Rock, Paper, Scissors…


Rock, Paper, Scissors is alive and well in elementary schools, at least from what I can hear [and hear I do, nearly every day].  I figured it was a simple game, but it turns out that it’s maybe not as straightforward as I thought.

The first sign was when we were watching Big Bang Theorey and Sheldon proposed a variation:

Got that?  Here’s a diagram to help you out:


But TwoPi discovered that Rock, Paper, Scissors, Lizard, Spock didn’t originate with the show:  it’s been around since at least 2005 according to The New York Times.

But back to the original game.  Did you know that there was an official league?  You did?    Well then, did you know that back in 2005 — apparently a banner year for Rock, Paper, Scissors — Takashi Hashiyama was going to sell his $20,000,000 art collection and he had to choose between Christie’s and Sotheby’s to run the auction, so he made them play Rock, Paper, Scissors.  He gave them some warning, and there’s some evidence (again according to The New York Times) that the Christie’s official conducted Actual Research, at least in the form of having a friend ask his daughters.

Mr. Maclean’s 11-year-old twins, Flora and Alice, turned out to be the experts Ms. Ishibashi was looking for. They play the game at school, Alice said, “practically every day.”

“Everybody knows you always start with scissors,” she added. “Rock is way too obvious, and scissors beats paper.” Flora piped in. “Since they were beginners, scissors was definitely the safest,” she said, adding that if the other side were also to choose scissors and another round was required, the correct play would be to stick to scissors – because, as Alice explained, “Everybody expects you to choose rock.”

Sotheby’s didn’t admit to any strategy.  Bad choice, perhaps, because the Sotheby’s official picked rock paper, which was beaten by the Christie’s person’s scissors.  Clearly 11-year olds know their game theory.

But wait, there’s more!  The following year, a judge made two parties settle a dispute using RPS:  (From

This matter comes before the Court on Plaintiff’s Motion to designate location of a Rule 30(b)(6) deposition (Doc. 105). Upon consideration of the Motion – the latest in a series of Gordian knots that the parties have been unable to untangle without enlisting the assistance of the federal courts – it is

ORDERED that said Motion is DENIED. Instead, the Court will fashion a new form of alternative dispute resolution, to wit: at 4:00 P.M. on Friday, June 30, 2006, counsel shall convene at a neutral site agreeable to both parties. If counsel cannot agree on a neutral site, they shall meet on the front steps of the Sam M. Gibbons U.S. Courthouse, 801 North Florida Ave., Tampa, Florida 33602. Each lawyer shall be entitled to be accompanied by one paralegal who shall act as an attendant and witness. At that time and location, counsel shall engage in one (1) game of “rock, paper, scissors.” The winner of this engagement shall be entitled to select the location for the 30(b)(6) deposition to be held somewhere in Hillsborough County during the period July 11-12, 2006.

Humans aren’t the only ones with an eye towards the game.  According to Wikipedia, generator of this entire post and the inspiration of a new Category, E-coli plays as well:

antibiotic-producers defeat antibiotic-sensitives; antibiotic-resisters multiply and withstand and out-compete the antibiotic-producers, letting antibiotic-sensitives multiply and out-compete others; until antibiotic-producers multiply again.

And so do lizards out in California (from this bio page)Lizard

As in the rock-paper-scissors game where rock beats scissors, paper beats rock, and scissors beats paper, three morphs of lizards cycle from the ultra-dominant polygynous orange-throated males, which best the more monogamous mate gaurding blues; the oranges are in turn bested by the sneaker strategy of yellow-throated males, and the sneaker strategy of yellows is in turn bested by the mate guarding strategy of blue-throated males.

So there you have it.  Maybe not the simple game I thought it was after all.


3 Responses to “Rock, Paper, Scissors…”

  1. Kate Nowak Says:

    I’m sorry, but I’m confused. How was Sotheby’s rock beaten by Christie’s scissors? Rock beats scissors.

    I thought you were going in a completely different direction with this, namely, that RPS makes a good example of commutative but not associative! 🙂

  2. Ξ Says:

    Well, umm, that happened because my brain turns off after about 8pm. Sotheby’s picked paper, not rock. Thanks for pointing that out!

    I’m intrigued by the commutative/associative comment but I’m not quite sure what you mean by it. What aspect are you thinking of [I can think of non-associative ideas, but they’re also not commutative, unless you mean that with two items it’s always clear unless it’s a tie, but with 3 it matters which pair goes first.]

  3. David Brooks Says:

    Other versions of RPS that you should check out:






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