As I wrote my last post about keg beer supplanting cask-conditioned ales, it naturally led me to think about another modern, faster, sleeker beer delivery system that has replaced an older, more complicated, but unquestionably better version: Beer Pong.
For most readers, Beer Pong has a specific connotation. Often called Beirut, it involves teams of two throwing a ball into half-filled cups of brew set up in a triangular formation on either side of a narrow, short table. It’s a quick, easy game that anyone can learn. Beirut has become so popular, that bars in New York routinely hold tournaments and there is even a “World Series of Beer Pong” held in Vegas each year (with a $50K prize for the winning team). It’s a fun drinking game…on par with Turbo Cup, Flip Cup, various dice games, and the ever-ubiquitous Quarters. There’s just one problem…Beirut is a bastardized version of a much better game.
Beer Pong was invented at that most respected of drinking establishments, Dartmouth College. Don’t believe me? The New York Times reported as such. You got a problem with the Old Gray Lady? Shut up, Glenn Beck. No one is talking to you, you crazy fuck. Wikipedia confirms the origins of the game as well, and, from what I understand, Wikipedia has never been wrong about anything ever.
Dartmouth students are known for two things: Drinking a lot of beer…and coming up with creative ways to drink a lot of beer. They also run big companies sometimes, I guess…but they mostly get those positions by beating their bosses in drinking games.
Dartmouth Pong is a completely different animal than Beirut. It’s messy, complicated, confusing…and awesome. Like Beirut, it involves teams of two squaring off against each other across a table, but the similarities end there. A Dartmouth Pong table is “regulation ping-pong” size…9 feet by 5 feet…significantly bigger than a Beirut table. Unlike half-filled Beirut cups, Dartmouth cups are always full at the beginning of a game. And whereas only sinks count in Beirut, hits are good in Dartmouth pong (half the beer is consumed on a hit, the entire beer on a sink). But the biggest difference is also the most challenging for newcomers. Dartmouth Pong is played with paddles. And not just ordinary ping-pong paddles…it’s played with paddles that have had their handles broken off? Why? I have no fucking idea. I suspect that the handles broke off on some paddles many, many years ago and the broke-ass college students decided it was easier to learn to play with their truncated wooden circles rather than buy new ones.
I can’t overstate how much better pong is when played with paddles. It makes the game more challenging, unpredictable, and a hell of a lot more fun. Mastering the broken paddle is a rite of passage for Dartmouth students and, while the learning curve can be steep, most students rise to the challenge. Games vary tremendously…the most popular version played at the school these days is called “Lob Pong” which requires hits to be lofted into the air rather than slammed across the table a la standard ping-pong. This style encourages precision and long rallies, and it makes the game more social and genteel.
The simplest version of Lob Pong is called “Shrub”, which involves a Beirut-like triangle made up of 6 cups (with a 7th cup in the back called the “stem”…why a “stem” instead of a “trunk”? That was never adequately explained to me.) A row of 4 cups added to the back of the triangle makes the game “Tree”…another 5 cups is “Sequoia”…and 6 cups is “Super Sequoia” (that game sucks donkey-balls). There are also games specific to individual Greek organizations like “Line” (a cleverly-named game involving 8 cups in a line) and “Death” (same as “Line”, but with 9 cups…apparently that extra cup is fatal). The grand-daddy of them all is “Ship” which is about as convoluted and daunting as a drinking game can be. It consists of 15 cups per side, arranged in “boats” to mimic the famous Battleship board game. There’s a five-boat, four-boat, three-boat, two-boat…plus a refillable mine. And when a boat gets down to half it’s full complement of beer, it becomes sinkable and…..you know what, it’s complicated. Just know that it involves a lot of beer and that some very smart people have been arguing about how to play it properly for decades.
But that’s “real” Pong for you. Unlike it’s watered-down, red-headed step-child, Beirut…Dartmouth Pong is needlessly complex, involves far too much alcohol, and is as addictive as a Krispy Kreme donut stuffed with crack, PCP, and bacon.
It’s also the greatest drinking game ever invented.