NEW YORK - Many people remember where they were when man first walked on the moon. I remember where I was when I passed Level 86 of "Candy Crush Saga," the maddeningly addictive game that involves matching bright-hued virtual candies to have them disappear, only to be replaced by more.
I had spent nearly two weeks trying to complete that level over the holidays - on the plane, on the subway, in the car with my family. I was matching candies in bed when I first woke up and before falling asleep. I tried to conquer the sweets on the couch when I should have been wrapping presents. I even brought my phone, um, to the toilet. Don't you?
So it was a moment to remember when, walking up the stairs at the Columbus Circle subway stop during a slushy January commute, the words "sugar crush" appeared on my screen, signaling that I had passed Level 86. In my head, fellow commuters stopped in their path to cheer my accomplishment. I am not sure this was actually the case.
I'm on Level 95 now. There are currently about 500 levels, but more are constantly being added. It recalls Sisyphus, the mythical Greek king forced by the deities to roll a stone up a mountain, only to see it fall back down. Forever.
I'm reading less and spending less time with friends and family, but I keep telling myself that I can quit any time. Really, I can. All it takes is holding a finger on the "Candy Crush" app for a few seconds until a black "x" appears on the top left corner. Then it's one tap to delete. Any time.
The other day, a friend and I spent a pleasant evening drinking wine and sharing empanadas at a cozy Chilean bar. Afterward, we boarded the subway and she declared it was "`Candy Crush' time!" I felt a sense of relief and a tingling rush course through my body. We sat in silence, crushing candies until we got to our respective stops.
HOW DID IT COME TO THIS?
It started innocently enough. Preparing for a long bus ride from New York to Philadelphia in November, I downloaded "Candy Crush" after months of mocking people who play it. I'd encounter them on my morning commute, methodically tapping their phones while I occupied myself with more high-brow activities, such as scanning through the day's news or reading a book.
Not anymore. I'm on Team Candy now.
The other day, a guy sat next to me on the subway. There was no secret handshake. He simply glanced at my phone and exclaimed "Daaaaang, that `Candy Crush,' huh?" I said yes, no kidding.
I saw that I was ahead of him in the number of levels completed and therefore was a better and more successful human being. "Just wait `til you get to Level 86," I warned. I thought to myself after he left, wait until you get to the chocolate, which spreads like the plague until you run out of room to crush more candy.
The game is free. The first few levels are easy while you get the hang of things. Swipe with a finger to line up three, four or five candies in a row, and they disappear. There are ways to create special candies with special powers that do special things.
The best one comes after you line up five of the same color. It's often called the color bomb. It's a chocolate ball with sprinkles. Swipe it against any other candy, and it will shoot every other candy of that color into the netherworld. Poof.
You get five lives, five chances to fail. There are a few options to get more, including asking your Facebook friends (no, thanks), paying for more (no, thanks), or waiting. Wait 30 minutes and you get a new life.
I have not spent any money so far, tempted as I have been. You have to draw the line somewhere.
I play on my iPhone, though there are versions available for Android and Facebook. A Web version pits you against strangers online. I sometimes resort to that when I'm out of lives on the iPhone.
DESCENT INTO THE VORTEX
There are plenty of other addictive mobile games out there. There's "Tetris," of course, which I played on my brother's GameBoy back in the day. There's "Bejeweled," but the sparkly gems never held the same appeal for me as "Candy Crush." And I don't even like candy.
I'm not alone. "Candy Crush" was the most downloaded free app on both iPhones and iPads in 2013, beating Facebook, Google Maps and YouTube.
It's also the app that made the most money on both. Put another way, even with cheapskates like me, plenty of players are spending the 99 cents here and there to get more lives or other perks. It's also the No. 1 application on Facebook going by both monthly and daily users, according to research firm AppData.
There are thousands of guides, cheats and in-depth tips online by people who make my obsession with the game seem like child's play.
Good luck. Now if you'll excuse me, I am one quest away from Level 96.