SMUSHED : Fist Full of Fuey at Rock Paper Scissors Championship


FailedSuccess' awesome RPS primer rekindled memories of my bizzaro experience going for gold at the World Rock Paper Scissors Championship:

FailedSuccess' awesome RPS primer rekindled memories of my bizzaro experience going for gold at the World Rock Paper Scissors Championship:


“There are only three throws. We got rock, we have paper and then there is scissors. There’s no dynamite, there is no hand of God, devil sign, or fire. None of that,” barks a stone-faced referee presiding over a cloth-covered table.

“I want a three primed shoot, that’s one…two…three then your throw, ok? I want to see ninety degree angles and all throws should be over the table at the same time.”

So this is what happens when you take kiddy diplomacy’s age-old conflict nipper, a game usually played to decide peacefully who has to scoop Duke’s poop and who gets to eat the last chocolate Timbit, and spice up the action with a $10 000 purse.

There’s something really familiar about this referee. When he finishes his opening spiel and opens it up to questions I ask him if he happens to be an old high school friend of mine’s younger brother. Indeed he is.

Chris, my opponent, a skinny fella in his late twenties from Toledo Ohio, seems to take umbrage to this news that I somehow have an ‘in’ with the referee but the man in the zebra stripes is quick to quell this storm assuring everyone within earshot that even though it turns out that he apparently knows me I will not be afforded any special treatment. Chris seems appeased. He’s stopped shaking. We are now ready to knock knuckles…well not actually… physical contact is verboten in professional RPS. Not even after our fists reveal our play are we allowed to snip at our opponent’s hand if he has the misfortune of throwing paper at our scissors. This may be a game of infantile fist pumping but when there is big money on the line, strategies form, poker faces are born, and wearing an oven mitt to warm your throwing fist between rounds as so many competitors are doing here tonight may not be such a half-baked idea.

We’re at Kool Haus, a popular nightspot in downtown Toronto. A video camera is trained at my mug capturing my intense crazy-insane furrowed eyebrow look that says, “Welcome to Sing-Sing, you’re in my cell block now.” Fox Sports is taping the event. CNN is also on hand. There are at least a hundred other reporters representing the whole media spectrum everyone from regional fish-wrap titles to Forbes is here for the show. There’s even a Michael Buffer sound-a-like MC presiding over the whole event to juice up the excitement with competition updates and WWE styled interviews with a colorful cast of competitors who shamelessly ham it up for the press. Rock radio station 102.1 The Edge and California-based toymaker Jakks Pacific who licenses brands such as Hello Kitty and Dragonball Z and also makes a RPS card game are the main event sponsors. The third annual World Rock Paper Scissors Championships is on.

“Hands in the middle. Go.”

Chris and I are on the same wavelength. Though he’s countering my Sing-Sing stare with a passive-aggressive blank gaze we both opt to open with paper. Our stalemate continues with a round of scissors. The atmosphere is extra innings do or die, and there’s a hint of beef in the air, as it so happens a couple of jerky chewing onlookers are in our midst and the tension in the room has made them really hungry.

“You can do it,” shouts another spectator sporting an oversized afro-wig. People are taking sides, they are actually cheering me on, it’s my forty seconds of fame and I’m soaking it up like a French fry in a vat of Crisco.

A couple rock throws later and the first set is mine 2-1, but this is a best out of three set affair so there’s plenty more game to go. I get too paper-happy in the second round, Chris capitalizes on it and in less time than it takes to clip a toenail we’re onto the grudge match.

Play by play Color Commentary
Rock vs Paper

"Ouch. He got smothered. That’s gotta hurt!"

Scissors vs Scissors
" Now this always cuts me up."

Scissors vs. Scissors
"Boohyah, another deuce. Are you kidding me?!"

Scissors vs Rock
"That’s all she wrote. He lived by the sword and died by the sword."

The pain of losing is easily mitigated when you are among hundreds of losers as is the case this evening, as half of the original 502 competitors also got the axe after their opening bout due to the single knockout nature of RPS championship format.

Despite popular conception that RPS is a game of pure chance, everybody I talked to in loser’s row felt responsible for their own failure: they didn’t train hard enough, they should have seen a throw coming, they felt intimidated by their opponent. The litany of excuses was endless.

My mistake was running too much with the scissors. If RPS is just dice rolling, people wouldn’t blame themselves when they lost. Doug Walker, the event grand poobah and the co-author of the The Official Rock Paper Scissors Strategy Guide concurs.

“If it were equivalent to flipping a coin then people would just feel the victim of fate when they lose,” he explains.

“Most people feel crushed at defeat not because of the hand of fate but because they chose incorrectly or they didn’t react to the information at hand correctly”.

Put it this way, you have three weapons at your disposal: a clenched fist, a horizontal peace sign, and a palm down hand. Depending on the circumstances each option may be the right thing to do or the wrong thing to do.

“The rock is the aggressive approach, the paper is the passive approach, and the scissors is the devious approach and it makes a lot of sense because passivity can work against an aggressive strategy but someone who is passive can be often taken advantage of by someone who is devious,” posits Walker.

RPS is a Zen sport, there is more to each throw than meets the mind’s eye.

According to the World RPS Society, the sanctioning body of the World Championships, the sport’s origins are difficult to pinpoint as so many different cultures lay a claim to it. RPS is known by many names around the world: Jan Ken Po (Hawaii), Stone Scissors Well (France), Hammer Nail Paper (Vietnam), Muck Chee Baa (Indonesia), Jan Ken Pon (Japan), Shnik Shnak Shnuk (Germany) and Ching Chong Chow (South Africa). As for how old the game is, no one knows for certain but it is at least a couple centuries old and perhaps even as old as scissors which were invented around 1500 B.C. in ancient Egypt.

The Paper Scissors Stone Club, the predecessor of the World RPS Society, was founded in London England in 1842. Its creation came as a reaction to a local decree that “any decision reached by the use of the process known as Paper Scissors Stone between two gentlemen acting in good faith shall constitute a binding contract." They felt this writ took away the gamesmanship and fun of their sport which they liked to play for recreation and honour.

By 1918 the society membership had swelled to 10 000, the peak of the society’s membership to this day, and they uprooted and moved their headquarters to Toronto.

Since 2002 when the World Championships was founded the sport now played by millions has experienced a resurgence in popularity. The heavy media attention lavished on Rock, Paper, Scissors of late could vault RPS to a place higher than thumb wars, and paddy-cake clapping games, to a place where no rudimentary hand game has gone before.

This story was first published in Chill Magazine

Copyright © Mike Dojc, 2006

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