This article originally appeared on VICE US.
For more than 12 hours now, my Wii U has been silently running underneath my desk. I’m not holding the controller, or taking note of what’s happening, but my Wii U is currently vying for a lottery ticket buried in Super Mario Maker, with a one in 7.5 million chance of it appearing. My reward? Beating a level that never requires the player to touch a button and yet, as of now, it’s been attempted more than 2.6 million times—and no one’s made it to the end.
I’ve contributed thousands of deaths to the growing pile of digital corpses, waiting for numerical prophecy. All Mario has to do is wait for all the pieces to line up just right, allowing him to elude death. Right now, thousands are watching various streams on Twitch, where often, no one is on screen and there’s no commentary. Just this single level. Repeating over and over. Here’s what’s happening, the endless loop running on any number of dusty Wii U machines:
This lottery ticket is buried in a level from Super Mario Maker, the creation toolset from Nintendo recently in the headlines because its sequel is a few weeks away. While Nintendo (and most players) moved on from Super Mario Maker ages ago—it was released for Nintendo’s previous wet fart of a console—the community has kept this special game alive, partially because of moments like this, when everyone huddles around a spark of creativity.
That’s the magic of “Lucky Draw,” a level made by a prolific creator named Phenotype, someone who’s continued to make Super Mario Maker stages long after it was popular to do so. Phenotype’s levels are not exclusively designed around sheer luck, but gimmick stages are part of their repertoire. In February, they published a lovely farewell to Super Mario Maker.
In Lucky Draw, Mario cannot move. He can’t jump, run, or spin through the air, skills typically asked of a player controlling Mario and trying to get him to the end. In this nightmarish puzzle box, all he’s tasked with is standing still and hoping for the best. More than likely, though, he’s going to die. You’re supposed to die. Lucky Draw is part of a wider subset of quirky Super Mario Maker levels called RNG (random number generator), where success is determined by a roll of the dice, of random 1s and 0s, and nothing to do with player ability.
The stage looks like a load of nonsense, but here’s what needs to happen and why it’s so ludicrous for the player to win: all of the magikoopas need to spawn coins and all those coins also need to fall to the right, because Mario needs to collect them. Whether a block spawns a coin? Random. Plus, the magickoopa can choose from one of seven (!!) different items to spawn. As for whether a spawned coin then starts falling to the right? 50/50 chance. It’s tough enough to imagine one element in place, now imagine all doing so simultaneously.
The math is ridiculous, per an analysis by reddit user sass253, whose work has since been backed up by others who have been crunching the numbers on what Lucky Draw demands:
“The average failed attempt at the level takes 6.9 seconds, giving a single Wii U about 12.5K attempts per day. The probability of beating the level in one day, then? 0.17%. Ouch.
Want a 50-50 chance of beating it? Start the level, put your Wii U aside, and check it around the 4th of July -- next year. Want a 90% chance of clearing it? Start the level and hope you make it to February 2023 without any power outages.
Instead of time, you could use teamwork. Running 10 systems for 1 day has the same chance of producing a win as running 1 system for 10 days. For a fitting deadline, try to beat the level before SMM2 comes out.
For a 90% chance of beating the level before SMM2, you'd need to run 47 consoles, 24/7, giving you a throughput of almost 7 level attempts per second. For perspective, that many systems combined draw more power than the average American household.”
Despite the odds, it’s crucial to note it’s probably beatable; Nintendo requires creators to finish creations before they’re shared with the wider public. It’s possible to upload stages that skirt around this rule—like, say, requiring the discovery of a hidden door—but there is nothing to suggest Phenotype is that type of creator. It’s more likely Phenotype, who I was not able to track down for this story, simply did what everyone else doing: let their Wii U run for hours on end, until the level lined up in the exact, precise way that allowed completion.
One potentially apocryphal story I heard from GrandPOOBear, a Super Mario Maker streamer known for being able to tackle even the most ridiculous challenges, is Phenotype left their Wii U running for an entire month before they were able to submit the stage. Various reddit threads dedicated to discussing the level cited, without evidence, that it took 16 days.
It’s not impossible? But that’s what a one in 7.5 million chance means. A myth builds.
UPDATE: I've since spoken with the creator, Phenotype, who said he left a single Wii U on all day and night for roughly two weeks.
“It’s been weirdly fun,” said GrandPOOBear. “I can’t really describe why this has taken off but it has that magical ‘you had to be there’ vibe and memes. It’s just special when a whole community comes together for one goal.”
The high incompletion count—again, more than 2.6 million as of this writing—is not entirely shocking for stages like this. It’s part of the design. The number rapidly rising is part of the design, too; everyone, from streamers to curious players, are hoping to be the first clear.
“The amount of attempts tends to increase exponentially as the level grows in popularity,” said Super Mario Maker enthusiast The0dark0one, who maintains a list of levels without completions. “It’s sort of like the lottery; everyone wants to be the winner when it gets big. This level will probably be beaten before you’re done writing your article unless you’re quick.”
That was last night, and in the hours since, no one has beaten it—legitimately.
Once Lucky Draw entered the zeitgeist and became a race of randomness, it wouldn’t be long until someone tried to spoil the fun. In this case, Lucky Draw suddenly went from zero completions to 12 very quickly. The first clear and the latest clear are by the same person, a player named Ninja. Their world record time—only 0.16 seconds—reveals what happened.
“We know they cheated because the first clear by them was 11 seconds and the 12th clear by them was a single frame,” said Jaku, one of the more prolific Super Mario Maker streamers and responsible for finding many of the secrets Nintendo has kept hidden. “You can’t beat the level in either of those times.”
If you were to beat Lucky Draw legitimately, estimates peg it at four or five seconds.
Additionally, Jaku noted, this player sailed through Lucky Draw, a stage with a one in 7.5 million chance of going your way, a whopping 12 times in five minutes. How’d that happen?
The Wii U, like any other console, has been hacked in the years since its release. It’s even possible to connect a Wii U to your PC and manipulate the system into doing your bidding, such as spawning items or teleporting Mario around. Jaku hacked Super Mario Maker to uncover what Nintendo was keeping secret, while others are more nefarious.
(Jaku actually kept his discovery of how to screw with Super Mario Maker a secret, worried it would become more widespread and lead to more moments like this. It’s largely worked.)
Nintendo has typically erased hacked clears, but their attention isn’t really on Super Mario Maker these days, and the company has never been transparent about their processes.
While reporting this story, another clear came through—number 13, by a player named Lathan. There’s no video proof Lathan cleared Lucky Draw legitimately, however, and the community is suspicious of anyone who randomly completes such an improbable gauntlet.
“We don't know if the ‘13th’ clear is legit at this moment,” said Jaku. “The profile of the player has a very low death count in total, [and] sadly Nintendo doesn't show clear times for anyone other than the WR holder. However, the 2nd player that cleared it has less than 4,000 deaths. A very unlikely amount.”
In other words: maybe they were fortunate enough to have a lucky run after only a few tries, but given the luck (or lack thereof) experienced by everyone else, that also seems unlikely.
Jaku, like many others, is trying to goose the math to the best of their ability. They’re currently running a stream where four (!!) Wii Us are grinding the level simultaneously.
Someone will eventually get truly lucky. It might come on their first run, it might come on their millionth run. It might not happen for another month—or another year, frankly. (Given the speed of the Internet and the rise in interest, it’ll probably happen soon.) But until then, Mario will keep marching to his death until the math gods decree it’s time for him to move on.
Follow Patrick on Twitter. If you've noticed anything cool happening in the world of Mario Maker, reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org. He's also available privately on Signal.