ROD O’CONNOR

THE DANCE OF HANDS

THE SCHOOL-YARD GAME “ROCK PAPER SCISSORS” HAS BEEN PUMPED FULL OF STEROIDS AND TRANSFORMED INTO A VEGAS SPECTACLE. BUT IS IT REALLY A SPORT?

DISCUSSED: Roshambo, The Official Rock Paper Scissors Strategy Guide, Body Language, Baiting a Throw, The World Rock Paper Scissors Society, The Fourth Throw, The Handshake, C. Urbanus, “The Rock Heard Round the World,” Children’s Games in Street and Playground, Stalemates, Jan Ken Pon, Sansukumi, Earwig Man Elephant, Le Comte de Rochambeau, Deep Mauve, The Princess Bride, Sicilian Reasoning, Master Roshambollah, Beer

Friday, April 7, 2006: poolside at the ancient Egypt–themed Luxor Hotel & Casino—the third-largest hotel on the planet—264 regional rock paper scissors champions and their guests are whipped to a frenzy by Too White Crew, a late-’80s/early-’90s tribute band promising “old school hip hop served hot with crackers.” The band composed a theme song for the USA Rock Paper Scissors League and now, Biz Markie and Tone Loc covers having set the mood, the crowd sings along with “Raise ’em Up”:

[Chorus (sung to the beat from House of Pain’s “Jump Around”)]:

Raise ’em up… throw your rocks up
Raise ’em up… throw your papers up
Raise ’em up… throw your scissors up…

[Sample Verse (sung in the style of your favorite Beastie Boy)]:

I’ve trained for years, I know all the tricks
Step inside my circle and take your licks
’Cause when you lay your sheet, the crowd will watch
Me cut you with scissors, and say, “Peace out, beeyotch”

After dropping “da bomb,” C-note, Professor Milk, the Fly Girls, and the rest of the Too White posse pose a not-so-rhetorical question, given the flailing audience of roshambo geeksters: “Are you ready to get your Bud Light on?” But in this demographically eccentric beer commercial come to life, the answer is always yes.

Over the past few years, competitive rock paper scissors leagues have been popping up around the country—mostly in bars, on college campuses, or in bars on college campuses. Anyone who’s played RPS, also known as roshambo, thinks they know the game: two combatants square off and deliver one of three legal throws—rock, paper, or scissors—where rock smashes scissors, scissors cuts paper, and paper covers rock. Street-style play calls for anything from a single-throw death match to a marathon best-of-five hundred series, but tournaments usually follow a format where the first player to win two best-of-three sets takes the match.

For the novice or the purely disinterested, the game never rises beyond the very superficial notion that rock paper scissors is a game of chance. “It’s just random,” the naysayer might say, perhaps just before making a dim-witted coin-toss comparison. But according to Douglas and Graham Walker, authors of The Official Rock Paper Scissors Strategy Guide, the differences could not be more striking: tossing a coin is by its very nature a passive act, simply letting fate take its course; but during the “Dance of Hands” that is rock paper scissors, the player actively influences the outcome not only by his choice of throws, but by the ability to interpret or ignore the signals provided by an opponent. Like poker, rock paper scissors involves “tells,” subtle body-language-based clues that can tip off a player’s intended throw.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

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Rod O’Connor is a frequent contributor to the Chicago Tribune and Time Out Chicago and has written for Spin and ESPN The Magazine. He lives in Chicago, and enjoys writing about marginal activities created to pass the time.


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