I’ll never forget when somebody in the crowd belted this question during quinn’s first-ever show last summer:
“quinn, do you fw Coolmath Games?”
quinn responded immediately:
“Shoutout Coolmath Games! Y’all fw with Coolmath Games?”
The room exploded in laughter, the show went on. Little did I realize that about a year later, I’d be interviewing the person who asked that question. His name is Justin, he’s 23, and he co-runs the social media of Coolmath Games, an ancient game website turned self-aware, tongue-in-cheek internet presence.
For those of you who graduated before the 21st century: Coolmath Games is a website that hosts over 1,000 games that train your brain in some way or another. Founded in 1997 “to teach math and deliver wholesome fun to people of all ages,” according to their website, the company’s Coolmath Games, Coolmath and Coolmath4Kids sites have been incorporated in classroom settings and curriculums. Of the three, Coolmath Games is the loosest with this underlying principle (I’m not entirely sure what Moto X3M is doing for my brain). And its educational element means Coolmath Games is one of the only websites with games that isn’t blocked by school firewalls, a soft loophole that’s led to the near-universal experience of kids playing Coolmath classics like Papa’s Pizzeria and Bloons Tower Defense during computer lab.
Fast forward to 2023. Adobe killed Flash player, effectively deading a bunch of beloved games on Coolmath and other sites. But with a lovely office in Manhattan and a team of around 50 scattered around the world, Coolmath endures. And it maybe has a firmer grip on culture than ever, thanks to Coolmath’s Social Media Specialist Justin and Social Media Manager Maddy, who have turned the site’s social media presence into a stew of meme chaos. Every day, they post stuff like this:
There’s Coolmath’s Monday Mathposting that’s given us classics like this one:
And tomorrow, Coolmath is co-hosting a charity livestream for Save the Children with the music streamer Niztopia, featuring internet artists like xaviersobased, dazegxd, midwxst, kuru and more. “With ‘hyperpop,’ there’s honestly so much overlap too,” Justin says, “because it’s just, like, chronically online people and chronically online people, you know?”
“Honestly, Coolmath Games is kind of just an extension of me a little bit,” he adds. “I think one of the things I realized when I took on this job—I’ve been doing it for three, almost four years now–I just realized [that] people want to see Coolmath Games have a personality. They want to see, no way, the things that I’m into, Coolmath Games is into, you know?”
Through expanding the site’s social media presence and influence, including growing their TikTok from 0 to a million followers, Justin and Maddy may have helped Coolmath Games secure a partnership with AwayFL, a flash emulator that has allowed Coolmath to restore countless previously unplayable flash games like Papa’s Freezeria. “A big selling point for even getting that deal was, Oh my God, your social media presence is so big, we can tag you in all our things,” Justin says. “People come to sell their Coolmath Games now too, under the impression that we’re also going to promote it on social media, so it’s like a double bonus.”
I talked to Justin about his journey from game designer to meme influencer, being yourself online and how Coolmath has become a vital internet archive.
This interview been edited for length and clarity.
Mano Sundaresan: How is Coolmath Games so tapped in?
Coolmath Games: I started getting into the scene during COVID and quarantine and stuff, and I was like, whoa this is pretty cool. I used to listen to quinn way back in the day, actually.
Mano Sundaresan: What’s your favorite quinn song?
Coolmath Games: I like “1am” a lot. There’s this one called “idk, just thinking.” And honestly before I even got into hyperpop, I would listen to that song. I was like, Wow, this just makes me reflect on life and stuff.
What were you doing before you were posting on Coolmath Games? And how did they reach out to you?
I actually originally got into NYU for game design, and that’s what I was doing. I was making video games, and I had a track if I wanted to keep pursuing that career, too, because I have a solo project that I was working on with some people from NYU and it got funded by NYU post-graduation for a year.
Just looking for internships while I was at NYU, they would have this email chain that would always be running around, and it would just be job opportunities. One of them was for Coolmath Games social media. That’s not game design! But I was just like, a foot in the door is a foot in the door, and I know I’m kind of a sociable person already, I know I’m funny. I was testing the grounds on skills that I knew that I had in me, but I’ve never really gotten to test before.
I’ve heard game design can be brutal hours, too.
It’s tasking. A lot of crunching and trying to meet deadlines. Your work outside of work is still working on the game. I clock out here, and I don’t have to think about work really. [Game design] really consumes your life. And I was like, I don’t know if this is healthy for me. Maybe it’s something I get to later down the line. But at least while I’m young, social media is a young person’s game, and I’m 23. I’m not even that much older than my target audience who’s on the Coolmath account. I’m just making things that make me laugh or I find stupid, and it’s a lot easier to do than I thought it would be.
When you joined Coolmath Games, where was the site culturally? I feel like it had a big resurgence during COVID.
It was very much learning focused, and trying to connect with schools and a lot of that kind of stuff. Working with school districts and stuff to be like, “Coolmath Games can be an educational resource” and things like that. We had social media for that kind of stuff, but it wasn’t really working. The posts would do just okay. Eventually, me and Maddy, we were just like, Ok, our audience is teenagers and stuff. If I was a teenager, I would not want to be seeing some ad for like, “Hey, you should check out this cool learning resource for Coolmath Games.” We could be a lot more relatable to our audience. We are the audience—what would I want to see from this account?
We started incorporating some memes into our regular posting, but then we just realized these are crazy successful. So then we kind of just full-on pivoted, and now we’re getting, like, 20,000 likes on average on our posts.
Are you, like, sitting there in the office just writing down meme ideas on the board? Like, how does your work day look?
It’s weird. I’m, like, in the scene now. I have a lot of connects who do other social media stuff. I’m friends with Axe Body Spray and C4 Energy and like, TRUFF Sauce, Heelys—
Silly Bandz is like our biggest fan, you know, bless them. Sometimes they have agencies of like 20 people trying to make this perfect post or whatever. And [Coolmath Games] is literally just me and Maddy being on Instagram scrolling our Explore page and being like, that was pretty funny, we should do something with that. Or, I don’t know, going on KnowYourMeme. A lot of my job requires meme research, which is something I never thought I would be doing ever. A lot of interacting with meme accounts and stuff too.
A lot of our social media ideals are just reminding the general public that we exist still. I think Coolmath Games is one of those things that you think very fondly of, and it was like something that you grew up on, but it’s not something you actively seek out. So if you see my posts on your Instagram page or whatever and you’re like, “Oh, that was kind of funny, it made me laugh, I remember these characters,” maybe you’re more likely to check us out.
What’s your favorite Coolmath Game?
It’s called Three Goblets. It’s not like the other kind of Coolmath Games, it’s more of like a long, [drawn out] one. As a game designer, I’m just always on the lookout for good games. And I played that game for, like, two days straight. I’ve never logged off from work to then keep playing CoolMath Games. I was like, wow, this is a great game.
What was your go-to Coolmath Game in the computer lab?
I was really into World’s Hardest Game when I was a kid. I was not good at it, I was terrible, but I was just like, this is the one I gotta beat.
I don’t know why but I was so obsessed with that motorcycle game.
Moto X3M? We have that one in the tournament coming up, actually.
Oh for real? I might have to pop in. Papa’s Pizzeria or Papa’s Freezeria?
I mean, Pizzeria is a classic, but since it’s their first title, it’s just not as expanded upon compared to the other games. We recently released Papa Wingeria again. And I’m like, Oh, my God, you can do so much more stuff in this one. The Papa’s Pizzeria format is very straightforward. You get the pizza, you put the stuff on, and you cut it. But in the wings, I’m deep frying the wings, and I’m stirring up the sauce, and I’m laying out the plates, this is so much more complex. I appreciate when there’s more levels of intricacy to it. So I’d probably say Papa’s Freezeria.
Why does Coolmath Games matter in 2023?
It’s far away down the line, but if I were to have kids, I would definitely prefer them playing on a Coolmath Games website as opposed to an unfiltered whatever. I feel confident that the games that Coolmath Games put out there are genuinely morally good games. I wouldn’t be concerned about my kids playing games with guns too early or anything like that.
I think it’s also a really good internet preservation website at this point, too, because a lot of these games have been on there for so long. Some of them you can’t even access anymore, so at this point, bringing them back to the general public, it’s kind of interesting, I guess, because there’s nowhere else in the world you can play these games except these places that are trying to revitalize them. It’s almost like a piece of history, you know?