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McGill Reporter
November 13, 2003 - Volume 36 Number 05
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Tawdry Christmas tat on display in stores before the last Halloween toffee is deposited in an eager goblin's bag can bring out the humbug in anyone. But it's never too early to get in the giving mood, and why limit yourself to one day of the year?

World map

Go to the world's first activism site, www.thehungersite.com, and donate food to those who need it with the click of a mouse. Sponsors foot the bill. Through that site, you can link to others that will similarly help animals, children and the rainforest.

Still keen to help the trees? At www.tree4life.com you can plant a tree with the flick of a finger, at no other cost. And at www.clearlandmines.com you can build up the coffers of the Canadian Landmine Foundation by a mere button's press, helping them with their mission to eradicate landmines.

In entering a season in which giving can cost you big bucks, it's nice to know that there are ways you can give for free.

Grazing

Knife and fork

Mall munching doesn't have a glamorous rep, but then, there are few shopping emporiums like Les Ailes de la mode on Ste. Catherine and University. Finally this tony multi-floored boutique has a lunch counter to match its spirit. Rest Area is a small resto on the third floor run by the same culinary culprits behind Area in the Village. If you're craving tuna tartare, foie gras, a cheese platter or just an elegant salad and a pizza, Rest Area can help you out, with inventive upscale cuisine. Table d'hotes are $15 ($20 with dessert), noon or night, open weekday evenings for the holiday season. www.rest-area.qc.ca

Hands-on competition

Poster for rock paper scissors society

Islamic Studies graduate student Morris Popowich reveals the seamy world of competitive Rock Paper Scissors

I had a chance to win it all. Standing on that stage, with seven other remaining players, my stomach was doing cartwheels in time with the shouts and whistles from the audience. There were hundreds of spectators, heaving like some kind of massive organism on the floor below. But the unthinkable happened on the last throw. His paper covered my rock. No second chances. Such are the cruel ways of Rock Paper Scissors.

Known through history as a decisive decision-making tool, Rock Paper Scissors (RPS) is now played competitively around the globe. I entered the 2003 RPS World Championship, held in Toronto on October 25, with few expectations. I'll admit that a part of me thought the whole idea of competitive RPS was a bit ridiculous, probably not unlike the response you're having right now.

But how could a person not love a game as inclusive and theatrical as RPS? Can you think of another sport where the winner of the Championship gets openly booed by the crowd and called a "fascist" for being a part of the "Legion of the Red Fist," and who wears a curly black wig and a red glove with the fingers cut off on his throwing hand? Perhaps professional wrestling, in its pomp and pageantry, comes closest. Even so, high-stakes RPS has wrestling pinned to the mat.

Rock

Unlike wrestling, none of the competition in RPS is scripted. Mandi Hickman (BA'02) lost a close first match to a highly ranked player going by the name of "Master Roshambollah," who arrived from New Jersey wearing a gaudy blue tuxedo and a conical bamboo hat. He claimed to be channelling energy from the Eastern RPS tradition, and spent the evening expounding his strategies to anyone who'd listen, rushing around the venue with camera crews trailing in hot pursuit. If only they had witnessed his trembling hand and unsteady gaze in facing his first rookie opponent, when her scissors nearly punctured his inflated RPS ego.

The most theatrical elements of the Championship were the teams, who descended upon the venue in waves. One sartorially impressive group, the "Alpha-Beta Millionaires," laughed obnoxiously, throwing photocopied twenty-dollar bills like confetti. These moneyed competitors did not advance far.

They should have known that RPS would never allow the almighty dollar to dominate and subvert the essence of the game. RPS is appealing because it is the antithesis of popular professional sport, where noble competition and athleticism has been replaced by the cold reality of big business. Competitive RPS offers its own mythic history, immune from these pressures because everyone knows that the entire mythology is invented.

Paper

Invented, yes. But the mythology is not slipshod. The game's story must be understood in order to appreciate what the movement is about.

According to the RPS website, www.worldrps.com, the first club was formed in London, England, in 1842, "after the issuance of a law declaring 'any decision reached by the use of the process known as Paper Scissors Stone between two gentlemen acting in good faith shall constitute a binding contract.'" During the war years the club was moved to Toronto. In 1935, membership exceeded 1,000, and it became the "World RPS Society." Laws were changed so RPS could be played for honour rather than contract, and the popularity of the game exploded.

Along with this growth, strategy became more complex. Eight classic "gambits," or specific strategies, were developed for a player to use in their hunt for RPS glory. Encountering this tongue-in-cheek posturing before I attended the World Championship, it all seemed like a bit of a joke. The internet is filled to the brim with clever irony. But, as I discovered, there is something different about a "virtual" phenomenon capable of bringing together more than a thousand spectators and fans, all breathlessly waiting to find out who would be crowned champion. During the event, I was caught between wanting to laugh out loud at its foolishness, and scouting out my potential opponents to see if their body language would give away their preferred gambit. I wondered, what is real about this experience and what is make-believe? I looked around the venue for answers.

Scissors

If anyone is hiding behind the RPS myth, pulling levers and pushing buttons à la The Wizard of Oz, it is one of the Walker brothers, Douglas and Graham. In 1995, this Toronto twosome started what could be considered the modern period of the game through the creation of a website devoted to the RPS Society. At least that's what I gleaned from the shaggy-haired Doug after I tracked him down, desperate to determine where the legend of RPS ended and reality started. Might he impart to me the esoteric secrets of RPS and let me see behind the curtain?

Instead, the unexpected happened. Walker smiled a Cheshire cat smile, looking around at the spectacle he had helped to create. "The myth and reality of RPS are blended together," he told me. Bounding off to solve some pressing administrative problem, he refused my follow-up questions. I left unsatisfied, and slightly unnerved. I felt as if I had almost solved the difficult puzzle of RPS, and in front of me appeared another puzzle even more complex than before. What did he mean?

It was only an hour or so after, when I had managed, remarkably, to ascend into the elite round of the final 16 of the Championship, that my mind cleared. I stopped looking at the foolish costumes of the participants and started thinking seriously about strategy. Wasn't it clever that I had just dispatched an opponent by luring her into thinking that I would throw rock, only to slice her paper on the quivering blades of my scissors? Hadn't I dispatched the "Bureaucrat" gambit only one match earlier, unafraid of her dissembling love of paper?

There are, no doubt, some who still think that RPS is a simple game of chance, and that no strategy is involved. I have two responses. First, playing the game with no strategy is, in fact, a strategy called "chaos play." The 2002 World Champion followed this particular methodology on his way to victory. Thus, even in denying strategy the player must choose a strategy.

Second, to those who still doubt the systematic cunning of RPS and its World Championship, I would note this: Rock crushes Scissors. Paper covers Rock. Scissors cuts Paper. There can be no exceptions from these three primordial realities. Perhaps it is everything else surrounding us, and not RPS, that is the myth.

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