We were in the New York Sun this week in an amazing article about our training and upcoming RPS trip to Toronto. The New York Sun makes you pay for online content, so I had to go through the long and laborious process of taking pictures of the newspaper and transcribing the text. What a nuisance. Click the images for full size.
Meet the Primitive Competitors in a 'Dance of Hands'
By GEOFFREY GRAY Staff Reporter of the Sun
7 October 2004
The New York Sun
Copyright 2004 The New York Sun, One SL, LLC. All rights reserved.
In their Midtown office they are known as computer guys who come to work in jeans and trendy sneakers and use nimble fingers to write high-tech financial computer software for the corporate powerhouse Bloomberg L.P.
In another high-tech world, a cultish one that ranges from their 850-squarefoot apartment on the Lower East Side to the banks of Australia and other points abroad,Benjamin Stein and Kenneth Bromberg,buddies from their days together in the electronic engineering program at Cornell, are known to use their hands in a different kind of art.
"RPS," they call it. That's Rock, Paper, Scissors, the game boys and girls use to settle playground spats, or hungry fraternity brothers resort to when vying for the last slice of pizza. Aficionados fondly call it a "dance of hands," a sacred, simple, synchronistic shake of the arms. Once, twice, thrice, then shoot.
Rules are elementary. Rock beats scissors. Scissors beats paper. Paper beats rock.
"The most primitive form of conflict resolution we have," Mr. Stein, 25, said.
"The ultimate in alternative mediation," Mr. Bromberg, 26, said.
But there's more. Among 22,000 of the game's most dedicated practitioners around the world, Mr. Stein and Mr. Bromberg and a handful of others in their "little cabal" will be the only official team representing the New York area at this year's international Rock, Paper, Scissors tournament in Toronto.
The annual affair, scheduled for October 16, has been growing in popularity, number of entrants, and prize money.When officials from the World Rock Paper Scissors society created the international event two years ago, it drew 256 competitors. Next week's tournament is expected to have about 700 competitors and as many spectators.
"Resonation with the public has never been higher," said Douglas Walker, the Toronto-based co-founder of the world society and co-author of the upcoming "The Official Rock Paper Scissors Strategy Guide."
That manual, to be published October 12 by Simon & Schuster, imaginatively traces the history of RPS back to ancient Japanese thinkers who developed a similar game, Snake, Slug and Frog (snake fears slug; slug fears frog; frog fears snake) and a later, tough-tomaneuver variation,Tiger, Warrior and Warrior's Mother (tiger eats warrior's mother; warrior kills tiger in revenge; warrior's mother controls warrior).
Thousands of years after those Asian inventions were devised,a roomy bar in Toronto is the stage on which a menagerie of computer geeks and hyper-intellectuals and tattoo-and-piercing artists and others from as far away as Norway and Australia, having plunked down an entry fee equivalent to about $17, will compete for bragging rights and a prize worth about $8,000.
Mr. Stein and Mr. Bromberg and the five other members of their team, which is named All Too Flat, are considered underdogs to place-although one might argue that all teams are underdogs because Rock Paper Scissor is nothing more than chance, right?
"Not at all," Mr. Stein said."Luck has nothing to do with it."
"It's really the confluence of three separate spheres of being," Mr. Bromberg said."The physical, the mental, and the spiritual."
Training has not been easy. The goal has been a one-hour physical workout daily, strengthening the upper-body muscles with weights to reduce chances for repetitive-stress injuries when "priming" to throw, and to prevent "knuckle dusting," enthusiasts' term for the accidental clash of hands during tournament play.
All Too Flat - the name is an obscure Monty Python reference - has also been incorporating computer science in the training regimen. Mr. Stein and Mr. Bromberg have created a program that provides statistical analysis of tournament matches to determine the type of throw a player is likeliest to use. According to preliminary findings, the most popular is rock, a conclusion Mr.Stein attributes to the fact that rock is a more natural physical form to make and the "perceived belief that rock is a more aggressive throw."
"An obvious fallacy," he said.
Why? "Because paper can beat it - duh?"
It gets more complicated.The team is also trying to calculate which types of throws people are more inclined to make after a sequence of throws. For instance, what's the best throw to make if it appears as if your opponent is planning to throw what are known as gambits? What's the best way to counter Paper Dolls, a sequence of paper, scissors, scissors. Or the "Avalanche," which features three tumbling rocks in a row? Or Fistful O' Dollars, a toss of rock, paper, paper?
"It's surprisingly intense," Mr. Stein said.
The team members are also trying out their trash talk. It's common for rivals to indulge in threats and deceptive tactics during matches. Some are designed to deflate egos. "You call that rock?" one might say. Or a player might make a last-minute attempt to trick an opponent. "I'm going to throw rock," is a particularly devious taunt, because it forces the opponent into a punishing mental fork: Is it a bluff? Would he really throw rock if he told me he was going to throw rock? Now what do I do?
"There's a lot of 'I know because you know because I know what you know' type of thinking going on," Mr. Bromberg said.
All Too Flat has also been designing costumes, a tradition of RPS competition. Last year they went to Toronto with an American-flag theme, with bandannas and lots of red and white and blue stuff - only to be outclassed by a Silver Elvis, a giant Teddy Bear, and a clan from England in business suits who called themselves the Bureaucrats and declared, "Paper is the new rock."
This year, All Too Flat has adopted a "superhero" theme, and when they pile into Mr. Bromberg's Ford Explorer to make the 10-hour drive to Toronto, they also plan to have a phone booth strapped down to the roof.
"Where else do superheros change?" Jeremy Soffin, 26, said. A spokesman for the Regional Planning Association, he'll be known at the tournament as the Sheet.
"I'll ream you," he said.
Mr.Bromberg is flirting with the nom de guerre Landslide, and Mr. Stein has settled on Scizorro.
Mr. Stein is also testing a seduction strategy,in which,at the last moment of priming, he blurts out the word "Paper!"That is designed to force his opponent into inadvertently obeying the command, which will allow Mr. Stein to snip him up with a throw of scissors.
Mr. Bromberg is attempting to finetune his psychic abilities. He reads opponents. He studies faces,Absorbs attitude. Is she tough? "Well, more inclined to throw rock," he then might deduce. Docile in demeanor? "Paper for sure." Somewhere in between? "Gotta be scissors."
Aside from a shot at the money, what do the team members hope to gain from RPS? Sounding like the Yogi Berra of his sport, Mr. Stein describes his motivations as "half pride, half money, half girls," though he said his RPS activities have not yielded much in the last category.
On a recent night collecting data sets from beer-swilling amateurs at a variety of East Village watering holes - information that would be run through the team's computers to determine probability of throws - Mr. Stein approached a variety of women, often ones accompanied by men, and engaged them in official matches. (Best of three throws wins a set. Best of three sets wins a match.)
Some responses were encouraging. "I can't believe this guy!" one playful bartender exclaimed as Mr. Stein beat her again and again.
Others responses were less enthusiastic. "Seems very strange," a 23-yearold actress said.
Mr. Bromberg describes his pursuits in strictly nonmaterial terms. He talks of a Buddhist concept, Mu-Shin, which means "no mind" in Japanese. "I'm looking to achieve a similar state in RPS," he said,"the quintessential state where I know my opponents and I know myself so well that I won't even need to use my hands to win at all."
Achieving that transcendent state is still years away, he acknowledged.
"Some people have martial arts, some people have religion," Mr. Bromberg said. "I have RPS."
Lessons From The Master
He is ranked as the most accomplished practitioner of Rock Paper Scissors in the country. In his younger years he was compared to the erstwhile chess prodigy Bobby Fischer. He is said to possess a psychic's ability to read minds.
If you want to play winning RPS, take the following advice from Jason Simmons, 33, a tattoo-parlor piercing artist from the farming town of Pilot Mountain, N.C., and the mysterious man known piously in the RPS world as Master Roshambollah.
"Know your opponent." What kind of person are you up against? Angry like a rock? Shifty like snipping shears? Know your adversaries' tendencies. Take notes. What do they throw in a pinch?
"Stay Flexible." You must be able to change strategies midstream. Be alert. Know that if the throws you make don't feel right, then it's time to switch. "Never leave yourself in a corner where there's only one way to win," the master said.
"Don't play with me. I play to win. Go find a bunch of tomato cans to beat up on."