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How to Win at Roshambo

Nov 17, 2011

Author: Luke Fox / Lance Koudele photo

All-star kite throwdown: Billy Parker, Brandon Scheid, and Aaron Hadlow. Koudele photo

A cult. A state of mind. A rock band from Milwaukee. And the fairest way to determine who rides shotgun. Alas, Roshambo, also known as Rock Paper Scissors (or RPS), is all the above and more. It’s due time we crack the rock, uncover the paper, and stretch open the scissors.
    To indulge in Roshambo is to explore the tripartite nature of life and chance. Begin play by facing your opponent, legs shoulder-width apart. Each combatant must then form a fist with his right hand. (Southpaws may call upon their left hand, though a throw of scissors must have a green rubber coating on the handle.)
    Begin to pump fists in symmetrical rhythm to a count of three. Saying, “One, two, three,” or “Ro, sham, bo” to keep beat as you prepare for throw is acceptable, though advanced players let their hands do all the talking. Shoot on “three” (or “bo”). For heaven’s sake, do not shoot on the first, second or fourth pump, as you will reveal yourself a novice or a fool (unless of course you are “hustling” your foe).
    There are three––count ‘em––three possible throws: rock, paper, or scissors. A shrewdly thrown rock (closed fist) will smash a dumbly laid set of scissors (horizontal peace sign) eight days a week. However, if one is crafty enough to launch a clean sheet of paper (flat hand, palm down), one will cover a hastily plopped rock like a tarp. Uh, not so fast, Charlie. A smart scissors shoot will slice up that very same paper with mind-boggling consistency. All identical throws (or “mirrors,” as they’re known in the biz) result in a “push” or “cat’s game,” and another round must be played immediately.

When to Play
For money: Though the purpose of waging RPS warfare for cold, hard cream is often reserved for the glittery Roshambo complexes of Las Vegas and the outskirts of Hood River, it is perfectly legit to gamble on your fists.
For recreation (sparingly): It is not recommended to Roshambo “just for fun.” With nothing of value at stake, the warriors’ minds become flaccid, their focus wanders. (Who wants to pay good money to see an exhibition NHL game?) Recreation RPS should be reserved for small children, the elderly and the crippled. (Note: Playing “for honour” is not considered recreation.)
To obtain something of which there is a limited number: Want to sit beside the driver, control the stereo and stretch out in Legroom City? Desire that clicker? Sure could use that last slice of pizza? Need to be first in the shower after a 48-day camping trip? Roshambo!
To not do something: Perfect for determining who hits a possibly dangerous kicker first, launches the kite, or deciding which sibling has to empty the kitty litter with a spoon.
To make decisions: RPS is an exhilarating alternative to coin flipping, especially if, like this author (dreams only), all you carry is a wad of large bills. Say you and your significant other are venturing to cheap night at the movies: Should you take in a romantic-comedy starring Freddie Prinze Jr., or a romantic-comedy starring Richard Gere? Should you treat your fine lady to KFC for Toonie Tuesdays, or McDonald’s for $2 McNuggets and fries? Are McNuggets meat? If so, from which of the chicken’s 2,000 parts is it forged? Roshambo can solve all that eye-lash-batting, you-decide-no-you-decide-sweetie-I-picked-last-time-all-that-matters-is-being-with-you-so-you-go-ahead-and-choose-no-it’s-up-to-you-I-insist crap in a three count. Simply appoint fried-chicken-on-the-bone to one honeybunny and fried-chicken-not-on-the-bone to the other. Faster than you can say Ro-sham-bo, you two lovebirds are winging off to your very own frugal feast. And two indecisive people can functionally coexist.
To determine who punches whom hard in the shoulder: Self-explanatory.

Cloaking: One of the first tricks employed by novices is withholding a paper throw ‘til the last possible second, giving the appearance that you are, indeed, dropping a rock. Like card trickery and speed typing, cloaking demands a quick hand. In the event both players cloak (“double-cloaking”), you will be left with many a paper push. Thus, cloaking has been burdened with the stigma of defensive manoeuvre.
    Paper-clipping: There are two essential ingredients to the paper-clip. The first is easy: Throw scissors. The second, and the key here, is to coax a paper throw from your foil. This can be achieved by saying, “I am going to throw rock” (which, between you and I, is a boldface lie), or daring your rival to throw paper. If executed properly, paper-clipping guarantees victory. (Warning: Ironically if you throw paper, you run the risk of being paper-clipped yourself.)
    Priming the chump: Priming the pump (the fist-pumping ritual to synchronise the three-count shoot) can be exploited to your benefit when you meet a fresh pretender to your throne, as it is unclear as to what the priming speed will be. Seize this opportunity to dictate the pace by priming faster than your nemesis. Your slow-pumping foe will be so wrapped up trying to keep up with the flow of play that he won’t be able to concentrate on releasing an effective throw.
    The Wildman: Part copout, part understated genius, the Wildman has its own juvenile way of producing just as many victories as defeats. Simply clear your mind and throw without plan or ploy. The sheer randomness of the Wildman makes it the ultimate anti-strategy.

Pebbles of Advice
1.    Ensure players remove all sharp jewellery, watches and Lee Press-ons prior to play.
2.    Clearly establish what is to be decided by the RPS outcome.
3.    Predetermine the number of rounds required to win the match (best of three, best of seven, etc.).
4.    Playing best of 97 can get tedious––and deadly. It once caused an aneurysm.
5.    Experiment. Invent new Roshambo hybrids using three or five throws. Throws such as Banana, CT, Surfer and the dreaded Vulcan have been incorporated in fringe RPS tournaments, also known as Alt-Rock Paper Scissors.
6.    Where possible, steal home-court advantage.
7.    Play twice as hard while pregnant. You are Roshamboing for two now.
8.    The Avalanche (throwing rock and rock only) is a thinly veiled gambit, and easily punished over the long-term. Avoid it.
9.    Do not literally crush your opponent’s “scissors” with a real rock you find in the bush. Likewise, do not actually cut his “paper” with a rusty pair of your uncle’s hedge clippers.
10.    Ignore No. 9 if you are German, or inherently evil.

Dynamite: Shearing the fuse of Roshambo’s Red Herring
We’ve all been there. Shoulder-deep in the thick of a tense RPS match, and your opponent coyly sticks out a solitary digit on the three-count.
“Dynamite,” he says, a sly smirk tugging upwards on the corners of his cheating lips, “blows up rock. I win.”
No. No, you don’t win, you diabolical bastard. Dynamite, Roshambo’s dubious fourth element, allegedly blows up rock and burns paper. A superior play of scissors, however, can snip its wick lickety-split. You do the math, brainy: two possible wins to one possible loss. The odds are tipped in dynamite’s favour, fair play and triangular warfare are thrown out the window, and the Roshambo deities have been affronted.
Chances are the TNT perpetrator is fully aware that he’s insulting your intelligence; he’s betting on your dimwittedness. Don’t let him slip away scot-free. Stand up and extinguish his phoney bomb stick. Better still, insert that explosive directly up his smug where-the-sun-don’t-shine. If not for yourself, for the sake of the game’s integrity. Dynamites, like fifth Beetles and second gunmen, are artificial constructs that, unfortunately, have spread like a Filipino computer virus. Dy-no-mite is a zippy catchphrase for Jimmy Walker. And nothing more.

Roshambonus: The RPS Substitutes
Roshambo (the bands): Not one, but two contemporary musical outfits have adopted Roshambo as their moniker. One is a San Jose cover band that papers solid-gold smashes from such stars as Tom Jones. The other Roshambo hails from Milwaukee and strums hard-rolling guitars. If only their $9-pitcher sound was as polished as their slogan: “Roshambo: Where rock always wins!”
Roshambo via e-mail ( Log on and smash your best Australian friend’s scissors to smithereens without the hassle of visiting your electronic-mail account. Simply select your throw (I suggest rock, as it gives you a 33.3% chance of victory), and key in the e-mail addresses of you and your victim. Added feature: space for you to trash type your foe.
Roshambot: Big Blue, look out. Now you can Roshambo your computer ( in RPS’s raging rebuttal to Solitaire. Perfect for those lonely nights when you’re left pumping your own fist.
Roshamho: A person, usually female, who falls head over heels for punishing paper pushers, raging rock rollers and sneaky scissors snipers. Her admiration is renown for switching targets, depending on which player is on a hot streak, or “in the zone,” as it were. Roshamho likes winners and long beachside walks.
Roshambo (the Webmaster): Some guy who manages a homepage exclusively devoted to the hot, young cast of I Know What You Did Last Summer.
Roshamboni: A late-’70s luncheon-meat marketing scheme that went horribly awry.
MUKcheeBAH: Korean version of Roshambo.
Ro Sham Bo: An album recorded by Sony recording artists, The Grays.
Roshambo (South Park style): In an episode of Comedy Central’s South Park, Cartman challenges various other 2-D drawings to a match of roshambo. Now here’s the good part. Instead of traditional RPS, Cartman explains that Roshambo involves taking turns hoofing your opponent in the cajones with as much force as you can muster. The first one to quit loses. Cartman always kicks first. And always wins. That’s the joke. Get it?

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