Who Invented Rock, Paper, Scissors and What’s the Best Way to Win Consistently?

Who Invented Rock, Paper, Scissors and What’s the Best Way to Win Consistently?


Jay Soy asks: Who invented rock, paper, scissors? Hand based games have been around seemingly
as long as humans have been humaning. As to the exact genesis of Rock, Paper, Scissors,
however, this appears to originate in hand games from China, supposedly going back about
two thousand years, though primary documented evidence of this is scant. That said, the trail gets much more clear
starting around the 17th century which saw some of these games having migrated over to
Japan and explicit references to them in surviving text. One of those games, in turn, spread from Japan
throughout the world in surprisingly recent times. We are, of course, referring to Rock, Paper,
Scissors. As noted, in the early going, there were a
myriad of these hand games using a series of hand gestures, sometimes even using various
chants. As for the many three hand gesture variants,
these are called sansukumi-ken. As an example of one variant of this, we have
the Japanese “mushi-ken” which instead of using Rock, Paper, and Scissors, used hand
gestures representing a frog, a slug, and a snake. The specific gestures were the thumb as the
frog, which defeats the slug. The slug is represented by the pinky finger
and defeats the snake. The snake is represented by the index finger
and defeats the frog. If you’re now wondering how a snake is beaten
by a slug in the Japanese version, it’s hypothesized that when the Japanese adopted the game from
the Chinese, they simply misinterpreted the character for a certain poisonous centipede
used in said Chinese version, with that then representing the slug in Japan because of
it. As for the direct ancestor to Rock, Paper,
Scissors, that is the game of jan-ken, which has been played in Japan going back to around
the 17th century and uses the Rock, Paper (or cloth), Scissors trio of hand gestures
we’re all familiar with. Interestingly, up until relatively recently,
these games were primarily used as drinking games, particularly extremely popular at Chinese
and Japanese brothels. Beyond used for getting tipsy, they were also
used for a similar purposes as a game like strip-poker. On that note, in more modern times (since
around the 1970s when it was used this way on a television program), Yakyūken is a version
of Rock, Paper, Scissors played in Japan that is the game of choice for the hand gesture
equivalent of strip-poker. Of course, these games eventually found there
way outside of brothels, becoming particularly popular with children starting around the
19th century. For example, in the early 19th century Bunka
7 document, the author expresses his amusement of children playing brothel games, stating,
In former days children used to play red-shell-horse-riding or they fought with the shell of mussels. Of today’s children…they play also mushi-ken,
fox ken, and original ken. How funny! As to how it then spread the world over, this
wouldn’t actually happen until much more recent history, based on documented accounts seemingly
occurring between the 1920s and the 1950s. For example, some of the earliest references
of the game outside of Japan include one account in France in 1927 where it was called “chi-fou-mi”,
or another in Britain in 1924 where it was called “zhot”, and yet another in a 1933 edition
of the Compton’s Pictured Encyclopedia- in all cases with it being explained that it
was a game played in Japan. The respective authors then described the
rules and how it’s played. As to why this particular hand gesture game
caught on in the wider world when so many others did not, it’s speculated that it’s
because it is one of the simplest to understand and play, as well as that it makes a very
effective and seemingly random way to settle a dispute or decide something between two
individuals. Fast-forwarding to today, the game has even
become a competitive sport with various organizations formed in different countries. For example, in 2002, the brothers Walker
formed the World RPS Society and formalized the rules for international competition. They held the “Rock, Paper, Scissors World
Championships” in Toronto every year from 2003 to 2009, which was even televised on
Fox Sports Net at one point. The co-author of this very article, Matt Blitz,
even competed in said tournament from 2003 to 2005, including finishing in the top 64
in the world in 2005 after valiantly suppressing a robot uprising when he squared off against
a Rock, Paper, Scissors-playing robot and soundly crushed it. He also defeated an exceptionally inebriated
human female. At this point you might be wondering about
ways in which to improve your odds of winning at Rock, Paper, Scissors. To begin with, statistically men are a few
percentage points more likely to start with rock, while women are similarly slightly more
likely to start with scissors. To attempt to ensure this tendency will be
followed, one strategy is to not give the person any time to think. You simply challenge them to the game to decide
something and start pumping your fist to get them to join in and hope the slight natural
tendency will kick in. To improve your odds even further, make it
a best of three or best of five. From there, we move on to a study by Zhijian
Wang and co. Cycle frequency in standard Rock-Paper-Scissors
games: Evidence from experimental economics done at Zhejiang University using 72 students
playing 300 rounds of rock, paper, scissors. It turns out that while overall what a person
ended up picking seemed completely random based on the overall throws, which were essentially
evenly distributed in the large sample-size, when looking closely there are actually very
clear patterns. If someone wins, they are more likely to make
the same choice the next time. If they lose, however, they are likely to
choose the next item in the sequence from the one they just lost with. So, if one loses with rock, they are likely
to choose paper the next time. If they lose with paper, they are more likely
to throw scissors the next time. Thus, they are picking the thing that they
just lost to. Further, players who repeat the same sign
twice are extremely unlikely to throw the same sign a third time, allowing you to improve
your odds slightly by ruling that one out as something they’ll pick in most cases. Thus, if they throw scissors twice, your next
throw should be paper, as they are likely to choose either paper or rock, improving
your odds of a tie or win. Thus, assuming your opponent does not know
any of this, the larger the sample size you play them with, the more likely you are to
win the overall match against them employing these tricks. Moving on from playing the odds, if you have
fast reflexes, a rather shady way to improve odds is to watch how the final hand drop is
going. It turns out most amateurs (which is basically
everyone) will start to move their fingers, if not choosing rock, almost immediately upon
the final descent of the hand- rookie mistake. In this case, if the thumb of your opponent
is held tucked and fist showing no signs of unclenching half way down the pump, this usually
implies rock, or a more seasoned player. If there is any movement of the fingers as
the fist starts to go down, it’s going to be scissors or paper. From here, if you’re not fast enough to register
exact finger movement and then mentally process that, you should always go with scissors to
ensure a tie or win. Both to help guard against someone employing
this strategy against you and to keep yourself in a more easily changed position without
being too obvious, you should always default in your mind to rock and then only change
at the last possible second as needed based on what you are seeing from your opponent. Moving on from human reflexes, it turns out
with a little ingenuity, this observational method is a way to win 100% of the time in
theory, as demonstrated by a group from the University of Tokyo in 2012 who created a
robot that used this very method to win every single time against a human opponent. This particular robot could adjust its play
within a millisecond or so once it determined what the human was going to throw based on
initial finger movement or lack-thereof. Thus, for a person really serious about their
Rock, Paper, Scissor play who doesn’t mind cheating, all you need is to write a bit of
software paired with a reasonably high speed camera and a Bluetooth earpiece in your ear. Victory every single time. Pretty sure this is a million dollar phone
app idea actually… Another popular method used in tournament
play particularly is to attempt to throw your opponent off by telling them what you’re going
to throw before you throw it, or alternatively shouting one of the three directly before
they show their hand. It’s not really clear how much this actually
helps, as we could find no hard data to back up its efficacy, but many a tournament player
does it anyway. If nothing else, it makes the game a little
more interesting. Finally, if playing an opponent who knows
all the tricks and you don’t feel like using the slightly cheating method of reacting to
hand movements, it’s generally advisable to pick completely randomly and evenly distribute
your choice over a large sample size to 1/3 of each. However, as it’s not technically possible
for a human to reliably do this, some tournament players will simply use a bit of software
to randomly pick an evenly distributed sequence for them and then memorize and use that when
competing. That said, looking at the wider body of, for
lack of a better word, “pro” players at tournament, according to an analysis by the World RPS
Society, in their tournament play, they observed Rock being played 35.4% of the time, Paper
35% of the time, and Scissors 29.6%. As to why tournament players seem to strongly
favor Rock and Paper, this isn’t clear, although it is noted that most tournament players are
male, and males are more likely in general to go with rock. On the other side, more researched players
that know this may choose to try countering with slightly greater instances of paper to
beat a rock aggressive opponent. Speaking of research, have you ever found
that you don’t really have time to read all the books you’d like to learn something from? Well have we got the perfect app for you… Bonus Fact:
In America, another name for Rock, Paper, Scissors is “Rochambeau”. So how did it get this name? The commonly held story is that it is from
a French general by the name of Jean-Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur de Rochambeau who came
to the colonies to assist the Americans in gaining their independence from the British
in the Revolutionary War. It’s commonly stated that Rochambeau introduced
the game to the new nation while he was in America, but the timetables don’t really line
up here from documented instances of the game. So while widely touted as an explanation,
it is likely a myth. That said, it may actually be that Rochambeau
really did inspire the name anyway. Historian John Buescher from the University
of Virginia notes that the first published reference to the game in the United States
comes from a 1932 New York Times Article about Tokyo’s rush hour and a game played during
commuting. In the article, the rules to the game are
described in detail, again lending to the idea that it was still pretty new to the United
States at this point. Fast-forwarding 3 years, in 1935, The Handbook
for Recreation Leaders compiled by Ella Gardner was published by the Children’s Bureau. Gardner was considered the government’s
child recreation expert. In the book, the game “Rochambeau” is
described as such for the first known time under that name. Noteworthy here is that, at the time, the
Children’s Bureau was located a mere block away from a statue of Count Rochambeau, which
was erected in 1902 in Lafayette Square in Washington DC, and had recently been the focus
of the 1931 sesquicentennial celebration of the Yorktown surrender. In the original Japanese version it is common
to say “jan-ken-pon” as you pump your fist up and down. Thus, Professor Buescher hypothesizes that
Gardner, or someone else involved in the government creating book, got the idea to switch the
Japanese to something with a bit of American patriotism- substituting “jan-ken-pon” to
“Roch-am-beau”. It’s also noteworthy here that this particular
publication was read by many teachers, parents, and the like throughout the nation, perhaps
spreading this name in the process during a time when it would have been the first instance
of most in America ever encountering Rock, Paper, Scissors.

100 thoughts on “Who Invented Rock, Paper, Scissors and What’s the Best Way to Win Consistently?

  1. The first 100 people to go to http://blinkist.com/TIFO are going to get unlimited access for 1 week to try it out. You’ll also get 25% off if you want the full membership.

  2. I sell hentai and anime, and we always give away prizes at our panels by having a sexy cosplayer playing jan-ken-pon against the whole crowd.

  3. I found it wonderfully awesome when I first saw in an anime the characters yelling what sounds like "Jan, ken, pon!" (my spelling may certainly be off). It was interesting that this silly hand game was actually international. Kind of like discovering a certain phrase is shared nationally here in the large US or even globally or has an international equivilant, like too many cooks in the kitchen and Germany has one that translates to "too many cooks spoil the broth" (I've slacked on my Duolingo lessons so I don't remember how to actually write that out now 🙂

  4. When the fist bump replaced a handshake I always use paper on millenials, when an OG boomer wants a high 5 it's scissors all the way.

  5. Nobodies has any real skill with this game. Not until they win a higher percentage of the time while both parties are blindfolded. Try this method to improve your ESP. Good luck.

  6. 7 Habits eh? I remember authoring the DVD box set for that back in the early 2000s. I think it was his lecture based on the book.

  7. Apparently, not everyone knows how to play this almost omnipresent game. I had to introduce my grandparents to this game not too long ago.

  8. Love ur channels, fulfills my need for random useless info, my question is, why is an old, busted car referred to as a "lemon"?

  9. I think the Japanese "Slug, Toad, and Snake" is based on the dynamic between the types of magic used by the characters in "Jiraiya the Gallant". Slug magic (used by Lady Tsunade) beats Snake magic (used by Orochimaru) which in turn beats Toad magic (used by Jiraiya) which in turn then beats Slug magic.

  10. It's not surprising for rock and paper to be used more often than scissors and I don't believe gender has anything to do with it. If you think about the muscle movements making scissors with your hand is a more complicated action than rock or paper which are very simple.

  11. I was at 3 of the WRPS championships in Toronto. I came in the top 8 in 2007 and I lost to the New Zealand Champion.

    First of all, there is a strategy in calling out what you are going to throw. For instance I was named “The Rock” and was very belligerent about telling my opponents I always throw rock (also keep in mind the world RPS championship is basically a big college costume party where everyone is drunk, so a lot of people have characters, hence my name “The Rock”). However even more deceptive, I had my friends (or managers as I called them) pretend to be my enemies and talk to my opponents before the match. Since my character was obnoxious and loud a lot of people were gunning for me. So when my “managers” were feeding them info about how I always throw Rock first and how they just wanted me to lose, it was a very effective tool. Think of a bad wrestler who gets the crowd booing. That was basically how my character acted. So my opponents were convinced I would throw rock every time but what they didn’t know is how elaborate of a trap I set for them lol. RPS is a game of gamesmanship.

    Additionally another good strategy is to throw three of the same in a row. For example, 3 rocks in a row is called a “landslide”, 3 papers is a “notebook” and 3 scissors is a “toolbox”. People don’t expect 3 or more in a row of the same.

    Another strategy (Simon did touch on this) is called “ghosting”. This is where you basically shut your brain off and don’t think about what you’re going to throw until the very last second. If you don’t even know what you’re going to throw then it’s virtually impossible for your opponent to know.

    Keep in mind the official rules of the tournament are best out of 3 AND you have to win a bo3 twice. So there is enough time to get into your opponents head.

    I can talk all day about my RPS days lol… Trust me though it was a lot cooler than it sounds and lots of hot girls there 🙂

  12. There was a Roshambo championship at the World Series of poker a few years back run as a kind of a pickup game and I think ESPN showed it.

  13. It's funny how no matter what point in history you're talking about, adults will always complain about children's crazy antics.

  14. Can't help but to wodner if the men typically picking rock and women picking scissors has anything to do with masturbation and how your hands are used…

  15. This channel has the uncanny ability to take a mildly boring topic to epic levels to cause instant death after 8 seconds.

  16. You know the hand notion of showing the index and middle finger up and people? What is the origin of that??

  17. Woah this game origionated in China and Japan. If so there can totally be a varient involving Chinese elements. There is fire, water, earth, wood and metal.

    Fire has the hand flat with fingers wide apart. It resembles a flame. Fire beats wood and metal. Fire burns wood. It also melts metal.

    Water has the hand in a fist with thumb out, like a thumbs up gesture. It resembles a water drop. Water beats metal and fire. Water corrodes metal. It extinguishes fire.

    Earth has the hand in a fist. It is like rock, and rock comes from the earth. Earth beats fire and water. Earth smothers fire. It dams up water.

    Wood has the hand flat with fingers together. It resembles a leaf. It is like paper, and paper is made out of wood.Wood beats water and earth. Wood drinks water. It gains nutrients from the earth.

    Metal has the hand pointing pointer and middle finger only with the rest curled. It is like scizzors, which is made out of metal. Metal beats earth and wood. Metal tools can move earth and dirt around. It also cuts wood.

    I can totally imagine Chinese kids playing this game. Then when they grow up, they will have a solid understanding of elemental interaction. It will be easier for them to understand traditional Chinese practices that use elements. For example this can help them with feng shui.

    BTW I like Roshambo. It is not as awkward and long as paper rock scizzors.

  18. I had never heard Roshambo until I taught English in Japan when children playing Janken would chant Roshanbosaishowaguu before throwing Rock Paper Scissors.

    I never asked them why. Because they were kids and their answers probably would have been “that’s how it works” and I never met an adult interested enough to likely have an answer.

  19. funnily i wasn't familiar with this game until adulthood (as well as tag)… and i still find it confusing how things beat each other… might be country thing or that i didn't play with others

  20. So why was it decided to call the game in English 'Rock, Paper. Scissors' when Rock beats Scissors and Scissors beats Paper? The name seems backwards to me. And in recent years, Japan begin the game saying Scissors, Paper, Rock (Sai, Sho, Gu). This games name is all over the place, no wonder it's a drinking game.

  21. Wow, you REALLY need to figure out your pronunciations to simple words. I'm an American living in Japan (8 years now) and rock, paper scissors is pronounced junken (jun:almost like june , moon, fool, stool,; and ken like men, been, send, when.) You have a great channel, but you spend no effort to learn proper pronunciation of words.

  22. In Indonesia, we mostly play the fingers, with the thumb > index finger > pinky finger ( > thumb).
    But rather than the frog < snake < slug/centipede thing, the thumb represents the elephant > index finger represents human > pinky finger represents ant.

    The analogy is: elephant wins over human by stomping them to death, human wins over the ant by stepping on it to kill it, and the ant wins over the elephant by going inside the elephant's ear and bites it (to death?).

  23. Local variant was "gunslinger, karate man, bear." Gunslinger shoots bear, karate man kicks the gun out of the gunslinger's hand, bear mauls karate man. This version is played in two ways, the first with simple hand gestures (pointed index finger, flat hand, and finger claws). Or, when heightened embarrassment was required, like two friends arguing over who gets the front seat, then the "full version" was played. The two players would stand back to back and then turn around with hands in a firing position, a karate stance, or with both hands in claw mode.

  24. I'm going to go out on a limb her before watching and speculate that the best way to consistently win is to open with paper. Please, please, I'm here all week!

  25. The frog, slug, snake have Indonesian version, called Gajah (elephant), Semut (ant), dan Manusia (human), where Ant, represents by pinky is defeated by human, represents by index finger, and human is defeated by the elephant, represents by thumb, and of course, elephant is defeated by ants,. why> because in Indonesia folktale, people believe that ants can bite elephant, and make elephant run, hahaha

  26. Ok , I just spent 12:41 of my life listening to this cuz Simon has a great voice and Honestly, had ANYONE ELSE said with a straight face that there were PROFESSIONAL SPORT ORGANIZATIONS re: RPS I would have called Bovine Scatology in a nanosecond…. Saying stuff with the weight of credibility using an English accent has to be a superpower….
    That being said I’ll see your RPS clip and raise you one…” I dare you to do a clip re the origin of LIAR LIAR PANTS ON FIRE “
    Have a good wknd

  27. I like the Hunter X Hunter version that said people played it to hide martial arts competitions behind a innocent looking game

  28. I used to play this as a teen, with one different rule. The loser of each throw had to put his hand out, palm up, and the winner used two fingers to whip his wrist as hard as he could. After 10 to 15 minutes, one player would surely drop out. This made the game a little more serious…….Girls would never play it this way.

  29. I prefer reverse – scissor, paper, rock
    rock holds down paper so paper can't move
    paper wraps up scissor so scissor can't open
    scissor knocks away rock cause steel is harder than rock

  30. Democrats now claim rock, paper, scissors is now white supremacist hand gestures just like the okey hand gesture.

  31. Has anyone studied the patterns of Male vs Female in conjuction with what each side would choose? Example: If I was playing a male I would pick paper, if I was playing a female I would pick rock. Being a male how much of a percentage change does that factor into being a male and males picking rock?

  32. "Women are most likely to start with scissors" 😂 when I was a kid it was Alex Kidd in Miracle World for the Sega Master System that introduced us to this

  33. My brother and I grew up settling disputes with "Even"s & Odd"s". One player claims even numbers the other odd numbers. Same 3 taps of fist, and then throwing a number of fingers. If the sum total of fingers is an even number, even player wins, and vice versa. When I 1st came across "Rock, Paper, Scissors" as slightly older child, thought it was a less common, bastardized version.

  34. So many comments and no mention of Cubot and Orbot's infamous "Rock, Doughnut, Thursday," where Doughnut makes Rock delicious.

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