((The Unicorns will go down as the seminal band of the early 2000’s. They embody several of the key tendencies of the best bands of the period (Low-fi irreverence, deconstructed song structures that assemble disparate elements in a hyper-linear fashion while retaining coherency (this idea The Unicorns took farther then anyone else, actually), a blending of genres that was more seamless and, again, irreverent then anything before, the embracing of a thinly-veiled yet potent band mythology, a production approach that consciously eschewed the notion that everything should be made to sound as capital-A Awesome as possible, the ability to fucking ROCK, and irreverence), and they paired a dual-frontman lineup with songwriting that re-examined what the content of song lyrics can be (see also: The Talking Heads, and the entire genere of hip-hop), usually to hilarious/smart effect.) Trust me, I could drone on and on about why I love the Unicorns, but let us rather present three versions of their signature song, I Was Born (A Unicorn):
Exhibit A: Album Version. You can read along with the lyrics here. Note how the shifts in the song do not detract from the overall unity and momentum?
Exhibit B: A much earlier take from an earlier release, featuring the immortal line “… not a dog with wings.”
Exhibit C: A live version, notable for some fleshed out lyrics (like the “If you stop believing in…” part), rocking hard, and generally being smart about playing live.
You’ll notice the “paper scissors rock crack-pipe” refrain in the second version, and that’s really all I need for us to leave the parentheses behind.: )
Pardon the digression. So, for years I didn’t think that Paper Scissors Rock Crack-pipe was a real game, until, the other day, scraping against the bottom barrel of my Podcast playlist, I stumbled across this episode of the highly annoying WNYC program Radiolab. The program plods along, pondering whether the performance of athletes can be predicted as easily as a coin flip (it can’t), until, two-thirds in, the rules of the game are revealed! The crack-pipe is obscured as “the well” and the game is given a goofy name, but it’s unmistakable. So:
Rules: The game is played exactly like standard scissors/paper/rock, with the addition of a fourth option. I recommend playing the crack pipe as a simple extended index finger. The crack pipe beats both rock and scissors, and is beaten by paper. I shut the podcast off before the end, so I have no idea where Krulwich took this after observing that, no, you wouldn’t just always play the crack pipe, because then the other person would just keep playing paper. I assume he observed that this makes the game slightly — but not completely — asymmetrical. Of the four possible plays, there are two stronger (beat two of the other three plays) and two weaker (beat only one of the other three plays) options.
The original game is t best a mildly interesting psychological puzzle. The revised game introduces elements of game theory and generally complicates things.
Or does it? Let’s look at the four possible plays one by one. The crack-pipe is clearly a strong play, since it defeats two other plays. Paper, too, is a strong play, since it also defeats two other plays. Scissors only beats paper, but it’s the only play that beats paper, and based on what you’ve heard you can predict that your opponent will be playing paper pretty often, so scissors remains a strong play. What about rock? Well, poor rock still beats scissors, but we know that the crack-pipe beats scissors too. If you play rationally, it is never advantageous to play rock! And with rock effectively removed from the game, the advantage of paper and the crack-pipe disappears — both now only effectively defeat one other play. The game resolves back into a simple three-option play, crack-pipe having effectively replaced rock in the line up. All we’re left with is a song.