Jeff Pickles on playing the perfect game

Nailing a perfect Pac-Man game, as Jeff Pickles did, requires a combination of twitch skills, marathon-worthy knees and a healthy hunger for blue ghosts. Scoring has become a science, as a small but active community of players continues its decades-long quest to uncover the game's secrets. Exhaustive YouTube walkthroughs, interactive tutorials and Jamie Pittman's Pac-Man Dossier site all document how to exploit the tics and quirks of Pac-Man.

But while many star Pac-Man players, Pickles included, make use of these resources, the road to 3,333,360 points takes everyone on a different path. Here are Pickles's five tips for reaching the ultimate destination.

5. "Master your timing when turning corners," Pickles counsels. While the pursuing ghosts can only turn at a 90-degree angle, Pac-Man can round the corners of the maze if you press the joystick in the right way. "If you're early, you get a bit of a speed advantage on the ghosts," he notes. "If you go late, they'll gain ground on you. This matters because in the factory-speed game, this is the only time that Pac-Man moves faster than the ghosts, so it's crucial to start your turns early."

4. Take advantage of the safe spots. "There are two areas on the map where the ghosts cannot turn upward unless they are in edible mode," Pickles explains. "Those areas are the T intersection where Pac-Man first spawns and the area immediately above the ghost house." In a marathon four-hour Pac-Man game, Pickles can sit in some of these special spots for up to fifteen minutes — earning his only chance to grab a beer or use the facilities.

3. Take chances. If Pac-Man is about to meet his maker, you've got two last-ditch options. One: "Take a run directly at the ghost in a corridor. If you're lucky, you can travel directly through the ghost unscathed," Pickles says. This is possible because of a slight bug in the programming — and it's a controversial move among purists. Two: "Try wiggling the joystick back and forth," he advises, explaining that you might get lucky and confuse the ghost as it's deciding where to turn. "If you can master this wiggle in the tunnel and trap ghosts, you're going to be an awesome escape artist and go far in the game," he adds.

2. "Don't go for a perfect eat every map until you master Pac-Man enough to get to the kill screen," Pickles says. Trying to eat every ghost with every power pellet is a good way to get yourself killed early and often while learning the game. "It's not worth the frustration until you're shooting for a perfect game — seriously," he explains.

1. The most important tip of all? "Learn how the ghosts target you," Pickles says. "They are programmed to take the shortest route to a target square (which sometimes takes them away from you), and they can never change direction once they commit to a turn." Each ghost has its own programmed personality: Studying them closely is the only way to avoid them, trap them...and ultimately get a perfect run.

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Chris Utterback
Contact: Chris Utterback