The Tetris Challenge

19 Feb 21 16 Comments

When the Kantonspolizei Zürich (the police department of the Swiss canton of Zurich) posted a photograph on Facebook showing the contents of a standard patrol car, they had no idea what they were unleashing.

Kantonspolizei Zürich

They used a technique called knolling: a term coined in the 1980s by Andrew Kromelow, a janitor at a furniture making shop, to describe arranging items at right angles as a way of making order out of chaos.

How To Knoll

Thirty years later, artist and designer Tom Sachs created a tongue-in-cheek series called “Working to Code” for employees and visitors to his studio. In the 10 Bullets video he showed an example of a tool table in need of organising, included the phrase “Always be knolling” which brought the term and the technique to a more mainstream audience.

Leading us to the end of 2019, when the Kantonspolizei used a drone to take a photograph of the car, the contents and the crew which they tagged with #TetrisChallenge in a reference to the 1980s video game of sorting blocks.

The image quickly went viral. Other Swiss emergency services quickly jumped in to make their own version and the internet meme continued to spread.

Over the course of 2020, to my delight, a number of aviation versions came out which I found to be the best of all the TetrisChallenge photographs (of course). I started to collect them so that I could share the best ones with you.

The trend started with emergency services so it’s no suprise that search and rescue teams joined in. I loved this beautiful forty-year-old helicopter:

German Marine search and rescue SeaKing MK41

Then air forces from all over the world decided to show off their best warplanes:

Hungarian Air Force Gripen Saab

Indonesian Air Force BAe Hawk… Thanks, Andrew.
Indonesian Su-30
Polish Air Forces MiG-29

Not to be outdone, SAC added their C17 as a great contrast to all the fighter jets:

Strategic Airlift Capability show off a Boeing Globemaster

An Israeli Air Force base went one step further, taking advantage of a day planned for aircraft cleaning to take a photograph of every aircraft on the base:

And I quite liked this one from an aviation school!

Sichuan Southwest College of Civil Aviation

Very few commercial airlines took part (I suppose shareholders might frown) but the ones that did gave a surprisingly different view:

Wizz Air show off an Airbus – is that an A319?

My favourite has to be Transavia airline who actually pulled every item out of this Boeing 737-800 for their photo, which they completed in ten hours on an overnight stop:


Pat sent me a link to this image which is a great early example of the same idea!

Boeing B-52 Stratofortress with weapons on display

And here’s another great one from Neil, which was featured on BBC news just yesterday: Just Jane: Lancaster bomber is ‘ultimate build’ for model plane fans

Lancaster bomber being restored at Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Center

There are many more so if I missed one that you love, please leave a link in the comments to share and I’ll add the image!

Category: Fun Stuff,


  • The participants must have had a lot of fun.
    Did the Transavia flight crew participate in this photo? Difficult to make out if the people are flight- or maintenance crew.
    If they were flight crew, on an overnight stop, did this still count as “rest” or was it “duty time”?
    From a photographic point of view, that is without any doubt the best composition, with the name of the airline on the aircraft strategically placed in the picture.
    Sylvia, you have something original here, congratulations !

    • Transavia say that the photograph includes flight crew who had just landed, apparently they got off their aircraft and lay on the tarmac for the photo and then went straight back to work! The implication is that it was maintenance crew who did all the laying out.

  • Well Sylvia, I suppose that they had to say that in case the RLD, the Dutch CAA, would have questions about the rest- and duty time regulations.
    There is no leeway. KLM used two sets of duty time regulations: one as agreed between the company ands the VNV, the pilots’ union, the other were the rules as laid down by law.
    The VNV rules were more restrictive. Crews were rostered according to the union rules. So in the event that there were unforeseen delays, it was permissible to extend duty time to the legal maximum.
    Complicated? Yes.
    And if we look at the photo, if that was taken after the crew parked the aircraft literally everything had been removed, even including the seats.
    That would have taken quite some time. Arranging the lot for an effective photo (which really is excellent), the crew would still be on duty at least two hours after landing.
    Maybe the next leg was a short hop?
    Fun to try and analyse the background of these photos too.

    • I am not 100% on this bit I understood that they took apart a plane and then grabbed a crew from another incoming flight and made them lie down on the tarmac.

      But yes, I’m sure they would say whatever they needed to say!

    • This. is. AWESOME.

      It could be the aircraft was due for a cabin R&R anyway, so laying it all out out in a specific manner wouldn’t have cost much time. Much like the Israeli one where they took advantage of a cleaning day.

      If you think VNV is bad, you should look at American railroad union rules, laid out a century ago when rail ruled the planet. They have crew “time out” when the crew hits their legal limit and the train stops right there and then, and somebody comes out in a truck with a fresh crew. They invented the term “featherbedding” where they would require more crew than there was available tasking. Seniority has an absolute iron hand.

  • Where’s the accident report for SAC’s C130 having its wings bent back and losing its props? Or perhaps it’s a C-17?

    (SAC in this context is not Strategic Air Command as I first assumed and was also puzzled by.)

  • Actually I was a member of the VNV and they were not all bad. The union was actually intended for KLM pilots, but also open to members of other Dutch airlines. Sometimes the rules were pedantic. I forgot where, but there was particular hotel that all crews loved for night stops. But then the VNV stepped in. According to the contract with KLM, the rooms had to be of a certain minimum size and the rooms were a little bit smaller. So we for overnights we were moved to a different hotel, much to our disappointment because there were good walks and some excellent restaurants near the former and none in the vicinity of that replaced it.
    But in general the relationship was good. The dual duty times rules worked well: Rostering was according to the stricter VNV rules that were more generous to the crews. But in case of an unforeseen delay the pilots were allowed to extend to the legal regulations.
    It made some sense. Especially since the law was “cast in stone” and did not allow for any discretion from the crews.

  • The thing is about these posts is that I never know what the week’s topic will be. So my Saturday mornings are filled with eager anticipation. The posts are always deeply researched, fun, informative and well worth it. And the commentators…well, there are some books to be written (Rudi…)!

    Thanks Sylvia.

  • Neil, you just formulated why the first thing I do at the end of the week is to look at Sylvia’s blog. The diversity is super, yes, she does a very thorough research and well, I have had a very checkered career. I nearly became an accidental pilot – who never had an accident.
    So I like reading about aviation and inserting my comments.
    There is enough distance in time between me and my stupid transgressions to own up to them. I got away with a lot.
    When I became licensed, the airlines were not hiring, even putting pilots on furlough. Not as bad as today’s onslaught, but then it was structural. Today a recovery can be expected after the covid pandemic will be under control.
    Although my career started too early to get access to the higher-paid jobs, like most of my former co-pilots who flew Boeings, Airbus etc until the pandemic struck, I enjoyed it all. Even the long hours in Piper Super Cubs, towing advertisements when the rest of the world was enjoying their time at the beach.

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