Pop Vulture

Rock-Paper-Scissors: The Game, the Challenge, the Obsession

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Sunday, June 8, 2008

It's one of the oldest and simplest games in the world. But lest you think roshambo (or rock-paper-scissors to the uninitiated) is good only for deciding which team is up first in kickball or which family member has to take out the trash, think again. Search YouTube and you'll see just how seriously some people take this semi-quasi-pseudo-sport. (And for links to the videos highlighted below, visit http://www.washingtonpost.com/popvulture.)

Professional rock-paper-scissors leagues hold major tournaments, some with mega-cash prizes, all around the world. Different leagues have their own styles. The nerdishly dignified championships of the World RPS Society have all the thrills and electricity of a crossword puzzle tournament. The Bud Light-sponsored USARPS, on the other hand, in which the contenders have such nicknames as "Landshark" and "The Brain," displays all the glitz, showmanship and buxom women of professional wrestling.

These arm-pumping pros have inspired "The Rock Paper Scissors Show," a mockumentary-style Web sitcom (complete with straight-to-the-camera confessionals, a la "The Office") about a team of players touring the RPS circuit. And because people who devote their lives to rock-paper-scissors don't really need to be spoofed to be funny, there's also a bona-fide documentary about the phenomenon that, based on its trailer, could be another promising entry in the sub-genre of unconventional-competition verite (which includes such great films as "Spellbound," "Wordplay" and "The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters"). The doc, "Rock Paper Scissors: A Geek Tragedy," is touring the festival circuit (it won the audience award at the Calgary International Film Festival) while its producers look for a distributor.

But, you might say, rock-paper-scissors requires no skill. YouTube will prove you wrong there, too. A brief video from National Geographic (of all places) offers some key advice for increasing your chances of winning. If you're playing against a male, for example, lead with paper, because statistically, guys throw rock most often. You'll also find a video featuringMaster Roshambollah of USARPS, the self-proclaimed "greatest rock-paper-scissors champion of all time." The Master gives tips on etiquette (never throw vertical paper; it looks too much like scissors and upsets referees) and strategy (use mind tricks to psych out your opponent).

But perhaps the most important piece of advice for aspiring roshambo players: Never give up. That's the message behind a hilarious animated video that dramatizes the difficulty stick figures have in playing rock-paper-scissors.

-- Christopher Healy

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