The Most Famous Rock, Paper, Scissors Game

As Artnet recounts, it once decided which auction house would get $20M auction
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted May 26, 2024 1:30 PM CDT
Rock, Paper, Scissors Once Settled $20M Auction
   (Getty / SasinParaksa)

Everyone knows the rules: Rock beats scissors, paper beats rock, and scissors beats paper. But if millions of dollars were at stake, which would you choose? As Artnet recounts, that very scenario once played out in Tokyo in the art world—and it turns out that "scissors" was the winning choice. The strangeness took place in 2005, when Japanese electronics company Maspro Denkoh decided to sell its $20 million art collection. The CEO, however, couldn't decide whether to let Sotheby's or Christie's have the auction honors, so he asked them to decide the matter in, yes, a game of rock, paper, scissors.

As writer Richard Whiddington explains, Sotheby's decided it was all a matter of luck and didn't strategize. Christie's, however, researched game theory and even sought the advice of children. "The advice was clear: throwing a rock was an alpha move, one to be avoided; throwing paper was deemed too passive, too obvious. The best bet was scissors." On game day, Christie's threw scissors—the participants actually wrote their choices out on paper, per—and triumphed over Sotheby's paper. The story has since "gone down in auction lore," writes Whiddington. (That wasn't the only high-stakes RPS game.)

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