The rules, the culture, the subtleties of beer pong

“It’s got balls. It’s got defense. That’s a sport to me,” said junior Gabi Gillett.

If such criteria truly define a sport, then beer pong has become a more legitimate sport than cheerleading on college campuses nationwide.

“It’s not a game of science and strategy. It’s a game of shooting. You can’t play when you’re sober,” Gillett added.

So maybe calling beer pong, or Beirut, a sport is a bit of an exaggeration, but regardless of how it is categorized, college students at GW and other universities treat it as a serious competition. And to some, it has even become a way of life.

That’s why Gillett and his friends started their own beer pong league about a year ago.

“It’s a great social game. It combines a competitive nature with meeting other people who just want to hang out,” said junior Max Wolk, one of Gillett’s roommates who participates in the league. “It’s the water cooler for college students.”

Twenty of Gillett and Wolk’s friends and housemates have paired off to compete in the league on a weekly basis. But because the rules of beer pong vary from person to person, Wolk said he established official “house rules,” now displayed prominently on the dining room wall next to the beer pong table.

But such leagues are not unique to Gillett and Wolk’s circle of friends. Walk into just about any house party on campus and you’re sure to find a makeshift – or well-worn – beer pong table.

Sophomore Jordan Peterson of the Sigma Nu fraternity said beer pong has been a common weekend activity for him and his brothers.

“I don’t know (how it started),” he said. “It’s a verbal tradition taught to us and handed down from our brothers. We don’t know how far beer pong goes back in our fraternity.”

Variations of the game

It’s safe to say that there are no GW beer pong regulations, but according to the National Beer Pong League Web site, http:// www.npbl.net/, there are dozens of styles of play, named after regions, colleges or fraternities in some cases. Most prevalent on the GW party scene is “Long Island” style – go figure.

When playing Long Island beer pong, 10 red or blue Dixie cups are arranged on each side of a table (or any long, flat surface) in a pyramid formation. Each side uses three beers to fill its cups. Teams consisting of two players try to throw or bounce the ball into the other side’s cups, and when they’re successful their opponents alternate downing the contents. Teams can play defense by “swatting” once the ball hits some surface, whether it’s the table, the rim of a cup or even a person.

Teams “re-rack” the cups into new pyramids when there are six left and into a diamond when four are left. When three cups are left, they are arranged in a triangle, and when two are left, they are lined up one behind the other.

When a team hits its opponent’s last cup, there is a chance for a “rebuttal,” which works kind of like a spelling bee. The team can only save itself from a loss if each player is able to hit a cup and win the balls back. If not, the team loses and must drink the last cup and whatever beer is left in the cups of the winning team. The losers are then escorted from the table in shame, and the next team steps up to challenge the winners.

In terms of defense, one of the age-old debates is the use of the “blowing” technique. When a ball is thrown and begins spinning rapidly around the rim of the cup before landing in the beer, a player can try to literally blow the ball up and out of the cup. Depending on house rules, blowing is either strictly forbidden or permitted as long as the defender is female.

In an extremely poorly phrased question, the Hatchet asked Peterson and his brothers if girls can “blow” according to Sigma Nu house rules. Peterson laughed and said, “That’s always legal at my table.”

At Penn State University, only girls blow, but everyone gets to toast at the Phi Kappa Theta fraternity house. PSU Junior Mark Giangioreano, social chair of Phi Kappa Theta, said his fraternity plays 12-cup with two pyramids of six and a “center cup” in between the pyramids.

For the two pyramids to be brought together into one triangle, a player must hit the center cup. But instead of drinking it immediately, it’s set aside until the other team makes their center cup. When this occurs, the two opponents toast their brimming Dixie cups and chug.

“I don’t know of anyone else who plays that way,” Giangioreano said. “Most people do the standard 10-cup game (at PSU).”

No matter how you play, the game is over when all cups are gone and all beer has been consumed, or when the other team can no longer stand up. And most players agree that girls can follow their own rules.

Table Type: take what you can get

GW Junior Cat Feldtmose said she plays beer pong, but not as much as she did her freshman year.

“It was easier to play then because the doors were easier to take off,” she said.

Living in overcrowded dorms and efficiency apartments, the average college student doesn’t usually have much room to store a ping pong table. It forces students to be creative when choosing a surface to play on, and most students learn during their first week in Thurston that closet doors make a sufficient playing surface with just the right dimensions.

Sophomore Dan Gerszewski of the Sigma Nu fraternity said Thurston closet doors did the trick but were not ideal.

“You’ve got to be wary of the crack down the middle,” Gerszewski warned.

He explained that his brothers play with a “no throw” rule. The ball must be bounced into the opponent’s cups in true beer pong fashion until one cup remains. Then, to win the game, the team must throw the ball into the final cup, which is more of a Beirut technique. But the closet doors all have crevices down the middle, which may interfere with a player’s bounce.

Now that Feldtmose has graduated from freshman-style living, she is concerned about the mess a beer pong game could leave in her apartment. She said the beer splashes on the floor, leaving a sticky mess on tile floors and the potent reek of stale beer that never comes out of a carpet. So Feldtmose said she tries to lay Twister mats under her table when she plays.

Gillett said using closet doors is a resourceful solution if you don’t have a table, but he had to truly think outside the box this winter break when he constructed a Beer Pong table while tailgating at the 2004 Rose Bowl in California.

“We were in an RV park so there were no tables,” he explained. “One team’s cups were on two pizza boxes on top of two back-to-back chairs. On the other side, the team had a little Fisher Price picnic table. It was like throwing down a mountain.”

Beer’s the name of the game

One game of beer pong requires at least four beers – two for each pyramid – and with people running the tables all night, you’ll be able to recycle enough cans to call yourself an environmentalist.

Buying inexpensive beer is a key element of the game.

“You’ve got to buy what’s cheapest,” Feldtmose said. “Like Ice House. It also tastes pretty good. I’m not going to pour my Guinness (in the cups).”

Most players said they prefer beer that is not only cheap but also less filling. Light beer enables better beer pong stamina or the ability to play many, many games in a row.

Wolk explained the characteristics of a good recreational beverage.

“It needs to be light. It can’t be too filling or too foamy because it’s easier to go down,” he said. “It can’t be too expensive; then you’re just wasting it.”

The most common beer pong beverage used by players The Hatchet spoke to is Natural Light, or “Natty,” but Wolk said he stays away from “Natty anything” because it’s “just horrible.”

To beer epicures, taste factors into the final decision as to which type of beer to purchase for a game of pong. In this case, a lager is an exceptional substitution for light beer, but be ready to front more cash for the game. Gerszewski said he prefers the Pennsylvania brewed lager Yuengling.

“It’s a nice compromise for those of us who like to drink a beer that’s darker than the ball,” he said.

But if beer is not available for play, just turn to the hard stuff – at least this was Gillett’s advice. He said he and his friends have been known to resort to Jose Cuervo or Jack Daniels when the cans are gone and the keg is kicked.

Most agreed that drunk’s the name of the game; if you’re sober, you’ll be making a quick exit from the table. But there seems to be a glass ceiling in the beer pong world because sloppy drunks often make sloppy players.

“It’s kind of like how you get to be a better dancer when you’re drunk,” Feldtmose said.

Is it Beirut or beer pong?

The name is more of a technicality than anything else. Both terms are interchangeable, and usage generally varies depending on where players are from. Feldtmose, who is originally from Connecticut, calls the game Pong, as do Giangioreano and the Phi Kappa Theta fraternity members at Penn State. Gillett and Wolk, both from Minnesota, agree that it’s beer pong, not Beirut.

A number of Web sites devoted to beer pong or Beirut tell different stories of the origins of the names, but most agree that beer pong was started by a group of college students at a Pennsylvania school in the early 1960s.

According to the International Beirut Players Association Web site, http://www.webspawner.com/users/unclejiji/, players originally used ping pong paddles, to hit the balls into their opponents cups, but participants lacking paddles eventually started to just throw the balls. The site goes on to say that players began to call it Beirut in the early 1980s, when the U.S. became involved in the Lebanese civil war. Fraternity members at a Pennsylvania school thought “bombing” the cups with balls was similar to bombing Beirut.

But what you call it is still a matter of personal preference.

Wolk said he views the pong versus Beirut argument like he views the adoption of house rules: “To each his own. If it’s your thing, then do it.”

Whether it’s Beirut or pong, if you go to GW and you go to parties, you will probably end up playing, or at least watching, some version of the game. Some like to bounce, some like to throw. Most play with 10 cups but some play with 12. But no matter what rules you play by, what beer you drink or what you call it, the game is a staple of the American college party scene.

“People watch and enjoy it,” Gerszewski said. “It’s like bowling. It’s one of those things you can do well even when drinking.”

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