I believe in science only to a point… ‘cause I have seen and done things in my life that defy science. One, I have seen some people who are better at Rock-Paper-Scissors (RPS) than others.
I just thought RPS winners were pretty smart…. they had some extra-sensory perception or something. I did not know until I read an article on my aol home page that there is a winning “RPS strategy.” It is at the bottom of this chapter. Winning is not necessarily random. Nothing ESP about it at all.
But the thing about bending science I want to address first is the scientifically proven impossibility of catching a dollar bill dropped between a person’s thumb and forefinger.
The scientific exercise is this, you get someone to hold one of their hands out with the thumb and forefinger a couple of inches apart and you tell the person they can have the dollar that you place long ways half way between their thumb and their forefinger if they can squeeze them together to trap the bill before it falls through. They won’t be able to catch it because; according to a scientific journal I consulted
“Humans have fast reactions, however, the time that it takes the bill to drop is shorter than the time for a spectator to visually see that the bill is dropping, send a message to the brain and then have the brain trigger the fingers to grab. While the process of sensing and then grabbing the bill takes less than a third of a second in most people, the drop of the bill is less, which is why spectators can’t grab the bill.”
I don’t know where I got this trick, maybe from a time I was a life guard at Myrtle Beach and I did it with kids I wanted to befriend who had good looking Mommas. But really I don’t know where it came from but I did it with dollar bills and ten dollar bills through the sixties, knowing that the kids I tried this on wouldn’t catch the bill. I didn’t know the “third of a second” thing mentioned above, I just knew kids couldn’t catch my bait. Not ever.
I was in Laos working out of Long Tieng trying to organize a village militia of Hmong hills tribesmen. I’d go out to some far flung village mornings about dawn with Va Xiong, my ops ass’t, and spend time with the village elders working on ways to defend their villages from marauding Pathos Lao and North Vietnamese. Maybe I’d have a scheduled pick up later, maybe the Air America pilot would stick around, maybe I’d have to call for a ride… but there were often times spent waiting. Usually I’d read a paperback book, if I had finished with my work, but sometimes if there were kids around, I’d answer their questions, and it was surprising how these kids would ask questions, their elders wouldn’t.
Like the US had just sent the first men to the moon, and the hills tribe kids – most who had never seen electricity or TV or ridden in a jeep – had a lot of question. And sometimes I’d take out some local Lao money, call Kip, and do my “now if you can catch this Kip before it goes through your fingers you can have it.”
There was one place, near what we called Red Mountain that I visited to speak with the village elders and later did this amazing act of science with the kids waiting on Air America to pick me up… and then forgot about it.
I was back in this village a month or so later and completely unplanned had another wait on my hands for a pick up. This was after Va had been wounded and evacuated. Not sure who was my interpreter, maybe Bison. I should have gotten a clue that this wasn’t a new thing to these kids because the boys were telling Bison or whoever what the game was as he tried to interpret for me.
So we start with one kid who beat out the others to start the game… and he missed the Kip bill the first time… and then again… and they pushed this little girl, I don’t know 8, 9, 10 years old, from the rear up and the first time I dropped the bill…. She caught it. Fluke right? She caught the second one too. And the third. And now rich beyond her wildest dreams she had to make way for another boy, and I’m thinking, out here’s a freak of nature little girl, with super-human reflexes. So it was good getting back to boys. The next little fellow caught my first bill and then maybe the 3rd, I know he missed once or twice. And then others stepped up.
I would say to myself, ain’t possible, but then I’d drop another Kip bill, and the kids would catch it.
I asked my interpreter what was goin’ on, and he said they told him I had done this trick before, so they had practiced.
So there Mr. Science person… or Doctor Science person… explain how some Hmong kids way the hell out there in the shadow of China, far away from any book learning on Western advances in medicine and engineering and science, can beat your theories? Huh? Huh?
Now here’s the RPS Strategy
Scientists at the Zhejiang University in China studied hundreds of rock-paper-scissors throw downs between 360 participants to put some actual science in the game. The players were given money for wins.
Nature World News reports before, it was thought players used the Nash equilibrium strategy, where they randomly threw out each of the three options an equal number of times in order to confuse opponents – essentially making RPS a game of luck.
Turns out, it’s much more of a mind game than you ever gave it credit for.
Here’s what the scientists found: It doesn’t really matter what players pick the first round – that’s where it’s pretty random. Here’s a hint, though. Rookie males will usually pick rock to start with.
The Washington Post reports players followed a general rule of “win, stay; lose, shift,” meaning if they won a round with rock, they’ll stick with rock for the next round. But if they lost, players followed a predictable pattern of what they chose next.
That pattern is a clockwise direction of power. It’s kind of confusing, but basically it goes like this: rock at the top, paper beating rock, scissors beating paper, rock beating scissors, and we’re back to the top.
So, this means if you lose to rock the first round, the next round you should probably play paper. Since your opponent will probably be all confident and stick with rock, you’d win!
According to MIT Technology Review, the strategy follows a game theory principle called conditional response, and it hasn’t been observed before in the game before now.
But Ars Technica explains the million-dollar advice: If you win, don’t stay with your choice. Instead, throw what will beat what your opponent will most likely move on to.
So, if you win with scissors, a smart opponent will probably play rock next. That means you should go with paper.
And just so you know, when you play RPS, you’re playing the same game used by members of the Han dynasty in China between about 200 B.C. and 200 A.D.
My bet’s Hmong kids developed a winning RPS strategy way back then, too. They were certainly around in the Han dynasty. Raggedy looking mountain kids, but smarter ‘an anything.
Just goes to show, don’t try to hustle the east. 8 year old’ll whip your ass.
Like Rudyard Kipling said:
Now it is not good for the Christian’s health
To hustle the Aryan brown,
For the Christian riles and the Aryan smiles,
And it weareth the Christian down.
And the end of the fight
Is a tombstone white
With the name of the late deceased
And the epitaph drear: “A fool lies here
who tried to hustle the East.”