Sunday, May 10, 2009
When you were a kid, you and your pals or siblings probably settled disputes with the old game, rock-paper-scissors. (Just in case you've forgotten or you were raised by a pack of wolves or something, the game involves two or more people simultaneously making a hand gesture suggesting a rock, a piece of paper or scissors, with paper beating rock by covering it, scissors beating paper by cutting it and rock beating scissors by smashing them. In the event of a tie, the game is repeated.)
You probably didn't know that rock-paper-scissors has a long history all over the world. Nobody is certain exactly how or where the game began, but it dates back at least to the late 19th century and it probably developed from the Japanese game, Jan-Ken-Pon, which itself was based on various "fist" games going back many centuries.
Since rock-paper-scissors became popular, there have been countless variations. Different cultures employ different weapons. In Indonesia for instance, players pit earwig against elephant against human; the earwig gets in the elephant's ear and drives it crazy, the human stomps the earwig and the elephant stomps the human. America has spawned many different versions, including cat-tinfoil-microwave (I don't even want to think about it) and bear, ninja, cowboy. New variations are arising all the time, and the Ultimate Rock, Paper, Scissors chart features 25 potential weapons, including aliens, sponges and the devil himself. (Apparently the devil is "cleansed" by the sponge!)
In recent years the game has become more popular that ever, with actual tournaments being played, sometimes for large cash prizes. Since 2002, the World Rock Paper Scissors Society has overseen annual International World Championships, and in 2004 the event was even broadcast on Fox Sports Net. Rock-paper-scissors has also been featured in the plots of various TV shows. That '70s Show offered nuclear bomb-cockroach-human (roach survives bomb, bomb destroys human, human steps on roach) while more recently The Big Bang Theory gave us rock-paper-scissors-lizard-Spock. Spock can crush scissors and destroy rock with his phaser, but he can be poisoned by the lizard and "disproved" by the paper, while the lizard can eat the paper but be crushed by the rock and killed by the scissors. (This game inspired the stylish Think Geek t-shirt design seen above.)
This children's game has also been employed to resolve some very adult disputes. Three years ago, Federal Judge Gregory Presnell ordered both sides in a lengthy court case to settle their differences using rock-paper-scissors, and in 2005 Southeby's and Christie's used the game to decide which auction house would be the one to host the auction of a large collection of famous Impressionist paintings. (Christie's made their choice after consulting an employee's pre-teen twin daughters, who suggested going with scissors because "everybody expects you to choose rock." Christie's followed the suggestion, and won.)
In 2009, Rock-paper-scissors shows no signs of going away. It's now being discovered by a new generation. Just a few weeks ago, a secondary school in Canada broke the world record for the largest game ever, with approximately 1500 kids playing.
So, what will the future hold for rock-paper-scissors? Perhaps android vs. starcruiser vs. laser cannon, or toxic waste vs. mutant dog vs. radioactive zombie. Only time will tell. But no matter what your mother always said, rock-paper-scissors proves that sometimes it is best to solve an argument with your fists!
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