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The History of Rock-Paper-Scissors


The game of Rock-Paper-Scissors is the world’s oldest strategy game, beginning over 4.5 billion years ago with the creation of Rock. But it wasn’t until about 6 million years ago in East Africa when prehistoric men first became bipedal that the game really began to take shape.


With their hands finally off the ground, early cavemen devised the best way to utilize this new adaptation, and the game Rock Rock Rock was invented. The earliest known version involved 2 players, with one acting as a thrower and the other a catcher. The thrower would attempt to place his Rock at a strategic position on another player’s body while the catcher would attempt to avoid the throw. Players frequently reversed roles until one player successfully placed an unspecified number of Rocks upon his opponent.


Over the centuries the game evolved to include the use of open hands to stop of block throws which incidentally became the inspiration for martial arts.

According to Charles Darwin, as mankind evolved, so did the tools needed to play a more thrilling hand game.  Recently-discovered cave drawings from the Paleolithic period show depictions of the most vital aspects in pre-historic life: hunting, making fire, and playing Rock-Tablet-Stone-Axe, the latter of which was eventually replaced becoming Rock-Paper-Spear. Not just used for entertainment purposes, the game settled who had to forage, who got to sleep as well as resolving various mating disputes.


It is also reported that the first use of numbers in world history was devised to keep scoring statistics. Tribal competitions began to take place.  One of the most famous early RPS tournaments was when David defeated Goliath with a throw of Rock to Goliath’s Spear.


As evolution led to advanced technologies, the game took on many new identities. Rock Tablet Spear gave way to Rock Papyrus Knife and in a truly fundamental change to the game, shears replaced knife around 1000BC to commemorate the Greek victory during the Trojan War. 


As the world became more civilized and cosmopolitan tastes emerged within rising city-states and growing empires, the next stage in the game’s evolution unfolded. It was Julius Caesar, during his reign as Emperor who replaced shears, a symbol of a more simple, agrarian and farming lifestyle and a staple of the game for millennia, with scissors, an object more befitting the refined urban lifestyle, growing sophistication and splendor of Rome.


With the fall of Rome, Europe was plunged into the Dark Ages. But the game’s evolution continued. In China, paper was invented and replaced papyrus, thus creating the modern version of Rock-Paper-Scissors. And so it was for over a thousand years.


This modern version of the game made its way back to Europe after an enterprising young trader, Marco Polo brought back not only tales of Oriental splendor but also stories of the use of a truly inspired dispute-resolution mechanism. The game spread rapidly through Venice as merchants desperately sought a more efficient means to settle commercial disputes as trade and commerce grew. 


Rock Paper Scissors continued to thrive, and in 1747 topped soccer as the world's most popular game.  


RPS became codified in legal circles in 1842 when England passed a highly controversial law that declared “any decision reached by the use of the process known as Rock Paper Scissors between two gentlemen acting in good faith shall constitute a binding contract. Agreements reached in this manner are subject to all relevant contract and tort law.”


The game arrived in North America during the American Revolution, aptly named for the way it revolutionized the sport and provided the world with a completely modern moniker for it: Rochambeau


Rock-paper-scissors is often called Rochambeau (or "Roshambo), allegedly for its connection with the famous Frenchman, the Comte de Rochambeau.

It is widely believed that an ill-advised throw of Scissors during a masquerade ball resulted in his financial ruin and hasty subsequent departure from his ancestral estate in France. Fleeing across the Atlantic, Rochambeau teamed up with George Washington during the American Revolution and became the general who led the French Expeditionary Forces during the war of independence.


The Count was a skillful military leader who clearly understood the importance of Rock Paper Scissors in conflict resolution, He used Rock-Paper-Scissors to train his troops in the arts and fundamental principles of war:  discipline, courage, intuition, and intense hand-to-hand combat. In 1780, he was sent to aid Washington against the English and a year later surrounded British General Cornwallis at Yorktown. Although there is no definitive proof, his presence during peace negotiations calls into question the means by which Washington secured Cornwallis's surrender. Ever since that fateful day the Comte de Rochambeau has been the de facto patron saint of Rock-Paper-Scissors in the United States.


RPS has become a game of kings and paupers, of athletes and scholars, of warriors and peacemakers, and is used by millions of people all over the world as a means of solving disputes great and small, from territorial disputes, commercial disputes to deciding who takes out the garbage.


Some recent examples of RPS in the news:


In 2005, the auction house Christie’s defeated Sotheby’s for the right to sell a multi-million dollar collection of impressionist paintings when the owner of the artwork couldn’t decide which auction firm to go with and decreed a round of Rock-Paper-Scissors between the two firms would determine who got the business.


And in 2006, a U.S. federal judge ordered opposing sides in a lengthy court case to settle a lengthily debated point using the game of rock-paper-scissors.

Doctors commonly use the game to diagnose hand injuries since the three major nerve cluster in the hand can be distinguished by a distinct throw. The median nerve clenches all of the fingers, which gives you the rock position. The radial nerve will extend or stretch out fingers from the closed position to the open position - paper. And the ulnar nerve makes the little finger and the finger next to it, the ring finger, tuck in and spreads the index and middle finger, making the form of scissors. Damage to one or more the nerve clusters can be clearly seen by an inability to make that particular throw.