David Holub

Behold: An alternative to the illogical Rock-Paper-Scissors

Normally I shy away from universal pronouncements in writing: “Everyone knows that ...” Everyone has heard of ____” and the like. But I’m going to make an exception here: Everyone knows that rock crushes scissors, scissors cuts paper and paper covers rock.

I don’t even have to tell you what I’m talking about because just the utterance of those words probably made you dream up a petty dispute with the guy sitting next to you just so you could solve it using one of three distinct hand gestures.

There’s much to admire about Rock-Paper-Scissors, like its tradition, stretching back almost a couple thousand years in China before migrating to Japan about 500 years ago before taking over the rest of the world. Or the strategy and game theory behind a seemingly straightforward and simple game (google “rock paper scissors strategy” and you will most definitely learn “how to win at Rock-Paper-Scissors every time.”)

There’s just one problem I can’t seem to get past with this beloved game: The real-life logic makes absolutely no sense. OK it makes a little sense: Scissors does beat paper. In the real world, scissors and paper are natural enemies as scissors are specifically designed to cleft paper in twain. While we use scissors for other things for sure, turning one piece of paper into multiple pieces of paper continues to be scissors’ primary use.

But paper defeating a rock by “covering” it? C’mon! Physiologically impossible! If anything, instead of being defeated, a rock covered by paper would probably launch into a lecture on littering. Or perhaps a “thanks for the shade, bro” and go back to being a rock.

And while a rock could absolutely be used to crush a pair of scissors, it would take the hand of a violent (and likely angry) human or great ape to do so. Granted, scissors take an operator as well, but someone using scissors to cut paper is socially-acceptable behavior. Someone using a rock to smash a pair of scissors would by and large be cause for psychological evaluation.

But there is hope. Given the contrived nature of Rock-Paper-Scissors, I present a solution, a new game. In this game, there are still three competing hand gestures where each beats one and gets beat by another. And the best part: (1) Each is a natural and logical enemy of the other and (2) the game is scientifically and physiologically accurate.

I call it Fire-Water-Cold. I probably don’t even need to explain it but here goes:

(1) Fire beats cold (you take a cold room and build a fire, the cold air becomes warm and is thus defeated)

(2) Cold beats water. (Expose water to air that is cold enough and it becomes ice, altering the water’s chemical structure, making it immobile, albeit temporarily perhaps, and thus, defeated.)

(3) Water beats fire. Sure there are other tools to beat fire (snuffing blankets, extinguishers, etc.) but water remains the go-to for destroying fires.

What about the integral hand gestures? Simple. Fire is represented by four fingers pointing upward (like a campfire, get it?), water by four fingers pointing downward (like rain, or a ceiling’s fire sprinklers) and cold by four fingers pointing sideways (like a cold, steady wind).

For a bit of optional flair, players may wiggle their fingers with each move to animate the gestures.

The chances of Fire-Water-Cold unseating Rock-Paper-Scissors are slim, I know. If nothing else, I can now sleep better knowing there is a way to solve minor disputes in a way that makes natural, logical and physiological sense. Because, you know, science!