Albert Einstein, paraphrased
Who the hell knew that you had to register in advance for a rock-paper-scissors tournament? I mean, doesn't that contradict the entire backyard ethos of rock-paper-scissors, the most spontaneous and entertaining of all our decision-making games? My associates and I arrived at the Target Center in Minneapolis on Friday afternoon (the tournament was before the Timberwolves game; the final was during halftime) looking to prove our mettle: Would we survive in a post-apocalyptic world where rocks, paper and scissors were the only weapons? As our ignorance of the registration rules proved, we had a lot to learn about competitive RPS.
As soon as I entered the tournament floor, I was quickly identified by the event organizer as a reporter, probably due to my long coat, jaunty gait and sophisticated demeanor. He led us to the resident celebrity of the event, a shiny bald man in a black suit who called himself Master Roshambollah or, as he told us, Master Rosh for short. Master Rosh was a man in full: calm and collected, completely in his element at what would probably have been the world's largest rock-paper-scissors tournament if over half of the registered participants had actually shown up. Nonetheless, Master Rosh was beaming.
Before I retired, I was considered one of the best rock-paper-scissor players in the world, Master Rosh declared, without even a hint of self-consciousness. I asked Master Rosh how he managed to reach the top of the RPS world.
Manitou Messenger (MM): [gently, yet with confidence] How do you stay on top of your game? What does it take to be a great RPS player?
ROSH: [standing up straight, striking eyes piercing my soul with an indescribable wisdom] All the great players downplay their strengths. You have to cycle through strategies if you want to make it into the late rounds. [Softer now, as if imparting great truth.] I play what's known as a complex adaptive strategy. If you don't adapt your strategy over the course of a tournament, the better players are going to take you down.
MM: [humbled, awed] Why did you retire at the top of your game? Did the grind of competitive RPS start to get to you? Is it just that you had nothing left to accomplish?
ROSH: [actually saying this, I swear to God he actually said this] Sometimes a strong oak needs to be felled to make room for the younger saplings to survive.
MM: [after a long, stunned pause] How do you make a living as a professional RPS player? Do you live off tournament winnings? Or were you sponsored?
ROSH: [with pride] Bud Light sponsors the tournaments, but not the players themselves. [secretively] The real money is in the high-stakes, backroom games that happen between master players at tournaments like this.
MM: Are you serious?
ROSH: [elementally] Yeah. There are tons of high profile athletes who have a lot of money but suck at RPS.
MM: And they play in these secret games?
MM: Like who? Barkley?
ROSH: [long pause] I'll deny that.
MM: It's Barkley, isn't it?
ROSH: [adamantly] I will deny that. Of course, you can print your suspicions as a journalist, but I'll deny it.
I decided to go talk to some more obscure participants in the tournament. I spoke with Kelvin, a Woodbury high schooler with an RPS T-shirt and unfortunate hair. Kelvin's friend, whose name was Chris or something, had a matching RPS shirt, and both agreed that they had what it took to succeed in RPS namely, they're too wimpy to play real sports.
Master Rosh also introduced me to Team Hustler, an RPS crew out of Minneapolis consisting of two men calling themselves Doctor Rachmaninoff and the Reverend Roshambo. Master Rosh predicted the Hustlers would win the tournament; he had played against them at a competition in Toronto last year and came away very impressed.
The Hustlers were soft-spoken, with grace and elegance that belied a killer instinct boiling just below the surface. I spoke with the Reverend Roshambo, who said that RPS was in their bloodline; his parents, he said, were hustlers. I asked him how he prepared for a match. He replied that he doesn't really prepare for matches against amateurs, but when he faces off against masters, he uses a koan-centered meditation practice to focus his mental energy to the task at hand.
After half an hour of registration and milling around, it was time for the tournament to begin. Master Rosh opened the competition with the words Minneapolis used to be known for one thing and one thing only: rock-paper-scissors. It's time to bring that tradition back.
With those salient words, the frenzy began: three referees, three tables and 80 players. One of the first players to be eliminated was the kid I talked to whose name I thought was Chris. He was eliminated by a rather dull-looking girl, and when I asked Chris how it felt getting his butt kicked by a girl, he responded with a dejected, Kinda sucks. Kelvin made it deeper into the tournament, winning two matches before being swept 3-0.
The Reverend Roshambo was inexplicably defeated in the first round, and the defeat wrote distress on the faces of Team Hustler. Doctor Rachmaninoff was visibly disappointed, but regained his cool demeanor and won several close matches to make it to the Final Four before being defeated by some high school girl who probably didn't even know what she was doing. She ended up winning the tournament, but I forget her name. I think it started with a C, or maybe a K.
The upset of the tournament came early in the first round. Master Rosh excitedly told me about an 8-year old RPS prodigy by the name of Zach Dillon. Rosh said he had seen tapes of Dillon and read about him in RPS Magazine, which apparently exists, believe it or not. In fact, Rosh gave Zach the highest praise he could possibly think of: He could be the next Master Rosh. When I asked Master to point Zach out to me, he looked around the room for a moment, gave up and declared, He's hard to find. Kind of low to the ground. I found Zach, though, and watched his opening match with quivering anticipation.
The wind was taken out of my sails when Zach was soundly defeated, 3-0. Zach bounded happily off the stage, probably to go play Tony Hawk Pro Skater. Master Rosh was dumbfounded, repeating Wow under his breath. I later asked Joe, the college student who had defeated Zach, how he felt about beating, if not the foremost RPS player in the world, then at least the foremost 8-year-old RPS player in the world. Joe looked a bit surprised, then replied that the victory was satisfying.
The night's denouement, however, occurred just as Master Rosh said it would: not in the tournament, but in a backroom, under-the-table RPS match. Watching the tournament, my associate Joe Christianson and I had become convinced that we could have won, and thus challenged Master Rosh and the Reverend Roshambo to a $20, winner-take-all team RPS match. What hubris. At the opening of the match, the Master told me he was going to throw scissors. I threw paper, he threw rock and Joe and I went up 1-0. Master Rosh, though, had only been gauging my strategy and proceeded to wipe the floor with me, throwing powerful rocks and razor-sharp scissors, all at a breakneck speed and behind a solid paper defense.
Joe put up a valiant effort, nearly defeating Roshambo, but when it was all over, the Master and the Reverend walked away with our $10. It was a worthwhile defeat, though we got to compete against two of the world's premier RPS players and, to be honest, they probably needed the money.
Sites to explore:
The World RPS Society - www.worldrps.com
United States Association of Rock Paper Scissors - www.usarps.com
Master Rosh's MySpace - www.myspace.com/roshambollah