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Thursday, May 26, 2022

Life + Arts

Drinking game guide proves worth the read

Although seemingly another useless coffee-table catalogue of some hipster fad that’ll only end up in the clearance bin at Urban Outfitters, The Book of Beer Pong (Chronicle Books, $15.95) is surprisingly worthwhile.

The self-proclaimed official guide to beer pong offers a concise history and set of rules and variations of the popular drinking game, along with a glossary of definitions and diagrams for game-related nomenclature. Ever wonder what to call that apparently cracked-out cup drifting across the slippery ping pong table, moved by some unseen hand? This book gives definition to such beer pong-specific ideas.

While its authors claim the book’s raison d”ecirc;tre as the legitimization of the drinking game and the consolidation of its rules – which have reached a ‘Gladwellian tipping point’ by way of rule perversion and lack of a comprehensive authority – readers who accept this guide as anything but tongue-in-cheek will be seriously disappointed by contradictory contentions and fallacious reasoning.

Perhaps the most obvious inconsistency is in the name of the book. As anyone who has witnessed a match of ‘beer pong’ can tell, the game, though it involves beer, doesn’t have much to do with ping pong. That’s because it’s Beirut.

The book points out that the name ‘beer pong’ refers to an earlier version of the game commonly played today, a game in which players actually used ping pong paddles to guide their ping pong balls into the opposing team’s cups of beer. The book admits the name might more appropriately be ‘Beirut,’ beer pong’s evolutionary descendant invented when players moved past paddles and simply threw the balls with their hands in an effort to make the game more accessible, a schism the book calls ‘The Great Optimization.’

Beirut, then, is the popular drinking game played on college campuses (and seedy bars with awkward backrooms dedicated to the game), yet the authors figure ‘beer pong’ is a better name – it rhymes with ‘beer bong.’

Regardless, academic concerns should be left to pedantic analyses of no-fun mummeries. After all, this is a book about a drinking game: it has no need of sound reasoning.

Any critique of The Book of Beer Pong must overlook its main argument and seek to illuminate those elements that may grab the tenuous attention of the less-than-sober, probably the authors’ target audience.

The first thing that should grab even the most inebriated eye is the book’s shininess. Gold-leafed pages are bound bible-like in faux-leather. Is this an ironic nod to the holiness in which some players hold the game or is this a practical consideration, a publishing decision anticipating messy beer spills and readers using the book as a coaster? As the authority, should the guide presumably be within beer pong players’ reach to settle disputes?’

Either way, that’s the sort of post-postmodernist application that draws modern players into the guide’s pages; they are mostly somewhat-educated college students. And these pages contain, besides the bland rules and notes on throw forms and the physics of proper beer pong arcs, some amusing distractions – literal and otherwise.

The book’s list of distractions, with adjacent diagrams, is particularly amusing even if the attached explanations are a bit confusing.’

‘The Ganesha’ involves two teammates mimicking the form of the eponymous Hindu deity in order to hypnotize opponents and throw off their game. Unfortunately, the book only notes that the distraction can be exceptionally effective ‘if your partner has an elephant’s head.’ A better extension might have pointed out the move doubles as meditation for the team using it, a way for that team to focus and get in the zone while simultaneously distracting their opponents.’

Another of the book’s distractions, ‘The OCD Re-rack,’ is a clever parry designed to muddle opponents’ concentrations by intermittently claiming the tips of cups don’t properly touch and need rearranging – clever, timely even, because this is an age of attention disorders and neural enhancers: why not use that to help win drinking games?

Meanwhile, throughout the book are reader distractions in the form of graphics, offering bits of information too trivial for their own sections but worthy of mention. The sidebar ‘Beer Pong Factoid,’ reminds readers of important facts not to forget. One line worth quoting states: ‘The human brain has about 100 billion neurons. The octopus brain has about 300 million neurons. We think we’ve made our point clear.’ Of course, these facts lack citations.

Graphics such as these make The Book of Beer Pong worthwhile; nonetheless, the guide should not be taken seriously, even if there is a World Series of Beer Pong, which will be held January 2010 in Las Vegas with a prize of $50,000. But anyone hoping to take beer pong seriously has bigger problems than the lack of a comprehensive set of rules.

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