Keep Calm and Rave On

Gays getting married. Gays having babies. Gays serving openly in the military.  Yes, we’re seeing some amazing things in this new century.  Here’s one I wasn’t prepared for: gays playing beer pong.

You heard me right. The ultimate beer drinking game is no longer the province of straight frat boys and Snooki wanna-bes. Now the gay twenty-something pocket boys – those wispy lads so thin you can slip into your back pocket – are playing pong right here in Rehoboth Beach.

“Pong” is shorthand for a drinking game in which you try and land a ping-pong ball in your opponent’s cups of beer. If you succeed, your opponent must drink the beer.  It sounds easy and in concept it is.  Except that there are numerous variations on the game and every group of players seems to have its own special rules.

The National Beer Pong League — yes, there is such an entity– counts more than sixty recognized variations that can be played without paddles and more than a dozen with paddles. You’ve got Dartmouth pong, Cornell pong, Bounce pong, Long Island style, Philly style, Beirut East Coast style, Auburn rules, Virginia rules, and so the list goes on.

There’s even a set of rules for strip beer pong. And special names for players too. A camel toe, for example, is someone who always shoots before consuming the beer. A Che (Guevara) is someone who refuses to play by the house rules.

Pong tables vary too, though you can basically play the game on any flat tabletop.  The most popular size today is eight feet by two feet, and you can order one online in plastic, wood or aluminum at prices starting as low as $89. Handmade elegant wooden ones are available too and can cost upwards of $700. Picnic tables work well in a pinch.

The game has become so popular that there are leagues all over the country dedicated to pong. There is even a World Series of Beer Pong, held annually at the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas where hundreds of players compete for a $50,000 grand prize.

How did this all come about?

Most historians — and I use that term loosely — believe beer pong originated at Dartmouth College in the 1950s and 1960s. Some older alumni think it grew organically from the simple fact of putting cups of beer on the table when playing the game of ping-pong. However it started, by the 1970s, the game of beer pong had developed rules and spread up and down the East Coast through the college and university circuit. At Dartmouth, it became so popular the school sanctioned it as an actual intramural sport for a short period of time.

I played pong for the first time in the fall of 1979 in the basement of a UVA fraternity. It was hot and heady with the scent of college boy sweat, Polo cologne, and marijuana. Little Feat’s Waiting for Columbus album was playing on the stereo. Juanita my sweet chiquita, what are you up to?

A paddle was thrust into my hand and I was steered to a ping-pong table set atop a pool table with arranged with plastic cups of beer. A neophyte to beer pong, the brothers no doubt considered me an easy target.  Little did they know I’d been playing ping-pong for many years in my own basement. I had a good lob and I knew how to deliver some wicked topspin.

Yes, back then we played pong on real ping-pong tables and with real paddles. Old school.

Things started to change in the early 1980s when the frat boys at Lehigh and Lafayette chucked the paddles and started chucking the balls by hand. They called their new variation “Beirut” in reference to the Lebanese civil war. The rival schools are located but seventeen miles apart in eastern Pennsylvania, so, naturally, each claimed to have invented the game.  While the origin might be at issue, the raison d’etre wasn’t: to get bombed.

Today you find diehard fans of both the paddle and paddle-less versions. It’s a matter of preference. The pocket boys of Rehoboth toss rather than paddle. And though I’m personally partial to the classic version of pong, I am quite impressed by the boys’ sense of sporting style. They’ve got a specially designed table, balls, and even plastic cups all emblazoned with the slogan “Keep Calm and Rave On.”  I was told it’s a riff off of the British government’s “Keep Calm and Carry On” campaign to buoy public spirit during WWII.  Crowns for queens.  I like that.

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