Reffing the RPS state championship is no job for the nervous.
Shawn Ring is one of the godfathers of competitive Rock Paper Scissors. He runs the Philadelphia Rock Paper Scissors City League and the Keystone Classic. Under the moniker of C. Urbanus, he finished in the final 16 of last year's World Championships.
When he asks if I'll officiate the Classic, there's no way I can say no. There are two requirements: I have to attend a training session and I have to work for free. Sounds like a good deal to me.
I complete my training session in a smoky bar early Friday night. It all seems pretty simple. I already know the rules. The refereeing instructions don't seem all that tough--awarding competitors points while looking out for illegal throws. There are two of these--vertical paper (Fig. 1) and horizontal scissors (Fig. 2). I also have to count the Street RPS money--a side game where competitors wager RPS "dollars" and the winner takes home $100.
Urbanus informs me I'm now an official certified World RPS referee. An official certified referee! Surely I'll impress the crowd at Whiskey Dix with my superior--certified--refereeing skills.
But as I walk to the bar, I begin to worry about screwing up. I realize if there's one person on the planet that could screw up reffing an effing RPS match, it's me. I get nervous. Had I eaten, I'd probably be throwing up in the bathroom.
Everything's okay until I enter the refereeing arena. While stepping up onto the platform, I hit my head on the light. I stumble away from the lamp, only to slam into a deer's head. Being attacked by inanimate objects usually isn't a good omen.
It goes smoothly for the first couple matches. Nobody complains, the losing contestants are gracious and I remember to give the winners the slip of paper they need for the second round--which is (foolishly) what I'm most worried about at this point.
"We got a complaint," says Urbanus. "You weren't saying, 'Match point.'" I immediately know who complained--an experienced player named PJ Rhymes With Sausage.
I typically make it a rule not to take shit from people named "PJ" or "Rhymes With Sausage," but I decide to make an exception. PJ lost in the first round, he seems like a pretty good guy and I'm guessing he's bummed.
Experienced players take RPS as seriously as the Marines took Guadalcanal. For them, RPS is about a poker-like mix of skill and a little luck. Midnight Rider, a contestant wearing a Zorro mask, confuses his opponent by saying, "You might want to think about throwing scissors." When his opponent throws scissors, he's ready with a well-placed rock. There's even an RPS clan called the Majestic 12. When I ask about their status, a member says he'd prefer it be called a "cult."
When my final reffing session begins, PJ Rhymes With Sausage is there, watching my every move. "Horizontal scissors!" he screams after a girl's initial throw. I miss it. I screw up. Sanctions are pending against Urbanus, I'm sure. I sheepishly take away the girl's point and give her a warning card, to her noisy protests. When she throws horizontal scissors again later in the round, PJ chastises me once more.
"I know the rules," he yells to no one in particular. "Unlike the ref."
When I'm done refereeing, a documentary crew--to whom I'd talked to earlier about my fears of screwing up--actually interview me about the heckler in a Real World-style confessional. I exhale loudly and babble about people taking it seriously while cracking a few self-deprecating jokes. The crew have PJ's crack on camera, so there's a good chance I'll be publicly embarrassed at quite a few film festivals sometime next year.
Afterward I apologize to PJ. He harangues me about how if I don't officiate the rules correctly, people won't have fun and won't come back. Had we settled our differences with a game of RPS, I would've used a famous gesture as an illegal throw of my own (Fig. 3). When I chat with Urbanus' girlfriend she tells me, "Yeah, I heard a few complaints about you."
While I'm not really all that down about it, I'm so frazzled I can't even talk to a pair of girls who approach me. Girls! Cute ones! Talking to girls is pretty much my favorite thing to do, yet I end up mumbling about needing to grab a few beers.
Whether it's the beer or the fact another referee manages to screw things up worse than I did, the night ends on a positive note. My favorite contestant, Midnight Rider, says he's honored to be at my arena after he finishes third. (I don't know who put him up to it.)
And by the end I even have a name for when the RPS City League begins in the spring: World's Greatest RPS Referee. Has a nice ring to it, don't you think?
PW's Weekend Picks: May 17-19
Calendar: May 15-22
PW's Weekend Picks: May 10-12
Calendar: May 8-15