I’ve also had success laying on my belly like a teenage girl writing in her diary. And I found that a couple marathon sessions early helped train my brain to recognize patterns and see squares as the dots are falling. Most my best scores come when I’m feeling in a zone like that.
Baratunde: I experimented with playing one-eyed for a while. I put a warm towel over my right eye and played exclusively with the left. I thought the parallax effect might be slowing me down, but I gained no discernable advantage, so I returned to the use of both eyes. A comfortable and seated position is best, but standing can work so long as it’s stable. Lying down, playing on a moving subway, and playing whilst walking down the streets are all sub-optimal.
Zack: Sitting up. Phone in left hand. Heavily caffeinated. Using somewhere between the nail and tip of my right index finger as the only thing to touch the screen.
Craig: I tend to play pretty well when I’m sitting at my desk, usually waiting for code to compile–I think having a short playing time limit helps me. My highest scores have all been during mini sessions of 2-3 min. I play with my thumb but have been experiencing precision problems now that I need to move a lot faster for a high score, so I might switch to my index finger. No RSI to speak of yet.

4. One anecdote that speaks to your level of addiction.
Zack: The Dots high score leader board has eclipsed e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and stock prices as the thing I check first in the morning.
Baratunde: Despite working in the same office as the people who made this game, I wasn’t moved to play until I saw that my two co-founders sat far higher than I on the leaderboard. I wondered if it had something to do with their age or maybe their race. I could not allow that. So I played until I displaced at least one of them on the board. I did it for people over thirty everywhere. I did it for black people everywhere.
Brian: Not all the time, but often enough, when I close my eyes I see Dots. There is no hyperbole in that statement whatsoever. If I’ve played recently enough and close my eyes, they are just there. No joke. I have a problem.
Craig: I’ve spent more money buying dots than I’ve spent on all iPhone apps, combined, since I’ve owned my phone.