A new app for a classic game

A 10-year-old Ben Avon boy is taking the classic game of “rock, paper, scissors” and launching it as an iPhone app. Aidan Sommers says that the new take on an old game will be more than just a way to kill some time. It will help people develop strategic thinking skills that can be used throughout their lives. And those skills could help Aidan beat his dad, Bob, at chess! Photo by Tom Steiner for The Citizen

Aidan Sommers of Ben Avon, age 10, will enter fifth grade at Avonworth Elementary School this year. He's on the Avonworth and Baierl YMCA swim teams, plays soccer, and enjoys activities typical of friends his age.

An ordinary kid in every way, except one.

He and his dad, Bob, have just put the finishing touches on an iPhone game app that, if all goes well, would finance his college education through a post-doctoral degree.

A pause here for anyone who has not succumbed to tech terms.

App…an application.

Application…a computer program or link to information, services, games, the world.

How many apps exist for those toting around iPhones? Over 130,000, according to a recent count, with users already having downloaded over 3 billion of them. There is an app for tuning your guitar, an app to locate speed traps, an app to find parking spaces.

And so on.

Soon there will be one more, and it will provide a new twist on a game that some say traces its origins to 200 B.C. Japan. Nobody has ever come up with an agreed-upon date, but almost everyone has played the strategy game that is popular in nearly every country on the planet: Rock, Paper, Scissors.

The app is the product of Aidan's efforts to put a new spin on the ancient game.

Aidan explains. "We were living in Tennessee, and our house was just finished but we didn't have a TV hooked up yet and no Internet, so we often played games on a checkerboard. One night, I wanted to play some more games, but dad was getting tired and bored, and somehow I started thinking of playing rock, paper, scissors on a checkerboard, making forms for each piece, and out of that came ROX!"

The game, for the few who have never played it, is used to force a decision on frivolous subjects, such as who will do the dishes and which restaurant to go to, but could probably settle Washington DC stalemates, as well.

To make it 21st Century, the game first had to transform from the three pounds of fist into the hand followed by throwing out the symbol for a rock (closed fist), paper (hand flat out, palm down), scissors (two fingers in scissors formation). Rock breaks scissors, scissors cuts paper, paper covers rock. The whole process can be a bit boggling in its familiar form, but it easily transforms to a visual game, which Aidan sees as a way to develop strategies for chess and other games. "ROX is more difficult than checkers but less complex than chess where you have to think so many moves ahead."

"We played it as fun, and talked about making it a board game," Bob said. "We rejected that idea because it was too expensive."

Then they used foam balls, dropping them into egg cartons they taped together, randomly forming patterns.

For about a year, they didn't work on the game until the disaster in Haiti prompted Aidan to come up with some motivation. "Why don't we get our game together and donate to the people in Haiti?" he asked his dad.

The thought clicked.

Bob ran the numbers and consulted a media firm which decided that the concept could work.

One day when Aidan came home from school, his dad told him that the game could become an app.

Aidan said that with the cyber version of the game, "You can stay in bed and play! You can play someone in Russia who's in a tournament with someone in Japan."

The idea was all Aidan's, with media professionals writing the code based on his explanation of the strategy and interaction. Aidan will own the code when it is completed, and he is the architect of all user interface, code writing and graphic approvals. ROX is shooting for -- a pun here, for those who know the game -- an end-of-August launch for Apple mobile devices, such as the iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad, with code making the game available to run on non-Apple devices soon to follow.

To sample the game or to learn more about it, go to ROXAPP.com.

Looking ahead, Aidan sees a future in space, but not necessarily cyber space.

"I want to fly planes in the Air Force. I see myself flying the C-17 and the fighter planes that are inside the C17. And with those planes I think of myself and my crew eliminating all of the terrorists in the world."

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