much nerdier than spock


By: John Clements

My family has taken to watching the Big Bang Theory, and while I am extraordinarily tired of the laugh track, I continue to watch.

Naturally, any show targeted at nerds is bound to draw the ire of nerds, who are famed for their desire to find flaws in the opinions and statements of others, especially those who consider themselves nerdy. Indeed, an all-consuming desire for intellectual one-upsmanship (cf. Stephen Potter’s excellent books on the topic) may perhaps be regarded as the sine qua non of nerdhood. This desire can also manifest itself in the needless selection of lengthier words at the expense of more concise ones, the tendency to cite obscure sources, and the general tendency to blather at length.

But I digress.

I would like to take issue on this occasion with the recurring incidence of the game “Rock, Paper, Scissors, Lizard, Spock.” It has a fine wikipedia page, and I won’t describe it here.

My issue is that this RPS variant—and indeed, all of the ones I’ve seen published—can concisely be expressed as simple games of modulo arithmetic. That is:

  • You pick a number from one to five.
  • I pick a number from one to five.
  • Take my number minus your number, modulo five.
  • If the result is one or two, I win.
  • If the result is three or four, you win.
  • If the result is zero, we tie.

Naturally, you can generalize this to any odd number.

It seems to me that this is at the same time simpler, more general, and more nerdy than the game played by those on the show, and I would hope that they would consider changing to my variant, which I call John Brinckerhoff Clements.

Yes, there’s a note on this in the Wikipedia page. Yes, I added it.

One final note: an even nerdier version of this game may be played, still with the fingers of one hand, by throwing any combination of one through four fingers, and interpreting this as a binary number from 0 through 15. I humbly suggest interpreting an extended finger as the digit 1, a non-extended finger as the digit 0, the index finger as the most significant, the little finger as the least significant, and “wrapping around” to regard all fingers extended as a zero.

In fact, this game allows direct comparison of several popular hand gestures. Specifically:

  • “rock” beats “American f*** you”:

rock hand > eff you hand

  • “peace” beats “rock”:

peace hand > rock hand

  • “Spock” beats the two prior:

spock hand > peace hand

  • and “Englishman Drinking Tea” beats “Spock”:

drinking tea hand > spock hand

This hand is not a game entry. If you see this shape, your opponent is not playing the game:

illegal hand

illegal hand

So the next time someone gives you the finger, just point directly at them, and you win.