Friday, September 6, 2013

Korean Rock-Paper-Scissors

Simon from the Omniglot Blog recently wrote a post about the game of Rock-paper-scissors and asked his readers about variations of the game or its name in other cultures. I thought immediately of two things: "Yang Yang Pess" and "가위바위보".

When I was young and I played RPS with my brothers and cousins, we would always chant, "Yang, yang, pess!" instead of, "Rock, paper, scissors!" To this day, I haven't the faintest idea why we said this or what it means. It's one of those odd, cute memories that will probably never amount to anything.

On the other hand, you have the way RPS is played among Korean schoolboys. Not only is it impressive and fun to watch, it has also influenced the way I play RPS and/or make decisions amongst friends.

"가위바위보" is pronounced ka-wi, ba-wi, bo. Said quickly, as it always is, it's more like, kai-bai-bo, which to my ears sounded like Chinese. The order of the tools is similar to the Chinese version, anyhow: scissors, then rock, and paper last.

Students in Korea use 가위바위보 to settle almost any dispute. But the captivating thing about the way they play is the speed. For some reason or other, throwing the same sign (e.g. both players throw rock) happens with unusually high frequency, resulting in games with three or four rematches in quick succession. In this case, players don't bother to say, "Kai-bai-bo" every time, but just call out, "Bo! Bo! Bo!" while throwing their signs.

Another interesting twist I've seen at school and the dojang is with many people all playing at the same time. Groups of boys as large as a dozen all throw their signs and then go for it, elimination-style. The thing is, with that many players, the odds that only two signs will be thrown are very slim. With twelve players, for example, you can have four players throwing each of the signs again and again. All I hear in the hallways is loud, primal chanting: "Bo! Bo! Bo! Bo! Bo! Bo! Bo!" Finally, they'll get something like seven rocks and five scissors, the winners go free, and the losers continue playing until there is only one left. This poor boy then has to do whatever dare they had all previous decided upon.

Ah, adolescence.


  1. I recently came across some of my students playing 가위바위보 after dinner...the loser of each round had to sprint to the other end of the schoolyard, and the ultimate loser (I think if you didn't make it back before someone else lost the next round of RPS...?) had to buy ice cream for everyone in the group. XD

    1. Well, that's quite an intense variation... it's like the "Extreme Spoons" game I used to play with friends in high school.

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