The Wonky Origins Of Your Favorite Drinking Games

December 18, 2015

No trip to adulthood is complete without experiencing the highs and lows of drinking games. Valuable life lessons get learned in victory, defeat, and excessive trips to the restroom.

And while everyone debates and challenges the rules of drinking games, nobody ever asks where these liver destroyers ever came from in the first place. Shouldn’t you know why you’re fighting? Ok, good, because here are the stories of those four drinking games your liver knows too well.

1. Beer Pong

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Within minutes, this table will be sticky with beer. Photo: @connarw / Instagram

Main Objective

: To sink ping pong balls into all 10 of your opponent’s geometrically arranged cups, forcing them to drink after each successful attempt.

Since booze isn’t a direct component of baseball—just its fans—it’s likely safe to call beer pong the closest “sport” Americans can claim as our national drinking pastime. They even have a World Series. Everyone understands the basics, even though every house has a different set of quirky tweaks for no reason. Is one bounce ok? No bounce? What about blowing?

It supposedly started at Dartmouth University in the late 50s, where frat guys playing ping pong noticed their beer cups resting on the table could become targets. It got the name “beer pong” (or simply “pong”) because teams initially used a handle-less ping-pong paddle. The game spread quickly, mostly by word of mouth, from campus to campus.

By 1980, though, Leigh University and Bucknell University were playing the modern-day paddle-less beer pong (a.k.a. “Throw pong” or sometimes “Beirut”). Whether they just preferred throwing the little balls or all of their paddles broke remains disputed as the origin story of this ubiquitous drinking game.

2. Flip Cup

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Possibly one of the most adrenaline-pumping tabletop drinking games that exist. Photo: @nalinbr / Instagram

Main Objective

: Flip a cup, precariously hanging off a table, onto its lip faster than the opposing team.

Another game created by bored college students aiming to make cheap beer exciting, Flip Cup has indeed taken second or third place in the drunken hearts of America’s young adults. Rumored to be born out of New Jersey in the late 1980s—lookin’ at you Hoboken—the game naturally spread to everyone who loved team sports and was also able to master just the right amount of force needed to flip a cup onto its base on the first try.

3. Quarters

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The bummer for the loser is not the drink so much as the mess of germs you ingest from the quarter. Photo: @daroneas / Instagram

Main Objective

: Bounce quarters off a table and into a cup in order to make another player drink or establish additional rules.

Quarters has probably had thousands of different names over the centuries since patrons played it in European taverns between songs and brawls. I mean, to play, all you need is ale and a coin. It’s not exactly Monopoly. The game is old enough that its origins are unknown, but if we’re digging deep into history, we’d have to look at its predecessor – Kottabos.

Kottabos was a game drunk lounging Greek men—often financially well off—would play. Tossing the dregs of their wine cup toward a target, either a dish or a saucer, seeing who could land the most. There’s also the assumption that there was a lot more weird sex going on in this game than its modern-day evolution.

4. King’s Cup

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Great way to kill time when you’re all snowed in. Photo: @lukeyburt / Instagram

Main Objective

: Play close attention to a list of rules associated with a deck of cards and avoid pulling the last king/drinking the king’s cup (often filled with an unsavory mix of alcohol).

The best drinking game to play holed up in a cabin, where you have nothing but time and copious amounts of alcohol, has many names. To me, it’s King’s Cup. To others, it can be Kings, ring off fire, circle of death, donut, and so on.

Nobody knows for certain where this game came from though it bears a slight resemblance to the Norse drinking ritual of Sumbel or “ale gathering” that involves toasting, oaths, and reciting poetry (which was badass back in the day).

It’s like Jumanji. One day, it showed up in our world with the sole purpose to make an insane mess of everything.