The Ultimate Dots Strategy Guide — Quartz

Dots, the extremely addictive điện thoại game that’s something like a delightful set of Tetris, Connect Four, và a Rubik’s Cube, is the second most popular miễn phí iPhone ứng dụng just a week after launching. It’s been downloaded more than a million times, và at least 38 million games of dots have sầu been played, according khổng lồ John Borthwick, CEO of Betaworks, the New York-based venture capital firm that owns the game. That amounts to 72 years of gameplay & about 2.3 trillion dots.

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The premise of Dots is as simple as it is challenging: Connect dots of like color khổng lồ remove sầu them from the board and raông xã up points. But achieving ever-higher scores has become an obsession of some players, including several of us at Quartz, where we’ve sầu even placed a Dots leaderboard on a screen overhanging the newsroom.

There is no wrong way khổng lồ play Dots, but there are certainly better ways. What follows is a strategy guide for obsessive sầu players, based on the collected wisdom of Quartz & interviews with other high-scorers. You’re invited lớn contribute your own tips at the over.

Make squares

Make squares. Just make them. There is no other Dots strategy.

Drawing a square of like-colored dots eliminates all dots of that color from the board. It’s the fastest way to rachồng up points và the only way khổng lồ get your score inkhổng lồ the stratosphere. That’s because squares beget squares: Make one, & you’re setting yourself up for many more. The highest-scoring games are comprised simply of square after square after square.

A great game of compounding squares happens so fast and requires such concentration that it can be difficult to lớn think about what’s happening. But it’s actually really important to understvà, if you want to lớn master Dots, so let’s go through it in slow motion.

The board always has 36 dots of up khổng lồ 5 colors, meaning that an average, randomly distributed board has about 7 dots of each color. If you draw a red square on this prototypical board, all 7 red dots are removed, and dots of the other colors fill in the board from above—about 2 of each color, on average.

As a result, the remaining colors on the board are increasingly concentrated. There are no longer any red dots but about 9 of each other color. Draw another square, và now the board is really concentrated, with some colors occupying a third or more of the board. At that point, it’s highly likely that squares will have sầu formed on their own or can be easily created.


An evenly distributed board (at left) & a more concentrated board (right).

And that’s how squares beget squares, rewarding your success with further momentum. This dynamic underlies pretty much all other elements of Dots strategy: You want a heavily concentrated board, và even distributions are the enemy.

Pro tip: Don’t make rectangles. You can actually eliminate all dots of a color by drawing any kind of polygon, which also gets rid of any dots contained within it, but don’t be tempted. Unless a rectangle presents itself naturally, it’s not worth your time trying lớn khung one, however satisfying they may be. You’ll just waste time that could be devoted lớn finding & drawing more squares.

Seriously, it’s all about squares

If Dots is all about making squares, then a corollary is that every move you make should be in the service of making squares. Sure, when you’re first playing, it’s fun, even useful, lớn connect dots in a haphazard manner, like it’s a Ouija board. But once you’re aiming for scores above 200, it has to be all about the squares.

That means it’s counterproductive sầu to lớn draw an 8-dot string just because it’s sitting there for the taking. You’re probably diluting the board and ruining a good opportunity, since adjacent dots of the same color are useful for making squares. Likewise, 3-dot elbow combinations are always tempting, but watch out—you may be better off turning it into a square.

Squares are easy enough lớn spot, but you also need to lớn keep an eye out for several near-square formations, illustrated below from left to lớn right: the puppy, the step ladder, & the hamburger. Each is just a simple move away from becoming a square.


There are many other near-square formations, but those are probably the most common. With the puppy, you remove sầu the xanh dot with a shrinker, more about which later. The step ladder is turned into a square by taking out the green elbow below it. (That’s also a good example of why you want to lớn avoid the temptation lớn draw that nine-dot purple string along the bottom of the board.) And the hamburger should be obvious: Swipe away the meaty two-dot red string lớn connect the buns.

Pro tip: Turn off the sound.

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 The sound effects in Dots are fun, but they’re a bad influence. Drawing a nine-dot string, for instance, sounds great, but it’s usually a bad move sầu, so using your ears may lead you astray. On mute, the only real feedback you get is the satisfying vibration of your phone upon completing a square, which is exactly the positive sầu reinforcement you need. (The disadvantage of not playing with sound is that you don’t get the audible, five-second countdown at the kết thúc of the game, which means you have sầu to lớn keep an eye on the time yourself.)

Commanding the board

The board is your dominion, và maintaining commvà is key. That means making deliberate moves as described above sầu, but another way of putting it is that you can’t let the board control you. The game starts khổng lồ fall apart when you’re swiping with no purpose lượt thích a scavenger, praying to lớn the Dots gods for helpful colors.

One way to lớn keep comm& of the board is to pace yourself. The 60-second time limit naturally compels you khổng lồ move quickly, và you should, but not too quickly. Moving too fast leads to sloppy play, missing near-squares, and—oh my, worst of all!—slipping your finger over a square such that the complete swipe doesn’t register. Take your time, allowing an extra beat when completing a square to ensure it counts. Pacing also helps maintain the idea that you are the board’s trùm.

None of that, mind you, means you have sầu khổng lồ move sầu slowly. In fact, notes Digg editorial director David Weiner (current high score: 510), you can move sầu onto your next swipe before the previous one has fully cleared và new dots have fallen from above. The move sầu will register even if the dots haven’t arrived yet, so you just need to lớn anticipate where they will settle.

Pro tip: Use your nail. Weiner also recommends swiping with the very tip of your finger, as cchiến bại to your nail as possible. “Using your fingertip will slow you down,” he claims.

Picking the right board

Another approach lớn owning the board is quite simple but may feel like cheating to some: Rephối the game until you’ve sầu got a good opening board. Is there already a square for the taking? A few near-square formations? Is the board heavily concentrated with a few colors? No? Tap the time or score at the top of your screen, & select “restart.”

Judging an opening board is not an exact science, but it’s worth a second or two of thought before making your first swipe. Some players will refuse any board that doesn’t already contain a square, but that’s a little crude because you could have sầu an amazing board, heavily concentrated in a few colors, that just requires a solid opening move or two. It really just requires intuition established over time, but a basic principle is that a bad opening board looks lượt thích entropy: It’s evenly distributed with about 7 dots of each color, randomly placed. A great opening board has one or more colors that are overrepresented.


The opening board at left is bad because each color has 6 lớn 8 dots. Restart the game. But the one at right shouldn’t be dismissed just because it has no squares: The concentration of purple (11 dots) và green (10) makes it a promising board.

Let’s be clear. This is not cheating. If you’re going for a really high score, you need to lớn be making squares from the get-go, and there’s no point in dragging on a game that’s going nowhere. Cody Brown, co-founder of startup ScrollKit, whose high score is currently 552, also encourages players lớn mix point expectations based on the time elapsed. “If you’re goal is 500, you need to be hitting at least 250, 30 seconds in,” he wrote in an gmail. “If you’re not there, hit refresh và try again.”

Pro tip: Play Dots on an ipad tablet. Betaworks says an ipad tablet version of the game is in the works, but the in the meantime, you can still download the game on an ipad và, better yet, play it in “2x” mode, doubling the kích thước of the screen. That tip comes from Foursquare’s Jon Steinbeông chồng, whose current high score is 453. The enlarged board may make it harder khổng lồ move sầu quickly, but that tradeoff is worth being able khổng lồ see the board so much more clearly. Talk about command! (The big downside of this approach is not getting vibrations when completing a square. Also, using an iPhone phầm mềm in 2x mode on an máy tính bảng iPad is just ugly.)

Using the power-ups

For when a simple swipe just won’t vì chưng, Dots provides a mix of three tools, or power-ups, that can be purchased with dots accumulated during gameplay or real money. (I’m excited for the day when dots are considered a legitimate alternative currency like bitcoin.) It’s hard khổng lồ know when to use the power-ups, though, so let’s go through them one at a time.


This tool eliminates any single dot from the board. It’s wildly useful when you have a promising formation that can’t be turned inlớn a square with a simple swipe. And shrinkers are relatively cheap—10 of them cost just 500 dots—so you shouldn’t feel bashful about using them. In fact, when facing a jam, your immediate instinct should be to lớn use a shrinker.

Pro tip: You can shrink a dot by double-tapping on it. That’s much faster than activating the tool along the bottom of the screen.


This is a confounding tool, allowing you to lớn eliminate all dots of a single color once during a game. Some serious Dots players are dismissive of it entirely, và few have good advice for using it. Also, at 5,000 dots for 5 expanders, it’s expensive! But remember that you do accumulate points for any dots removed with the expander, so you might as well use it toward the kết thúc of a potentially high-scoring game for an extra boost.

Pro tip: Buy a few ahead of time. This is actually true of all the power-ups: Don’t get stuông xã without them in the middle of a game. Yes, the timer pauses if you need to purchase power-ups while playing, but you’ll chiến bại your momentum that way.

Time Stops

These should really be called “time adds.” The tool pauses the clochồng for 5 seconds, giving you a 65-second game. (You can only use time stops once per game.) Wait until your score is in reach of a new personal best, then deploy it toward the kết thúc khổng lồ keep your streak going. Don’t use Time Stops simply to lớn regain your composure. If you need lớn pause the game, which is sometimes necessary, just tap the score or time. You won’t be able khổng lồ see the board, but you can take as much time as you need khổng lồ regroup.

Pro tip: The iPhone 5 makes it harder to keep trachồng of time. Because the lachạy thử Model of Apple’s phone is taller than previous models, the time & score are slightly further away from the board. That makes it slightly more difficult lớn keep an eye on them while playing. 

What else?

This strategy guide may already be insanely long, but it’s just the beginning. I’m interested to lớn hear your Dots tips, & I’ll add the best ones right here. Send them by gmail or on Twitter. (There’s now even a Quora thread!)

Expanders: Paul Murphy of Betaworks writes in to defend expanders: “Your best bet is lớn use one at the start of every game. It dramatically increases the chance that you’ll get a ‘square run."”

Photo by Sam Williams, edited by David Yanofsky

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