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Alexey Pajitnov has heard the question so many times it no longer puzzles him.

Ten years after he invented Tetris, the best-selling computer game of all time, the reporters still want to know: is Pajitnov bitter that he never made a penny? Pajitnov, 41, has come to the Electronic Entertainment Expo to talk about his future, his comeback, but he revisits his past graciously.He answers quickly, with a shrug of his broad shoulders and a quizzical smile.

"I didn't mean to make money," he said. "I did it for pleasure."

Forty million copies sold, and he did it for fun? There was something else, he says, a secret hope: maybe people who played it would forget that "evil empire" stuff and see Russians weren't so bad.

Pajitnov wasn't thinking about profit. He was thinking about world peace.

It was 1985, and the Soviet Union and the United States were frozen in Cold War politics. Pajitnov worked at the Moscow Academy of Science as a computer science researcher.

In his spare moments, he invented puzzles on an antiquated Russian computer. One day he came up with a good puzzle.

"I couldn't stop playing the game," Pajitnov said. "All my colleagues, as soon as they got access to the game, they couldn't stop playing."

The game was Tetris, named for the tetraminos or geometric shapes players tried to form by lining up four squares just right. Jumping over a house might be as easy.

Fans copied the game from one floppy disk to another. Soon Tetris spread to Europe.

"It went like wildfire," Pajitnov said.

A disk showed up in a computer center in Bulgaria, where it caught the eye of a visiting American businessman who did think about money. He would lead a parade of big game companies to Moscow seeking rights to sell Tetris.

In the end Nintendo of America and Tengen (Atari's U.S. division) would square off in a legal battle for game system rights, detailed in David Sheff's book "Game Over." Nintendo won. Its payoff: 30 million copies of Tetris sold just for Nintendo's handheld Game Boy system.

The game was so addictive that some cheekily characterized it as a ploy to disrupt the American work force. Tetris even had a "boss button" - a hot key that hides the game behind what looked like an accounting program.

That Pajitnov wouldn't profit isn't surprising considering the old Soviet philosophy about capitalism, private rights and allegiance to the government. He has a different measure of success.

"I'm very happy so many people enjoy the game. It inspired me and encouraged me to continue," he said.

Besides, few things last forever - not the Soviet Union, not rights held by foreign businesses. As Perestroika took root in Russia, Pajitnov traveled to the U.S. to attend trade shows.

His friendship with Henk Rogers, who negotiated licensing rights on behalf of Nintendo, deepened. In 1991, Pajitnov, his wife and their two sons moved to Kirtland, Wash., at Rogers' prompting. He kept on making games. "After Tetris' success, I decided my destiny is to make computer games," he said. But, "there's not much market in Russia."

He has a handful of games to his credit, most of them variations of Tetris: Welltris, Faces, Hatris and Qwerks. He also co-developed Ice & Fire, a new space adventure game from GT Interactive Software.

The final piece in the puzzle that is Pajitnov's life slid into place earlier this year when the rights to Tetris reverted to him and Electronorgtechnica, the now privatized Soviet Ministry of Software and Hardware Export.

Together, they've formed a joint venture with Rogers called The Tetris Co. Another Rogers company, Blue Planet Software of Hawaii, will be the exclusive agent to all Tetris licensing.

"We were so excited by this, we decided to come out with a new version of the game. We're designing it now," he said. "The company will also give me the opportunity to create new forms of electronic entertainment with Henk and my colleagues in Russia."

The new versions of Tetris will be made to play on the Internet, other networks and on multiple platforms, Pajitnov said.

And, a little profit might be OK.

"Tetris is a kind of game that doesn't appear to (be bound) by any particular culture or time," he said. "I hope we will make money."