CHAPEL HILL -- The key, said Paul Hartley -- aka Darth Paper -- was the "jungle face."
Sitting at the bar in The Cave between matches Sunday night, he demonstrated: head tilted slightly downward, face blank, eyes locked on his opponent's in an unwavering stare. Motionless, predatory, like a jaguar eyeing an unsuspecting deer.
"See?" he said. "Jungle face."
The tactic helped Hartley advance through the first few rounds of the fifth annual Rock Paper Scissors tournament at The Cave.
Thirty minutes later, though, he was back at his bar stool for good, having been knocked out of the competition by Melissa Swingle, aka Cave Favorite.
"She wouldn't look at me," Hartley explained. "Jungle Face only works if they look at you."
"He's right," Swingle said. "I was afraid to make eye contact."
Hartley shook his head sadly.
"Back to the jungle," he said.
Rock Paper Scissors, as most former children recall, is a simple but elegant decision-making game. On the count of three, each player shows -- or "throws," in RPS parlance -- one of three hand signals: a closed fist (rock); palm-down flat hand (paper); or first two fingers extended (scissors).
Each of the three trumps one of the others and is beaten by the remaining one. Rock breaks scissors, paper covers rock, scissors cuts paper.
In tournament play -- as outlined by the World Rock Paper Scissors Society, which offers rules, advice and strategies, all of it dispensed with a distinctly tongue-in-cheek air -- the best two-out-of-three throws wins a game, and the best two-out-of-three games wins a match.
Sixteen competitors -- Origami Swami, Rock Bottom Autumn, Jazz Hands and the rest -- signed up for the tournament Sunday. Among them were several former champions, including the 2006 title-holder, Diane Koistinen, aka Diane Scissorhands, who was there with her young daughter, Marina.
"When I won last time, I was pregnant, out to here with her," Koistinen said. "I think that's why I won -- I had two brains working as one."
This year, Koistinen reached the semifinals against Meredith Goldbeck, who, for reasons no one understood, played under the name Ball in the Bottom of the Bubble.
Goldbeck's slight stature and quick smile belied her competitive ferocity; she too was a former champ. Against Koistinen, she triumphed by throwing scissors to Koistinen's paper on match point.
"Diane Scissorhands goes down," announced Hoppie the MC, "destroyed by her own weapon!"
Later, sitting in the pool room, Koistinen reflected on her effort.
"I came so close," she said. "I could taste it."
"It tasted like PBR," said Kathie Bright, aka Hoopy Frood.
Meanwhile, Goldbeck's semifinal victory put her in the championship match against Katie Lucas, aka Kewl Hand.
They faced each other under the lights in the front of the room. Lucas, an energetic player who hopped and danced between throws, took the first game.
In the second game, both players threw scissors on the first throw, a tie.
On the next throw, Goldbeck went with rock, and Lucas beat her with paper to put herself one throw away from victory.
Then Goldbeck, betting Lucas would throw scissors this time, went with rock again. She bet wrong; Lucas threw paper again. Paper covers rock.
"Your 2008 Rock Paper Scissors champion, Katie Lucas!" Hoppie hollered. "Her hands are wiser than yours!"
For her wisdom, Lucas won $32, a Cave T-shirt and a garish little statuette.
"You have to able to see your opponent, read your opponent, know what your opponent is going to do," she said. "You have to be two steps ahead. Also, if you stare them in the eye and don't blink, it make them nervous."
Lucas credited her dog Eliot, who was in attendance, with helping her win.
"He's my inspiration," she said. "He was sick, and now he's better. He sees every day as a new day, full of opportunity and possibility. He's my sun and moon and stars. Good things happen when he's around."
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