Consider this neither a concession speech nor an admission of being wrong in the seemingly endless Beirut/Beer Pong debate. I’m not wrong. The game involving 10 cups on either end of a table where teams of two alternate shots attempting to eliminate their opponents’ cups is Beirut. Beer Pong is a different game entirely and owes its getting two games under its name to a varied buffet of factors. And while it pains me to no end to assert this, I get why Beer Pong is the dominant name. I’ll explain.
According to an article in The Daily Orange, the official newspaper of Syracuse University, “Beer Pong began in the 1950s at a Boston university, probably Dartmouth College or the University of Massachusetts, according to a 1997 article in The Dartmouth. The name ‘Beer Pong’ stuck after fraternity brothers with a liking for ping pong left their beer cups on the table while they played. The game developed as a way of enjoying both activities at the same time.” In other words, it’s ping pong combined with beer, hence beer fucking pong. Pretty simple, right?
But as paddles and ping pong tables are not always imminently available, a new game evolved as people simply started tossing balls into the cups with their hands. With a new game, comes new nomenclature. Therefore, the name Beirut arose around the time of the U.S./Beirut conflict in the early-mid 80′s. The ping pong balls were being lobbed into opponents’ cups, kind of like a bomb dropping from the sky. Urban Dictionary’s first definition is correct (although the 3rd is funniest), and we all know they’re never wrong. Hell, even according to the National Beer Pong League, Beirut is the correct terminology for this game and Beer Pong’s in their goddamn name. From their FAQ section:
Q: Is this site about Beirut or Beer Pong?
Q: What’s the difference?
A: We’re glad you asked. Beirut is any variation of the game that involves throwing a ping pong ball into a cup, and beer pong involves using a paddle to hit a ball into a cup. We prefer to play Beirut.
Ideally this should be the end of the argument, but it isn’t. And it never will be. And after Rick Reilly wrote about the World Series of Beer Pong in ESPN: The Magazine, I realized why.
For one, Beer Pong is much easier to remember, so calling it such is a product of intellectual laziness. As one gentleman so eloquently pointed out on bpong.com’s forums, “you shoot ping pong balls in to cups of beer, cup of beer + ping pong ball = beer pong, simple as that.” I get it. And that makes sense in a cro-magnon sort of way. Since this is a drinking game we’re talking about here, and not the collected works of James Joyce, this really shouldn’t matter.
Beirut is abstract. Re-read the explanation above for the rise of the name Beirut again and try laying that on the next mouth-breathers you play at a house party, and let me know how it works out for you. Beer Pong also has more inherently fun qualities about its name. Beer = good. Pong = fun. Beirut = political tension in the Middle East. Which brings me to my next, and even more important, point in understanding why Beer Pong is the preferred cultural term.
Anyone who grew up in the 80s is well aware of our conflict with Lebanon during that time. If you were an adult in the 80s, and some twat in his early-20s explains the game to you and where the name is derived from, you’re basically begging for a slap upside the head. More recently, you may remember in 2006 the Hezbollah in Lebanon going to war with Israel and further escalating tension in US/Middle East relations. Beirut suddenly returned to the epicenter of a perpetually tumultuous Palestinian/Israeli situation, and the very city carried with it the stigma previously reserved only for cities like Baghdad.
Case in point: When I graduated from my Master’s program, I did a tour of informational interviews trying to get my name out there and land a job. Looking for something in PR/marketing/event planning, I fudged my resume a bit and put our Beirut tournaments on there as event planning experience. One young executive gave me a helpful hint in reviewing my resume by telling me, “I know what Beirut is, but you may want to change this to simple ‘college party coordination’ because Beirut is way too politically loaded and you run the risk of offending someone whom you want to hire you.” She was absolutely right and I actually ended up removing the whole section because I realized how ridiculous it was trying to pawn off any of our stupid parties as preparation for a real job. But the Beirut point especially made sense.
And speaking of real jobs, during the whole Hezbollah/Israel conflict in 2006, Beer Pong became its own cottage industry. The first World Series of Beer Pong occurred in January 2006, and has subsequently blown up since then. Tables, shirts, officially licensed ping pong balls, logo-adorned cups, and about a zillion websites selling shit related to beer pong (including our beloved pool pong) have sprung up since. Someone saw a niche where they could make money, and now everyone else has jumped in trying to get their piece of the pie too.
And this is the most important aspect of understanding the cultural acceptability of Beer Pong. Beer Pong is a term that’s infinitely more marketable than Beirut. It’s fun, it’s easy for rubes to remember, it has no political baggage, and most people don’t even give a shit. Since original Beer Pong has very little room for capitalist growth (the implements are already bought – table, paddles, four lousy cups), and is pretty fucking boring to play, very few people even bother with the old game. And with every passing World Series of Beer Pong, every shirt sold with an “official” Beer Pong logo, and the continued and never-ending conflict in the Middle East, it’s clear that Beer Pong has won the war of preferred names – no matter how fundamentally incorrect it is.
So it is with great sadness that I’ve decided the fight is no longer worth it. True, my blood boils every time someone casually asks me to play a game of beer pong on a kitchen table with no paddles in sight, and while I feel the nearly irresistible urge to correct them, I’ve gotta stop. No one remembers our history in Lebanon or even plays traditional Beer Pong, the crushing weight of capitalism is pushing against me, and I just look like a sanctimonious asshole every time I take off on a rant about how it’s called Beirut. But like Shakespeare says, “Would a rose by any other name not smell as sweet?” It’s still fun as hell to play.
I know in my heart that the game we all love to play is called Beirut, and when you play at my house, so help me God that’s what you call it or you take a penalty shot, but in public, I’m now a Beirut/Beer Pong agnostic. Thanks a lot, Lebanon. The inherent intellectual laziness of the world wins again.
22 Apr 2009 E Dagger