NB. This was recovered from some cache somewhere in the digital ether. I need to look over it and dig into the history presented here someday. -PJ$, 12.30.2013 ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN : The Dartmouth Independent TITLE : The Arguably Definitive History of Pong AUTHOR : Anoop Rathod PUBLISHED : Sep 19, 2005
Founded in 1769, Dartmouth College has withstood the travails of history to remain one of this country's finest academic institutions with a strong set of time-honored traditions. As Daniel Webster exclaimed in Dartmouth's darkest hour in 1818, "It is, Sir, as I have said, a small College; and, yet, there are those who love it." Webster's claim, then, begs the question of what people exactly love about this "small College." Many believe Dartmouth College is a bastion of academic excellence, ensconced amidst the sylvan majesty of New Hampshire. And to others, Dartmouth's greatest custom is its Nordic homage to the golden liquid of Bacchus: booze.
In an Op-Ed written in the May 7, 2001 issue of The Dartmouth, John Haskell '03 writes: "Dartmouth drinks, therefore it is. We must not let Dartmouth cease to be. Without beer, we would lose our identity and turn into just another Brown..." But the love of beer is not what truly distinguishes a member of the Big Green from the Rastafarian Brownies.
"If there's a single important issue that needs to be addressed at Dartmouth this year, it's what's going to happen with the budget cuts. But if there is a second concern, it's got to be finding the best pong team at Dartmouth," wrote former SA President Janos Marton '04 in "Live From The Masters of Pong." Dartmouth pong (beer pong) has almost a cultish following amidst the Dartmouth populace. In fact, Larry Koestler, Editor-in-Chief of Pop Culture Magazine, captured the devotion for beer pong in a recount of his February 2004 road trip to Dartmouth:
Now even though Tom fully warned us about Dartmouth's hatred of Beirut, we really didn't think it would harm anyone if we tossed a game or two, [but] this classless piece of shit stormed downstairs, shouting "No Beirut! Ever! In this house!"
Koestler's anecdote not only underscores Dartmouth's zealotry for beer pong, but also the classic enmity between the players of both pastimes. Koestler concludes his diatribe against the alleged beer pong Nazi by saying: "Beirut is the greatest drinking game in the world by far. Beer pong doesn't even come close." Thus, in the Manichean tradition, so follow beer pong and Beirut. Superman had Bizarro. Spiderman had the Doppelganger. Football fans have futból fans. Baseball fans have Bud Selig.
And, today, Dartmouth has Beirut.
There was a time, however, when Beirut was merely an afterthought, inconsequential when compared to the mythic glory of beer pong. But, over the years, Beirut has managed to become as popular as beer pong for party animals across the nation. Try explaining beer pong to a Yalie and you'll just get a deer in the headlights look. Yet, if you road trip to Lehigh, you'll find yourself surrounded by paddle-playing beer guzzlers like those at Dartmouth. Where did this game known as Beirut come from? In fact, where did beer pong come from? Moreover, what does the beer-sudded future hold?
The Good Ole Days (1960s-1980s)
No one is quite sure exactly how beer pong originated at Dartmouth, or if it ever originated; perhaps, it always was. In fact, an unknown author of a 1976 editorial in The Dartmouth stated that beer pong began with Creation itself.
It's clear that beer pong developed more as an afterthought than a deliberate orchestration. According to Kenneth Harker '95, an alumnus of Phi Tau, beer pong began at Dartmouth sometime in the 1960s when people started placing cups of beer on a ping-pong table during games of ping-pong. Over time, rules developed for how much one should drink for a given hit or sink. However, for pong to be viable, plastic cups needed to replace ceramic and glass ones. The plastic cups of yore even had a seal of the Dartmouth "D".
The original version of pong, known as house pong, was very similar in play to a normal game of ping-pong. In doubles play, each teammate hits the ball alternately. With regard to drinking, much like today, hitting a cup on the serve results in a drink by the serving team, and hitting a cup on a volley results in a drink by the team whose cups are hit.
Originally, however, it is unlikely that the Dartmouth students of the sixties played beer pong to get "crunked." "I'm not sure if the alums [from the 1960s] played often because they mostly talked about driving to Holyoke to get girls or see their girlfriends," said Richard H. Schwartz '83, alumnus of Phi Tau. Until coeducation in 1972, most parties involving females were lavishly wild extravaganzas like Winter Carnival, in which the Dartmouth males impressed the females by riding in horse drawn carriages.
The lack of pong playing during the 1960s is not to say that the school's reputation as the ultimate Animal House is in jeopardy. In fact, F. Scott Fitzgerald once came to Winter Carnival to shoot a movie on the gala. Instead, he got drunk from some whiskey offered by English professors and then fell down the steps of the Hanover Inn from ER (Excessive Raging).
Nevertheless, the arrival of girls ushered in a new era of pong: pong to get drunk. According to an article published in The Dartmouth in 1997, many females took part in pong in the 1970s, and the crew girls were renowned for their tolerance. The game achieved such popularity during this period that the College sanctioned pong as an intramural sport; beer pong was the only college-sponsored drinking contest in the country. However, in 1977, the College no longer decided to support the endeavor.
Because of the school's decision to de-recognize pong (de-recognition tends to happen frequently at Dartmouth), the once standardized rules for Dartmouth house pong tournaments faded, leading to an era of subculture pong that still lives today. During the 1980s, Chi Gamma Epsilon first started playing ship, a game of Moby Dick drinking proportions. In addition, brothers at Herot started playing "fast pong," a game that emphasized getting the ball over by any means necessary. Lob pong, very similar to our style of play today, existed, but was not very popular. Schwartz commented that he only saw the now common Christmas tree and shrub formation associated with lob once or twice during his time at Dartmouth in the early 1980s.
Nevertheless, the game that evolved furthest from the primordial beer pong soup was slam pong. The name of the game was knocking down or hitting opponents' cups. Slam featured volleyball like play in which one player lobbed the ball to his partner standing on the sideline for a smash. For faster play and harder serves, fraternities used lower than normal nets. "People only played lob if they wanted to get drunk," said Schwartz. Slam was for the truly skilled and very macho. Many players broke paddles because of their violent smashes. Phi Tau stopped playing slam for a while because the game resulted in gallons of spilt beer.
Slam pong was the clear game of choice during the 1980s. In fact, the game had a popular following until the mid 1990s. According to Harker, nearly 1/3 of the fraternities still played slam in 1995. Even today, according to Janos Marton, many alumni from 1980s prefer to play slam when visiting.
By the mid 1980s, the state of national beer pong was strong. Bowdoin, Bucknell, Lehigh, Princeton, Williams College, and many others accompanied Dartmouth in playing the "proper way" – with paddles. In addition, despite the College's de-recognition of beer pong, the students of Dartmouth persevered. However, change was in the wind. A new political giant presided in the White House in the 1980s: Ronald Reagan. Other than Warren G. Harding and Calvin Coolidge (Prohibition anyone?), no other president has drastically changed the very face of Animal House America.
The Reagan Years: Revolution and Counter-Claiming
Dinesh D'Souza '83, a senior White House domestic policy analyst in 1987, wrote in remembrance of Reagan, "We worried that he was& #0133;not the revolutionary he once seemed to be. Now, with more than 15 years of hindsight, I realize how wrong I was." A reader of Von Hayek and Von Mises, a man more John Wayne than James Bond, and, to his critics, an accidental hero, Ronald Reagan was many things to many people. He popularized Goldwater's brand of Sun-Belt conservatism and, arguably, dumped the "Evil Empire" into the "ash heap of history." Reagan, however, has also left a legacy concerning America's drinking habits.
Reagan's legacy, a patently indirect one, resulted from his foreign policy on the Middle East. In 1980, Israel invaded Lebanon in a pre-emptive war against the PLO. Reagan organized a cease-fire between the two parties and sent troops to maintain the peace. But, in October 1983, things went awry when a Hizbullah suicide bomber blew up an American barracks in Beirut, killing 241 U.S. Marines.
"Thinking back, I believe that the game got its name based on an analogy between the Ping-Pong balls flying across the table and landing on the opponent's side and an idea that the US should bomb Beirut as a result of the casualties in the area," said Duane Kotsen '86, president of Theta Delta Chi in 1985 at Lehigh University, the alleged birthplace of Beirut. Kotsen also added that the name of the game "reflects respect for the Marine and US losses in the region at that point in history."
The father of the game was Brian "Stubby" Poulton, a brother at Theta Delta Chi. Kotsen claimed that Stubby organized games of Beirut and helped introduce it to other fraternities on "The Hill." There is even a story that Stubby visited nearby Bucknell University and spread the game there as well. However, according to an email written by Stubby, he had actually discovered Beirut in its incipient and crude version at Bucknell University in 1983. When Stubby came back, he showed it to the rest of his brothers, who had taken to the game immediately. By 1984-85, Beirut had replaced Zoom, Schwartz, and Profigliano as the mainstream game at Theta Delta Chi. By 1986, everyone at Lehigh was playing it.
Lehigh, then, may not exactly be the birthplace of Beirut, but the brothers of Theta Delta Chi did much to popularize the game. In addition to organizing Beirut tournaments, the brothers of Theta Delta Chi created a Beirut table with the map of Beirut in 1986. The popularity of the game stemmed from its being a faster alternative to Beer pong and taking almost 15-25 minutes for the consumption of over ten beers. As one brother put it: "Since if you played, you got 'bombed.'"
The poor judgment and behavior the game encouraged, however, troubled Kotsen. "As a matter of fact, when I spoke to my successor as president of Theta Delta Chi, I told him that one of the things he could do for the benefit of the house would be to cut up the Beirut table with a chainsaw." Kotsen's successor did not "cut up" the table, but the original Beirut table did not survive into the 1990s.
Nevertheless, like all stories of invention (think Edison and moving pictures), the story of Beirut is not cut and dry either. On playbeirut.com, a site devoted to cataloguing everything Beirut, two brothers of Sigma Nu at Lehigh claimed that their fraternity had created the game in 1986. Scott '87 of Sigma Nu writes, "Your web site correctly attributes the game's origins to Lehigh, but it was Sigma Nu fraternity, class of '87 that originated it, and it was Sigma Nu class of '88 that made it famous." According to Scott, his brothers originally named the game Libya in 1986 because Reagan was bombing Muhummar Quaddaffi's Libya.
However, what could explain the name change from Libya to Beirut in 1986? Scott states in his post that "something military occurred in Beirut" that was "all over the news." Given that US troops had withdrawn from Beirut immediately after the barracks bombing, this "military news" leaves two options: the Tower Commission report on the Iran-Contra affair (the hostages of this crisis were in Lebanon) or Israel's agreement to withdraw from Lebanon.
Kotsen responded to Sigma Nu's claims, "My house had a good relation with some of the guys in Sigma Nu and most likely was that someone from Theta Delta Chi started playing it with them and they adopted it in 1986."
However, Geoff Hill '87 of Sigma Nu stated, "We were the first ones to play because we broke all our ping-pong paddles and wanted to use the free-throw part of beer pong." In fact, Geoff went on a road trip to Dartmouth in 1986 and taught it to the Sigma Nu chapter here. Although Dartmouth's Sigma Nu has a dedicated Beirut room, the brothers state the room has nothing to do with Lehigh.
It seems entirely plausible that both Theta Delta Chi and Sigma Nu came up with Beirut on their own accord. Theta Delta Chi, however, clearly discovered the game first in 1983, much before Sigma Nu in 1986. Nevertheless, both fraternities played a critical role in proselytizing other schools. One Theta Delta Chi member stated: "Funny how the game is now everywhere – bars in New York City now have tables in the back for the game!"
The Exceptional Exception?
Is Dartmouth the lone beer pong Collegedom in America? Is the tide finally against the "proper way"?
At first glance, it seems beer pong has lost its prominence amongst the populace of Animal House America. Even Dartmouth has integrated Beirut into the fabric of its beer pong. The shrub formation is very similar to pyramid in Beirut. The disappearance of 2-cup slam pong and the rise of a syncretic lob and house pong are signs of changing times. The mere fact that Sigma Nu at Dartmouth has a dedicated Beirut room evidences a more than tacit acceptance. One must ask, however, if these are signs of a losing battle.
First, many colleges and universities across America still play beer pong. At Princeton and Lehigh, Beirut and beer pong coexist. At beerpong.com, students from University of Arizona, University of Vermont, Spain, and even upstate New York discuss ways to improve their game and engage in some trash talking. The notion that beer pong is now on the "ash heap of history" is a dubious one.
Second, the state of beer pong at Dartmouth is as strong as ever. Beer pong's beauty lies in its being a vehicle to cement fraternity traditions. The school's de-recognition of beer pong in 1977 may in fact have turned out to be a blessing; the creation of subculture pong serves to reinforce differences, most minor, between houses. Styles of play serve as unnoticed rallying cries between fraternities and their fans.
Third, in great irony, these differing styles in play actually encourage evolution and change. If the 1980s at Dartmouth is any signal, the vitality of beer pong lies in its being amenable to change. Almost every school on nbpl.net has a different twist to the game.
Finally, the good-natured enmity between the blocs of beer pong and Beirut Collegedoms reinforce the differences for an "us" and "them." Everyone at Dartmouth wears our pong as a badge of honor. A biting post on beerpong.com underscores this very fact:
You can go play Beirut on your mom's coffee table and make sure to stick a throw pillow under your buttocks while you're at it.
And one more jibe at Beirut players:
Anyone still playing Beirut should buy some paddles and start the real game. Playing Beirut over beer pong is like playing basketball on 8 foot hoops - it's fun for a little but where's the sport and competition?
So, as long as there are the Larry Koestler Beirut players of the world, there will always be the beerpong.com pong players. Moreover, lest the old traditions fail, Dartmouth pong will even out last the granite of New Hampshire.