Dartmouth Beer Pong
On any given night you can be sure that in Dartmouth's Coed, Fraternity and Sorority houses, basement Beer Pong games are being played—although we just called it Pong. In Beer Pong, two teams compete on a flat playing surface (at Dartmouth about the size and shape of a standard Ping Pong table) on which a predetermined number of beers are distributed into plastic cups and arranged into one of many formations. The object of the game is to successfully hit a Ping Pong ball into the opposing team’s cups using a paddle; the team whose cup is hit or sunk drinks the beer inside. A game typically ends when all the cups on one side of the table have been hit or sunk away.
There is a special connection between this drinking game and Dartmouth students and a certain pride in the fact that our school was likely the origin for all existing forms of Beer Pong. One variation in particular, called Beirut ( where teams take turns throwing the ball across the table at their opponent's cups), has become a familiar staple across the country and can be found under every nook and cranny where young adults are prone to binge drink. Having played both versions extensively, I can tell you quite honestly that our version is light-years more fun.
Since we both use the term "Beer Pong" I'm going to refer to the Dartmouth style as "Pong" and the throwing style as "Beirut" from here on out, but since the game was first conceived at Dartmouth—teams using paddles to return the ball back and forth across the table rather than each team taking turns throwing it—we claim our version as the original and most pure manifestation.
Beirut requires less setup, space, and equipment—this adaptability is probably why it is much more popular than the paddle-based version. It's easy enough to get the basics down so that anyone can play a game almost right away. Hand someone a Ping-Pong ball and ask them to throw it at a grouping of cups ten feet away and anyone who has the use of their arms and can see further than a few feet will be able to play with some reasonable amount of success. Anyone should be able to come within a foot or two of the cups after a throw or two. Hand someone a Pong paddle on the other hand and ask them to make difficult lob shots from a variety of angles and locations, having never done anything similar before, and most of them won’t be able to even keep the ball on the table. I have introduced many first timers to the game over the years and it usually takes a full game before the person has even grasped the concept of how to serve and return the ball fluidly. Hitting cups with regularity doesn't come until much later.
The paddle version is more fluid, requires players to possess a sufficient level of hand eye coordination, and heightens the level of athletic competitiveness in a game. We find this to be vastly superior and don’t play Pong solely as a means to get drunk; to us it is a recreational activity first, a drinking game second. Many Dartmouth students, believe it or not, are actually as competitive about their Pong ability as they are about their grades. The obsession is so complete that in every basement, off campus house, or student controlled social space on campus, you could be assured of one thing each evening: Pong is being played. The first group of students you see materialize in these places set up the first contest. The last standing are those participants of the final game. In between, the ball never stops bouncing.
History of Dartmouth Beer Pong
The history of American Beer Pong has almost mythological qualities. If you believe the sources, there are a string of interconnected stories beginning in Dartmouth basements that are responsible for how the game evolved into what is played today at colleges across the country. Dartmouth continues to play the original paddle version. The invention of Beer Pong likely resulted from table-tennis playing students who would rest their beer mugs on the table itself, discovering that it was actually more fun to aim for the mugs rather than follow traditional Ping-Pong rules. At first the game was played at full speed with high velocity, close to the net shots. I imagine that the constant breakages in play this style presents eventually led to the switch to lob shots, which slows the game down and makes it more about finesse and less about brute strength. Now, almost universally so, the game of Pong at Dartmouth is played with a continuous back and forth of high arching paddle shots where a hit on a cup costs a half a beer and a sink the whole thing.
The implements of Pong—the beer, balls, paddles and cups—were purchased from an innocuous family owned delicatessen slash convenience store called Stinson's Village Store located not too far off Main Street in Hanover, which because of its proximity to Dartmouth's CFS houses, had grown to become one of the largest, if not the largest beer distributor in all of New Hampshire. We bought beer from Stinson's with comic regularity—typically every Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday and in bulk. This was a task orchestrated by Social Chairs with the semi-reluctant help of whoever happened to be standing idly about in the hallways of the house or waiting in the basement for Pong to begin.
Stinson's was a short drive from frat row—easily navigated with a light buzz—and the three or four man crews would pull the SUV, station wagon, or van or whatever vehicle they rode there in (any vehicle whose keys could be successfully pried away from their owner) into Stinson's alarmingly narrow back driveway, a location that turned out to be very convenient due to its proximity to an immense freezer housing an impressive wall of beer cases and kegs. The Social Chair would initiate the purchase of alcohol and Pong supplies inside the store while his accomplices moved cases of beer in groups of three (one in each hand and a third under the off arm) from Stinson's freezer to the storage area of the transport—its trunk in most cases, but once that filled to capacity, really any other unoccupied space that you can envision fitting a thirty pack. A Friday, Saturday or Wednesday night required a good twenty to thirty cases of beer, and a Monday night maybe ten to fifteen. Now multiply that by the number of Greek houses on campus—there being no cheaper, more convenient place to buy beer in Hanover and I'm going to take a wild guess here, but I'd say something on the order of twenty five hundred cases of Keystone Light were sold at Stinson's every week.
Sometimes you weren't a part of the pickup itself but were instead left behind in the basement to play Ship with the remnants of the previous pickup, waiting for the “re-up” so to say, which could ensure that the next game (previously promised with the prospect of future beer) could proceed without any delays. The Social Chair would enter the back door of the basement that let in through the parking lot, announce that the beer had arrived and everyone downstairs would pitch in enthusiastically to assist with the carrying of said beer inside from the SUV, station wagon or van or whatever vehicle you had used to transport it from Stinson's cooler to the Chi Gam parking lot. With the beer in tow, the night was secure—we were ready for the worst that Dartmouth had to throw at us.
Dartmouth students have devised many variations of the game, the most basic of which is called Shrub and uses a triangle formation of six beers with one beer serving as the stem of the “shrub.” From above, one side of the table looks like so:
A Tree formation is similar but employs either eleven or twelve beers per side, depending on if house rules call for a one or two beer stem. The main difference between Tree and Shrub is the speed in which you drink. The opening of either game is normally a barrage of hits and sinks, and with Tree you are basically just drinking four more beers in roughly the same amount of time. A single two-stem Tree looks like this:
Variations of Shrub and Tree are the most common formations found on campus—however the possibilities are practically endless for creative minds bent on dreaming up ever new ways of tactically arranging the campus' inexhaustible supply of plastic cups. Games of Death, Two-Cup, Corners, Line, World Cup, Enchanted Forest, Social, Harbor and so on are played on a nightly basis in the CFS basements and occasionally games were even made up on the spot by enterprising players and subsequently never played again.
Then there was Ship, which had an allure all its own. This is what half of a Ship game looks like:
Ship certainly deserves some added attention but what is important here is that freshman year I fell in love with Pong and to play Pong I had to brave fraternity basements.