'Sports from Hell: My Search for the World's Dumbest Competition,' by Rick Reilly

I never knew I'd wind up learning all the different variations of the game around the world.

• In a lot of countries, it's called RoShamBo.

• In Indonesia, they play Man Elephant Ant. The Man stomps the Ant. The Elephant crushes the Man. The Ant gets inside the Elephant's brain and drives it mad.

• In Philadelphia, some people play a two-handed game called Microwave Tin Cat. Microwave bakes Cat. Cat shreds Tin. Tin blows up Microwave. Not a good game, though, because using two hands means you can't hold your beer.

• My kids invented Bird Worm Gun. Bird eats Worm. Gun shoots Bird. Worm crawls inside gun and, uh, gums it up so the mechanism can't fire. OK, so they were six.

And I never thought I'd know all the official, certified RPS rules, including:

• No touching your opponent's throw. For instance, no taking your Rock and crushing their Scissors. No cutting up their Paper with your Scissors. No covering their Rock with your Paper. Apparently, your opponent has the right to then form Fist, and punch you with it.

• No launch pads. This is when you slam your right-handed throw into your open left palm. Very bush league. That was going to be a personal hardship, since that's always the way I did it.

• No throws are allowed except the Big Three. This would mean no Bird, Well, Spock, Water, Bomb, Matchstick, Texas Longhorn, Lightning, God, or Fire, a Copenhagen specialty in which league players can throw Fire once a month, killing everything. You can't go down that slippery slope. Pretty soon you've got Napalm beating Fire, Nuke beating Napalm, Nova beating Nuke, that sort of thing.

I learned, too, that people take this very seriously. Women get manicures. Competitors dress up. A man named Antony Maanum of Overland Park, Kan., keeps his hands in oven mitts during tournaments. His hands are just that hot.

I learned that there are long, heated philosophical arguments at international RPS conventions over things like:

• Does Rock "smash" Scissors or merely "blunt" them?

• Can a pair of scissors really cut an entire piece of paper with one snip or should, in fact, it take two wins by Scissors to defeat Paper?

• Should prosthetic arms be allowed? (World RPS Society president Doug Walker says no. "It opens the possibility for infrared technology to send signals to the arm to instantly fire a throw a millisecond before it hits, giving it an unfair advantage," he once wrote. No, he really did.)

You laugh, but the stakes can be enormous. Once, there was a fabulously wealthy Japanese electronics firm that decided to auction off its set of fabulously valuable paintings by Picasso, Van Gogh, etc., which would produce a fabulous commission for the auction house that got the fabulous deal. The CEO heard proposals by the two biggie houses -- Sotheby's and Christie's -- and found both of them to be worthy. To settle the stalemate, he decided they should RPS for it. The auction houses sweated out what to do. Sotheby's decided it was just a game of chance and went with Paper. Christie's consulted the eleven-year-old twin daughters of an employee, who suggested Scissors because "everybody expects you to choose Rock." Christie's won the contract and the millions.

"Chance?" Pah!

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