quinta-feira, 11 de setembro de 2014
The Battle of Rock, Paper, Scissors: A History
Posted by Marc Philippe Eskenazzi
The French and the English lined up on opposite sides of the battlefield. The drums rose and rose until they thundered in a deafening roar, at which point everyone agreed that it was actually too loud. Could perhaps the drummers drum somewhere else, the French and English generals asked, or did they know any softer songs? For this was no ordinary battle. This was the Battle of Rock, Paper, Scissors (Shoot).
It was the English commander Giles Smith, King Edward III’s chief military strategist, who needed quiet the most. In a matter of moments, the battle would begin, and Smith needed to think. He looked over his army, their metal weapons shining in the cold English morning. “Did I choose the right attack?” he wondered.
A hundred yards across the battlefield, the French Army stood. Its commander was a young man named Napoleon, but not the famous one. He, too, looked over his army, and wondered the exact same thing: “Have I already made a mistake?”
And then it began.
The two armies rushed toward each other, screaming. The drummers looked at each other and resumed drumming.
The English troops were well equipped. Their primary weapon was the Big Scissors: two giant cross-blades bolted to one another by an oiled hinge that acted as a fulcrum. It required three men to operate. Two soldiers stood inside metal loops, one attached to each blade. Weaving zigzag down the battlefield, they opened and closed the blades, hoping that they’d reach the enemy on the latter motion. A peasant boy held up the hinge.
The attack strategy seemed brilliant. No French soldier would run straight into the foreboding pinchers. Smith had even drawn a doodle of crab claws chasing the French away, and shown it in parlors, getting either a laugh or a “Yes, you showed us already. Very amusing.”
Napoleon lowered his telescope, and smirked. “Commencez à smooshez les Anglais,” he yelled (“Begin to smush the English”). French axes cut the ropes of the catapults. Enormous boulders stormed through the air like asteroids.
The English took several moments to understand where the boulders were coming from. After so many years of gray and rainy weather, they’d forgotten that there was also a sky. The giant rocks smashed the English cross-blades apart. The English soldiers abandoned their metal loops and retreated, like my father and me after that three-legged race.
It seemed like the English had been defeated. The French broke out glasses of wine and four-cheese platters, which they carried at all times. But they celebrated too soon. Smith had lured Napoleon’s army into a trap.
An army of English butlers, fluent in invisibility, had carried a hundred-square-yard sheet of paper to cover the entire French Army from behind. The catapults caught on the paper. The French struggled even to stand. The paper covered the rocks. Wine spilled everywhere. Cheese was shed.
It comes to me at moments like this one to pontificate on the role of chance in all matters of life, but especially those of warfare. It seemed like Smith had won yet another victory, but underneath the paper canopy a young French dressmaker would change the course of the battle.
The dressmaker could hear the sound of celebratory teakettles whistling. He began rummaging in his pockets for his lucky pair of scissors. You see, he had promised his lovely new wife, Juliette, that he would return to her. It was a promise that he intended to keep, in the hope that it might lead to a ménage a trois with Juliette’s friend Chloe. If the dressmaker had not been present, or if Chloe and Juliette had not been so open-minded, the battle might have ended there. The dressmaker cut through the paper, freed the French, and ran off yelling, “Juliette! Chloe! Wai-i-i-t!”
For two full days, the French and the English fought like this. The first day, the French won. The second day, the English won. They agreed to fight a third day, and call it best two out of three.
It was the final eve. Sleepy campfires struggled to warm the aching soldiers, who had grown confused by all the turnarounds. Napoleon, too, was exhausted. His valets feared that he was going crazy as they watched him contort his hands into different positions. He was trying to visualize the next move, but he kept throwing out scissors. Why? Why did he always throw out scissors?
Smith felt even worse. He had such a bad headache that he sent the drummers home once and for all. Were they upset? Of course they were upset. Who wouldn’t be? I mean, you’re trying to do a good job and help the team. But, look, you know what, they understood.
Meanwhile, the battlefield was a complete mess: giant metal loops sticking out of the ground, giant boulders wrapped in Bloomingdale’s gift paper, and paper-mache hats cut up into mulch and swept up into the wind like confetti in a twister. Who was going to clean this up?
“L’horreur, l’horreur,” Napoleon whispered.
Then a paper airplane landed gently in his lap. Napoleon unfolded it, and read a message.
The next morning, Napoleon met Smith where he had asked to meet in his note. Napoleon brought only a translator. Smith had brought only his. They looked each other in the eye. The translators watched in silence.
Napoleon began to laugh.
Then Smith began to laugh.
Then the translators began laughing.
Before long, both armies were laughing. They put their arms around each other and decided that they would speak both French and English, and never fight another war again. And they called themselves Canada.
And would you believe that, to this day, not one person believes that any of this actually happened. What are they, nuts?
Illustration by Richard McGuire.
Posted by Francisco Augusto Vaz Brasil at 21:07