Student rivals throw down at rock, paper, scissors tournament

Apparently some school rivalries, like comedy, are at their best when they come in threes.

Such was the case Saturday afternoon at the gazebo at South Park, the site of possibly Lawrence’s first ever semi-organized rock, paper, scissors tournament where the rivalry between Lawrence High School and Free State High School took its newest form.

“Rock, paper, scissors players know how to have fun,” said Tony Thompson, junior at LHS and president of the school’s rock, paper, scissors team.

Both teams played a raucous, 45-minute tournament that drew bewildered looks from nearby Easter egg hunt participants who might not have imagined the simple hand game could take the form of an organized sport.

Thompson rallied together the LHS team after playing several impromptu games with other friends at the school, enough to garner interest in a loosely organized team.

“We thought it would be funny to get Free State involved,” he said.

His girlfriend and Free State student Cali Burke rounded up enough avid players to form a team of their own.

After several fruitless attempts to rally enough people for an organized tournament, it finally happened on a chilly Saturday afternoon.

A cold, blowing wind hastened the tournament, but by the end, it was Free State student Ben Knight who was crowned this city showdown’s first champion.

LHS player Weston Allen provided this analysis of his team’s performance:

“We’re like the KU basketball team,” Allen said. “We’re all pretty good, but we don’t have a clutch player.”

The game

Rock, paper, scissors is a game played in the everyday lives of ordinary people. Similar to a coin flip, it’s sometimes used to determine who’s responsible to tend to mundane tasks, such as taking out the trash or sitting in the middle of the back seat of a car.

A game is played between two people who pound their fists three times, saying with each punch, “Rock! Paper! Scissors!”

On the third fist-pound, each player simultaneously reveals either a scissors, the index and middle finger extended like a pair of scissors; a rock, signified by a closed fist; or paper, shown by a flat, open hand.

By logic, a player showing a rock wins if the other player shows scissors, because rocks could conceivably destroy scissors.

Same holds true if one player shows scissors while the other shows paper; scissors exist to cut paper.

But what sense does it make for paper to defeat a rock?

“Actually, this goes back to the ancient Chinese,” Thompson says authoritatively.

Though the origin of the game is unclear, according to Thompson legend has it that Chinese emperors from hundreds of years ago would make their decisions on matters of the state by placing a rock outside their commons.

If a rock were uncovered, it meant the emperor approved of a certain matter, according to Thompson.

“If the reply was no, he would put out a rock with the paper covering it,” Thompson said.

Thus, paper defeats rock in the game.

Perhaps the simplicity of the game draws people to play it; players from both teams said they had little trouble rounding up participants to form their squads.

“You can either have some sort of strategy,” champion Ben Knight said, “or you can just throw stuff out there.”

The strategy

Knight wouldn’t reveal his winning strategy.

On the face of it, it wouldn’t appear there could be much strategy in a game that’s predicated on seemingly random guessing.

Not so, said other players, who offered several generic strategies that some players use.

Strategies can range from deceiving hand motions that try to give away what a player is going to play to continually playing the same object.

“Aggressive people throw out the rock a lot,” said Burke, organizer of the Free State squad. “It’s very manly play.”

Allen said inexperienced players are sometimes easy to spot.

“People who just start out playing,” he said, “never throw out the same thing twice.”

A Google search reveals dozens of possible and recognized rock, paper, scissors gambits, many of which involve a player using a preplanned succession of objects they’ll play to try to win a best two-out-of-three match.

Lawrence Rock, Paper, Scissors Guild?

Thompson said both schools might make the rock, paper, scissors competition into something bigger.

He talks of creating a Lawrence Rock, Paper, Scissors Guild, which would take the groups’ talents to places like Las Vegas, where organized tournaments draw teams and players from all over the country in search of prizes up to $25,000.

But for now, it’s simply a matter of having fun and looking forward to another competition between the two schools, possibly in June when the weather’s warmer.

“Everyone,” Burke said, “is a big fan of rock, paper, scissors.”