Published in October 2016 issue of Prospect Magazine
“Five to me and none to you!” says my son in a tone of innocent and self-delighted gloating. “OK…” “One, two, three,” I say wearily, then shoot my hand out in front of me, my index and middle fingers protruding.
“Haaaaah!” says Max. His own hand is balled into a solid fist. His rock smashes my scissors. “Six to me and none to you!” His hand appeared at the same time, no question about it. I was watching closely. Straight up: I’m having my ass handed to me at rock-paper-scissors by a five-year-old.
The thought that I might have spawned some sort of prodigy, and that the skill will later be lucratively transferable to—for instance—Texas Hold ‘Em is carrion comfort. I still remember the first time I beat my father at chess. This feels like the complete reverse of that.
“One, two, three…” And I’m thinking about it. Really thinking about it. The loop of thought is as follows. He’s just done rock. He won’t do rock again. So he’s doing scissors or paper. But he’s just seen me lose with scissors—thus placing a psychological sell order on them in his five-year-old mind—so that makes paper his natural next move.
Which mandates scissors for me. But doing the same thing twice in a row seems either too obvious or too perverse, depending on whether we’re talking bluff or double-bluff. It feels risky. I’m overthinking this. He can’t be second-guessing me to that extent. He’ll be thinking of rock or scissors. The sideways jump to paper won’t have occurred to him. And he won’t do rock again because he’s five. So he’s scissors. Bottom dollar on it.
Rock. Paper. He wraps his small hand halfway around my fist, and demonstrates t…