Thursday, July 14, 2016

Rock, Paper, Scissors, Lizard, Zombie, Spock, a Sonic Screwdriver, an Invisibility Cloak, and the Large Hadron Collider

Rock, Paper, Scissor, Lizard, Zombie, Spock, a Sonic Screwdriver, an Invisibility Cloak, and the Large Hadron Collider

The Rules

Scissors cuts Paper covers Rock crushes Lizard evades Large Hadron Collider cures Zombie grabs Sonic Screwdriver reveals Invisibility Cloak fascinates Spock bends Scissors stabs Zombie shreds Paper reprograms Large Hadron Collider disenchants Invisibility Cloak hides Paper muffles Sonic Screwdriver shatters Rock trips Zombie brains Spock vaporizes Rock rips Invisibility Cloak confuses Lizard slimes Sonic Screwdriver splits Scissors decapitates Lizard poisons Spock deactivates Large Hadron Collider magnetizes Scissors unravels Invisibility Cloak frightens Zombie swallows Lizard eats Paper disproves Spock replicates Sonic Screwdriver dismantles Large Hadron Collider nukes Rock blunts Scissors.

See Gestures below for details on how to make each item.


The Organic Rule:

  • The Sonic Screwdriver doesn't work agains complex, organic matter.
  • Organic items are Lizard, Spock, Zombie, and Paper.

The Magic Rule:

  • The Invisibility Cloak is magic.
  • Organic matter defeated by magic.
  • The Invisibility Cloak is not organic because it is magic.

The Inorganic Rule:

  • The Sonic Screwdriver defeats inorganic materials.
  • The Invisibility Cloak is damaged by inorganic matter.
  • Inorganic items are Rock, Scissors, the Large Hadron Collider, and the Invisibility Cloak.
  • The Invisibility Cloak is inorganic because it is magic.

The Brain Rule:

  • Zombie eats Brains.
  • Brains overcome Large Hadron Collider.
  • Brains are found in Spock, Lizard, the Sonic Screwdriver, and written on Paper.

The Tool Rule:

  • Spock breaks Tools.
  • Tools defeat Zombie, except for tools which only work on organic matter.
  • Rock, Scissors, the Sonic Screwdriver, and Large Hadron Collider can be used as tools.
  • The Sonic Screwdriver, however, cannot defeat the Zombie because of the organic rule.

The Stupid Rule:

  • Large Hadron Collider zaps Stupid things.
  • Stupid things kill Lizard.
  • Zombie, Rock, Invisibility Cloak, and Scissors are all Stupid.

The Tool Rule:

  • Spock breaks Tools.
  • Tools defeat Zombie, except for tools which only work on organic matter.
  • Rock, Scissors, the Sonic Screwdriver, and Large Hadron Collider can be used as tools.
  • The Sonic Screwdriver, however, cannot defeat the Zombie because of this organic rule.


Six and a half years ago, I brought unto this world a new, 7-hand-gesture game to extend the one made famous by Sam Kass.  I have been truly pleased got a lot of fan comments and followers and shares from the original Rock, Papers, Scissors, Lizard, Zombie, Spock, and the Large Hadron Collider post.  Someone even wrote a game in Java for it and it's even the subject of a University Lab Assignment!  But to be honest, even then I was talking about extending it with Tea Cups and other such silliness.  In fact, this blog came to a standstill because honestly, I thought, how could I top that?

In any event, I sat on it for years, thinking I'd remain in the back reaches of the Internet as a footnote to history when one of my local book clubs, the Bowie Bevy of Brainy Books reviewed The Simpsons and their Mathematical Secrets (Singh, 2013), in September, 2015.  There, the Singh mention's Kass's Rock, Paper, Scissors, Lizard, Spock as well as the astounding RPS-101, which features 101 two-handed gestures and 5050, often repeated verbs.  Personally, I know 7 gestures could be tricky, recognize 9 may be a bit much, but 101?  Also, I like the idea that each directed graph segment has it's own, unique verb.  After all, Spock may deactivate a Large Hadron Collider, but only a Sonic Screwdriver could dismantle it.  I also like the symmetry of the simply versions, with the clockwise win, and every other line being a win, then a loss, clearly showing it balanced.  RPS-101, with the suite of 50 adjacent items all being losers is also a nice layout, especially when you have such a complex game, but I traditionally used this model for 7, and now I'm using it for 9.

The first problem with extending the 7-gesture, RPSLZSLHC was to figure out what gestures to add.  Being a big fan of Doctor Who, what could be more appropriate than a Sonic Screwdriver?  Then, I figured I needed to balance that with something a bit more contemporary and figured what fun it would be if a player had Harry Potter's Invisibility Cloak at his disposal.

Having decided my nouns, I needed 15 new verbs to relate the new objects to the existing ones.  First, I decided that the Sonic Screwdriver doesn't work well against organic matter, as shown in the series.  Conversely, I decided magic affects only organic matter, so the Invisibility Cloak would defeat organics.  This left the Sonic Screwdriver defeated by 4 items, and the Invisibility Cloak defeating 4 items, meaning the Sonic Screwdriver would have to reveal the Invisibility Cloak.  I wrote all these details on my phone; all that remained was to update my graphic.


The problem was, I had created my original graphic in OmniGraffle, a diagram construction tool that I had a license for at the time.  However, having since changed jobs, I no longer had access to OmniGraffle or the file I had saved for it.  In other words, the original RPSLZSLHS.graffle file has been lost forever to the Internet gods.

It took me a long time to accept that I would no longer have access to the file and thus not be able to modify it to add the 2 new gestures.  Eventually, though, I had to give up hoping and just have to recreate the entire graphic from scratch on a new OmniGraffle instance on a new machine.  It took me a while to figure out how to place my noun circles symmetrically but really it's just a fraction of 2π and sin and cosine to simulate the circumscribed circle around the polygon.  You might say, then, it was as easy as pie!


Of course, what's a hand gesture game without it's gestures?

  • The Rock is a closed fist.
  • The Paper is a flat hand, fingers together, palm down.
  • The Scissors is a fist with the index and middle fingers extended (as in a cutting motion).
  • The Spock is a ש (shin) or Live Long and Prosper or a Sontaran, as in fingers extended, with thumb separated from the index and middle fingers and those two fingers separated from the ring and pinkie fingers.
  • The Invisibility Cloak is a cupped hand, palm up, with nothing inside, since the cloak is, after all, invisible!
  • The Sonic Screwdriver is a fist with the thumb extended outward, toward your opponent, as if you're sonicing him.
  • The Zombie is a limp-wristed gesture, with all fingers opened.
  • The Large Hadron Collider, LHC, or just Collider, is a fist with the thumb and index finger extended, index pointing outward. This gesture superficially resembles a gun, since it is a gesture of the hadron particles gun which releases the accelerated particles into an increasingly rapid variable magnetic field.
  • The Lizard is a C-shape, with the thumb on the bottom and the fingers curved above (as in a lizard's mouth).


Unlike the 3, 5, 7 or 101 gesture games, RPSLZSSSICLHC [that's a mouth full!], being a 9-gesture game is the only one that isn't a prime number.  Although that doesn't prevent the game from being balanced, it does mean that unlike the others, there are sub-cycles in the 9-gesture game which don't exist in the others.  Specifically, since 3 divides 9, the 9-game has 3 3-gesture cycles:

  • Paper reprograms Large Hadron Collider disenchants Invisibility Cloak hides Paper.
  • Rock trips Zombie brains Spock vaporizes Rock.
  • Lizard slimes Sonic Screwdriver splits Scissors decapitates Lizard.

Because of this fact, a simple walk along the graph sequentially via first the clockwise outbound lines, then the third set of lines from each circle, then the fifth set of lines from each circle, and finally the seventh set of outbound lines for each circle won't actually trace all paths of the graph because walking the third set of lines will only cover 3 of the 9 gestures.  Because of this, the path I trace is actually to follow first nine times the clockwise line, then twice the fifth line, then thrice the third line, then twice the fifth line, then thrice third, then twice fifth, thrice third, and finally thrice the fifth line before tracing out all 9 links following the seventh line. This is how we get:

  • Scissors cuts Paper …
  • … which covers Rock …
  • … which crushes Lizard …
  • … which evades Large Hadron Collider …
  • … which cures Zombie …
  • … which grabs Sonic Screwdriver …
  • … which reveals Invisibility Cloak …
  • … which fascinates Spock …
  • … which bends Scissors …
  • … which stabs Zombie …
  • … which shreds Paper …
  • … which reprograms Large Hadron Collider …
  • … which disenchants Invisibility Cloak …
  • … which hides Paper …
  • … which muffles Sonic Screwdriver …
  • … which shatters Rock …
  • … which trips Zombie …
  • … which brains Spock …
  • … which vaporizes Rock …
  • … which rips Invisibility Cloak …
  • … which confuses Lizard …
  • … which slimes Sonic Screwdriver …
  • … which splits Scissors …
  • … which decapitates Lizard …
  • … which poisons Spock …
  • … which deactivates Large Hadron Collider …
  • … which magnetizes Scissors …
  • … which unravels Invisibility Cloak …
  • … which frightens Zombie …
  • … which swallows Lizard …
  • … which eats Paper …
  • … which disproves Spock …
  • … which replicates Sonic Screwdriver …
  • … which dismantles Large Hadron Collider …
  • … which nukes Rock …
  • … which blunts Scissors.

One other point to make is that, when inserting elements into the gesture graph, it's important to figure out where to place them such that not only is the graph balanced, as it would be given 4 defeats and 4 successes for each of the new gestures, but also symmetrical.  This isn't as easy as it sounds and it took a bit of reorganizing to figure out the two new gestures worked best between the Zombie and Spock.  It's always easiest to add gestures in connected pairs between existing nodes since the paired gestures will themselves have an implied ordering and that ordering will usually contradict one another (e.g. magic rule vs. organic rule) so what's a defeat for one is a success for the other, keeping things balanced and symmetric.

What if Sam Kass hadn't been a Trekie?

To be honest, much as I personally love Star Trek, more than anything I am a Whovian.  So I've always been ambivalent as to the inclusion of Spock over the Doctor.  Granted, what hand gesture would be enigmatic of the Doctor?  William Hartnell, hands on his lapels?  Colin Baker, stroking his cat pins?  A celery stalk hand gesture?  A fez gesture?  In the end, one thing that almost every Doctor had in common (except Hartnell, C. Baker, and McCoy) was the Doctor's trusty Sonic Screwdriver.

Of course, while it's nice having Spock and the Sonic Screwdriver play off each other, one has to ask, what if instead of Rock, Paper, Scissors, Lizard, Spock, it was Rock, Paper, Scissors, Lizard, and a Sonic Screwdriver?  Fortunately, it's easy to just eliminate the two adjacent Spock and Invisibility cloak and two adjacent Zombie and Large Hadron Collider and still end up with a balanced game, just like Sam Kass's original, but with the Sonic Screwdriver in the place of Spock.  I have a feeling Sheldon Cooper would approve!

Let's take a ride in an Electric Car

It may seem strange that I'd not update this site more than once in the past 6½, the truth is a lot of the reason for my absence is because I have spent all that time on the Affordable Electric Car NOW! blog writing extensively about electric cars.  Indeed, some would say I am personally obsessed with electric cars, and love driving #CO2Fre Nissan LEAF, though I'm pining for a Tesla to call my very own—that Model 三 can't come soon enough!

Interestingly, the symbol for an Electric Car is actually the same symbol for Spock.  Well, technically, it's just the symbol that early Nissan LEAF drivers voted to use to greet each other.  Personally, I find the official LEAF wave silly, but it is the same gesture and if that gesture is used for one EV, might as well symbolize all EVs. Thus, the only thing that needs to change is to replace the Spock verbs with EV verbs.

For simplicity, I've just replace Spock in the Sam Kass game but this can be expanded to the 9-gesture game easily by just replacing Spock.  In that case:

  • Electric Car rams the Large Hadron Collider
  • Zombie stops Electric Car
  • Electric Car outruns a Sonic Screwdriver
  • An Invisibility Cloak crashes Electric Car

Thank you for reading!  See you again in 2023—maybe I'll have the Tea Cups by then!


  1. First of all I want to say superb blog! I had a quick question that I'd like
    to ask if you do not mind. I was interested to
    find out how you center yourself and clear your mind
    prior to writing. I have had difficulty clearing my
    thoughts in getting my ideas out. I do enjoy
    writing however it just seems like the first 10 to 15 minutes are generally wasted just trying to figure out how to begin. Any ideas or hints?

    1. Hello! I'm going to assume you ask me this in earnest and not as a form of self-promotion by taking advantage of a rather unpopular blog. As such, my best advice is don't overthink it. When I write, I ruminate for days before I commit fingers to keys. I think about what I want to say, the story I want to tell, how I want it to look, the pieces what need to be presented, formatted, and laid out. I have a friend who is able to write almost on command and I suppose I can to with enough practice though even he outlines first. The long and short of it is, if you don't know where you're going, you may end up backing yourself into a corner, so having a plan before you write is key. With practice it will become easier. But hopefully your current writer's block will end as you stop focusing on the narrative and start focusing on the theme.