Welcome to Net Positive, a series about nice places and things on the world wide web.
So much about TMZ gives off a horrible energy. Anyone who has ever watched TMZ on TV could tell you that. Since launching in 2005 it has become one of the biggest names in tabloid news, but now is mainly a website I visit when someone has died. But there is one thing about TMZ that is pure, uncut joy: Celebrity Scramble.
While not something that TMZ is particularly known for, it is perfect — an odd little recurring feature that serves no point other than to drive up traffic numbers. Celebrity Scramble is at once a puzzle, a joke, and a way to humble the rich and famous.
Here’s how it works: TMZ takes a photo of a celebrity, expands and contracts their features until they are no longer recognizable, and then asks you to guess who it is. It’s not really a game you can win, as winning only means that you consume enough celebrity content to know what Justin Timberlake looks like when his face has been contorted in such a way that he looks like a rat.
This makes me laugh every time. It is so disrespectful, and yet it’s not even the rudest celebrity scramble I’ve ever seen. That honor goes to this woman. Can you guess who it is?
It’s Kate Bosworth, obviously. Even though the evil geniuses in TMZ’s graphics department have turned her into some kind of Guillermo Del Toro monster, the heterochromia gives it away. That’s the trick to becoming really good at Celebrity Scramble, you have to get really good at knowing what famous people’s eyes look like. That’s how I knew immediately that this was Rihanna:
You can spend hours playing this game. It’s best enjoyed with a larger group, such as a group chat or a Slack channel filled with people who have other things to do. As you can see from the screenshots, there are hundreds of scrambles just waiting for you. You don’t even need to have a competitive spirit to enjoy them, sometimes it’s fun just to look at goofy photos of celebrities. Look at this image and tell me you aren’t laughing:
That’s Usher, by the way.
TMZ has hate in its heart, I know that for sure. But Celebrity Scramble is one of the few things on the website that doesn’t feel in any way malicious. They didn’t hound anyone down for these images, they aren’t making fun of the celeb’s actual face, and no one is being hurt in the process of having their face scrambled.
Celebrity Scramble has been a mainstay of TMZ since 2019, when they first scrambled Kerry Washington to look like this:
(My guess was Mindy Kaling, you can’t win ‘em all!)
Three years later the game is still going strong, and I hope they never stop. It is the perfect way to waste 10 minutes of the workday. You’ll laugh, you’ll squint, you’ll ask your designer coworker if he can scramble your own face (he will not, as he has other things to do, and you will understand), what more could you want from a gossip website?