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July 3, 1999: Gobbling Up a 'Pac-Man' Record

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July 3, 1999: Gobbling Up a 'Pac-Man' Record
1999: After nearly 20 years and millions of quarters, someone attains the unthinkable: a perfect score on Pac-Man.
The world record was set by 33-year-old Billy Mitchell of Hollywood, Florida, during a U.S.-Canada clash over the Fourth of July weekend. Mitchell took more than six hours to complete the game at the Funspot Family Fun Center in Weirs Beach, New Hampshire.
To achieve the game's maximum score of 3,333,360 points, Mitchell navigated 256 boards (or screens), eating every single dot, blinking energizer blob, flashing blue ghost, and point-loaded fruit, without losing a single life.
"It was tremendously monotonous," said Mitchell, a father of three and president of Rickey's World Famous Sauces, a manufacturer of Louisiana hot sauces.
Mitchell's record was confirmed by Twin Galaxies, publisher of the Official Video Game & Pinball Book of World Records.
Walter Day, Twin Galaxies' chief scorekeeper, said the perfect Pac-Man score was one of the most difficult feats in the history of arcade gaming.
"The level of completeness is so complete it's difficult to find an analogy to compare it to.... It took tremendous skill. The focus is extraordinary," he said at the time.
Pac-Man has been one of the most popular arcade games ever made, and was played more than 10 billion times worldwide in its first 20 years, according to Day.
"To the best of our knowledge, it [was] the first time someone's done this," said Patrick Fitzgerald, a spokesman for Midway Games, which distributed Pac-Man in the early 1980s.
Mitchell and an American friend had spent the previous year in a grudge match against a pair of Canadians, trying to achieve the first perfect Pac-Man score as a matter of national pride.
In May 1999, one of the Canadians, Rick Fothergill, came within 90 points of the perfect score while playing at the Funspot arcade, described then as the world's second-largest arcade, with about 500 games.
The foursome set a Fourth-of-July-weekend rendezvous for their head-to-head competition. Mitchell said he came very close to setting the record on July 1 -- which coincidentally is Canada Day -- but a kid pulled the plug about four hours into the game.
"I was noticeably upset," said the soft-spoken Mitchell.
Wearing a red-white-and-blue necktie to celebrate the holiday, Mitchell said he didn't eat for two days of the competition.
He said the record-breaking game's first 20 screens were tense and grueling, while the remaining 236 screens -- all identical -- strained his endurance.
"It felt like I'd been playing forever," he said. "[After about four hours] I realized I still had 100 boards to go. I started talking to myself, coaching myself on. I was afraid I was going to get lost inside myself."
Mitchell's entire game was recorded for posterity on videotape by a Funspot employee.
Mitchell said he was an avid arcade player in his ****s, holding world records for the highest score on Donkey Kong, which he first set in 1982 at age 17. Steve Wiebe's attempt to beat that record is chronicled in the 2007 documentary, King of Kong.
"I was absolutely, totally consumed and obsessed by the idea that no one could beat me," Mitchell said. "I was the best."
Mitchell, who signed his high scores "Play to Win," once retired at age 19 before attaining the perfect Pac-Man score. He turned his energies toward the family business, staying away from arcades until 1998.
That's when Mitchell and his friend, Chris Ayra, the world-record holder for the high score on Ms. Pac-Man, a later version of the game, started their rivalry with the Canadians.
"I had the knowledge [to get the perfect Pac-Man score] in 1984, but my enthusiasm and the incentive to do it weren't there," Mitchell said. "We felt the Canadians were Johnny-come-latelys and needed to be put in their place."
After the record-breaking game, Mitchell immediately announced his second retirement, but added: "I'm like a boxer. I might come out for one more fight. Hopefully I won't get beat up."
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