Who Invented Rock-Paper-Scissors?

There are certain things in life that we just accept, even though they don’t make any sense. Like why the grading scale has letters A, B, C, D & F, but no E. Or why we yawn just by reading the word yawn.

One similar confounding custom is how a powerful rock could ever lose to a piece of paper.

At some stage of our development, we all learn the game rock-paper-scissors. It happens somewhere after we become potty trained and before we start texting on the toilet.

The game is simple…two players, three choices (rock – a fist, paper – a flat hand, and scissors – a fist with the index and middle fingers together forming a V) and one winner. Rock breaks scissors, scissors cuts paper, paper somehow beats rock.

Where did this game come from? Let’s find out on today’s edition of Wonder Why Wednesday…

Who Invented Rock-Paper-Scissors?

The first reference to Rock-Paper-Scissors came in the year 1600 when it was mentioned in the book Wuzazu (not to be confused with the bird from The Lion King) by the Chinese Ming-dynasty writer Xie Zhaozhi. Zhaozhi wrote that the game was called shoushiling, which means hand command, and dated back to 206 BC – 220 AD during the Chinese Han dynasty.

The game was imported to Japan and was called sansukumi-ken, meaning fist games, where A beats B, B beats C, and C beats A. Sansukumi-ken games took many forms, including frog-slug-snake and fox-villiage head-hunter.

The rock, paper, and scissors hand gestures were introduced in the 17th century in the game “Jan-ken.” This become the most well known variation of sansukumi-ken, and by the early 20th century, the game spread beyond Asia. The English-language name  comes from a translation of the names of the three Japanese hand-gestures for rock, paper and scissors. However, in Asia the flat-palm sign signifies cloth rather than paper.