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Beating a robot at rock-paper-scissors

editor's notebook Online feature pits you against computer for a few games of robo-roshambo. And CNET stumbles on fail-safe way to improve your chances.

editor's notebook Since you've all no doubt shut off your smartphones for the "National Day of Unplugging" and hence can't rely on Angry Birds to help you procrastinate on doing your taxes (you have just a little more than a month, you know), I'll gallantly help you shirk (with an assist from the illustrious New York Times).

The Times' Web site is proudly making it difficult to get anything constructive done today, by offering up an interactive feature in its Science section that lets you try out your roshambo chops against a computer opponent.

OK, it's not "Jeopardy" versus a mainframe, but this digital version of rock-paper-scissors is still a whole lot of fun (and more addictive than even--shall I say it?--Charlie Sheen could manage). Especially since the Times' art department has created a great robot hand that lets you conjure up images of your frustratingly smug android rival, getting you that much more involved.

After being pulverized far too often by The Times' Watson wanna-be (I played the "Veteran" robot, not the "Novice"), I suddenly hit on a brilliant strategy (with a little help from the note that's perched innocently above the robot opponent's window). Almost immediately things began to change: three games to one in my favor, with no ties. Take that, you HAL-9000 reject.

So, here's the deal: if you want to avoid my "spoiler," jump over to the feature and play a few games. Do your best. (Good luck.) Then come right back and read the next paragraph. I'll even put a great big image right here so the 'graph will get pushed down the page and you won't be able to peek. OK: bye for now. Be sure to come back soon, or I'll get busted for driving traffic away from our site.

Neck and neck with C-3PO. Screenshot by Edward Moyer/CNET

Ah, you're back. Good. I was afraid you'd be gone all day. In case you didn't figure it out on your own, my brilliant strategy--the secret to success in robo-roshambo--is simply this: cover everything except your Rock, Paper, and Scissors buttons and play totally randomly. In other words, be completely brainless. Then the droid's statistical database of several hundred past games and the patterns that emerged from them becomes totally useless.

So there it is--don't think.

As for my brilliant strategy when it comes to writing blog items? I'll leave that one for another time.

Thanks for playing.