If you’ve ever been to a fraternity party or a backyard barbeque, chances are you’ve seen a game of beer pong being played. Maybe you’ve always wanted to play, but you aren’t sure of the rules. Or, maybe you’re a beer pong pro, but you want to spice up your game a little.
Let’s go over the history of beer pong, explain how it’s played, and learn all the rule variations you may encounter.
History of Beer Pong
Beer pong goes by many different names, depending on who you ask. There’s nog pong, Beirut, and six-cup, just to name a few. Whatever you call it, there’s no denying it has a long history, particularly on college campuses.
Beer pong as we know it today is said to have originated at Dartmouth College sometime between 1950 and 1960 (yes, your grandparents have probably played beer pong). Apparently, some students left cups of beer on a ping pong table during a game, and players began aiming for the cups. The game was originally played with paddles, but fraternity brothers at Lehigh University adapted the game to “throw pong,” which involves throwing the ping pong ball with your hands. This is the version you see most often today.
Suppose you’ve never seen a game of beer pong being played. An equal number of plastic cups are arranged in a triangle on either side of a table. Each team attempts to throw a small ball, usually a ping-pong ball, into the cups from the opposite side of the table. When a ball successfully lands in a cup, the opposing team has to drink the beer inside. Whoever gets their opponents to drink all their cups of beer first wins.
Since its conception, beer pong has become increasingly popular. It’s America’s most popular drinking game, and you’re unlikely to visit a college campus without seeing at least one game being played. In fact, it’s so popular that beer pong has spawned a ton of derivative games.
Beer Pong equipment
To play beer pong, the first thing you need is a long table. Originally a ping-pong table was used, but no table with a considerable length between the ends will do. Eight feet is the standard length. If you want to be really official, you can even purchase a specialty beer pong table, but it’s not really necessary. Just make sure you’re using a plastic table or a table you don’t mind getting a little messy, and things tend to splash during gameplay.
Next, you’ll need cups. The traditional set-up calls for 10 cups on each teams’ side, for 20 cups total. Red solo cups are traditional, but any kind of plastic cup with a wide brim will work.
You’ll also need beer to fill the cups with. Usually, two beers fill ten cups, but this can be adjusted depending on how much you want to drink.
Commonly players fill the cups with water in place of beer to make the game more sanitary. The ball going into the cup often bounces off unsanitary surfaces. In this version, when the opposite team sinks a ball, you or your teammate take a slug of beer from a can off to the side. Since you usually go through multiple cans per game, we recommend an inexpensive beer, like Natural Light.
The last item you’ll need to play beer pong is a ball. A ping-pong ball is traditional, but any small, extremely light ball or object will work as long as it can be thrown easily.
The Beer Pong set-Up
To begin, set up your table on a flat, sturdy surface. Place your cups filled with water or beer on either end of the table in a triangle formation. Ten cups are traditional, but the game can also be played with six. Have multiple ping-pong balls on hand, as they tend to get lost once the game gets going. The game is typically played with two teams of two players each. Each team stands on opposite sides of the table, across from each other.
Beer Pong gameplay
To begin, decide which team will go first. The beginning team usually won the last round, but if it’s the beginning of the night, it can be decided by a coin flip. Have both teams verify that their cups are straight and in the proper position.
The first player on the beginning team then throws the ball, aiming to land it in one of the opposing teams’ cups on the opposite side of the table. If they successfully sink the ball into the cup, the other team has to drink the beer, and the cup is removed from the triangle. The second teammate from the beginning team takes a turn. Suppose the second teammate also lands the ball in the cup. In that case, the opposing team has to drink again, the cup is removed, and the beginning team gets to keep throwing until one of them misses.
If one or both teammates fail to sink the ball on their first turn, it is now the opposing team’s turn. Each member of the second team takes a turn trying to land their ball in the cup. Every shot they make requires a drink, and the cups are removed. Even if the first player fails to hit the cup on their first try, their teammate typically gets one chance to make a shot during their turn as well.
The game continues, each team alternating turns until all the cups have been drunk and removed. The winning team typically stays at the table and waits for another opponent.
The subjective rules of Beer Pong
There are many rules to beer pong that are not universal but decided by the people playing the game. These rules should be discussed beforehand to avoid disagreements and confusion.
The first rule is called the elbows/wrists rule. It is fairly universal, but not everyone follows it. This rule stipulates that they keep their elbows or wrists behind the table’s edge when throwing. This prevents players from reaching across the table to get closer while shooting and ensures that taller players or longer arms don’t get an unfair advantage. Typically, if the player breaks this rule, their shot doesn’t count.
The second rule is the re-racking rule. This stipulates that the opposing team can ask you to rearrange your cups at the beginning of their turn in any formation that they choose. Typically, players are allowed to ask for re-racking twice per game. Usually, the opposing team will ask that all the cups be pushed back together in a triangle formation, as this provides a bigger target and makes missing less likely.
Other subjective rules involve bouncing. In a traditional game, bouncing the ball off the table before landing it in the cup is encouraged. If the ball lands in a cup after bouncing on the table, that cup is removed along with another cup of the shooter’s choice. However, if only two cups are left, the bouncing rule doesn’t usually apply, and two separate shots must be made to win. However, if there are only two cups left, the bouncing rule doesn’t usually apply, and two separate shots must be made to win. Some versions of the game don’t allow bouncing, so be sure to verify before beginning the game.
The final subjective rule is common and is called blowing. This rule stipulates that if the ball is spinning on the edge of the cup, the defending team can blow it away with their mouth or tap it away with a finger. This is usually not allowed in typical gameplay, but some people add this rule to increase the stakes.
Beer Pong vs. Beirut
You may have heard the term “Beirut” used interchangeably with beer pong. While this is common among players and not considered incorrect, technically, they are two different games. Beer pong is the original game played with paddles, while Beirut is the derivative where balls are thrown with the hands, which was invented later. However, Beirut has become much more popular than the original paddle game over the years, so the two terms refer to the version played with the hands.
No matter which rules you choose to employ or ignore, one thing is for sure: beer pong is tons of fun. It’s a great way to create a fun, lightly competitive atmosphere at a party and usually leads to friendships being made. Just like with any other drinking game, beer pong should always be played responsibly.
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