Beating a robot at rock-paper-scissors

An online feature pits you against a computer for a few games of robo-roshambo. And CNET stumbles on a fail-safe way to improve your chances.

Edward Moyer Senior Editor
Edward Moyer is a senior editor at CNET and a many-year veteran of the writing and editing world. He enjoys taking sentences apart and putting them back together. He also likes making them from scratch. ¶ For nearly a quarter of a century, he's edited and written stories about various aspects of the technology world, from the US National Security Agency's controversial spying techniques to historic NASA space missions to 3D-printed works of fine art. Before that, he wrote about movies, musicians, artists and subcultures.
  • Ed was a member of the CNET crew that won a National Magazine Award from the American Society of Magazine Editors for general excellence online. He's also edited pieces that've nabbed prizes from the Society of Professional Journalists and others.
Edward Moyer
2 min read

editor's notebook The New York Times' website 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. 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 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 playing the addictive game 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.