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The Unexpected Origins of Our Favorite Drinking Games

While everyone screams, debates, and challenges the rules of drinking games, nobody ever asks where these friendship massacres even came from in the first place. Don’t you want to know what you’re fighting for? Don’t you care what historical side you’re on? Oh, you do? Ok, good, because here are the stories of those four drinking games you always seem to be playing.

1. Beer Pong

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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. Everyone understands the basics, even though every house has a different set of quirky tweaks for no reason. But nobody ever really stops to ask how the game came to be. Well, since you should know your history, I’ll tell you.

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 was known as Beer Pong (or simply Pong) because teams used a handle-less ping-pong paddle back then. The game spread, mostly by word of mouth, from campus to campus. In 1980, though, Leigh University and Bucknell University were playing the modern-day “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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Photo Credit: stangls

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 certainly taken second or third place in drunken heart of American young adulthood. 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 that could turn into a huge fight within five seconds of winning.

3. Quarters

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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 been called a million things over the centuries since it’s been played in European taverns. I mean, to play, all you need is ale and a coin. It’s not exactly the Monopoly. But if we’re really digging deep into history, we’d have to look at its predecessor. 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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Photo Credit: Michael Morales

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 nowhere to go, has many names. To me, it’s King’s Cup. To others, it can be Kings, Ring of 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.” It’s like Jumanji. One day, it showed up in our world with the sole purpose to make an insane mess of everything.

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5 Reasons Drinking Games Can Actually Be Good For You, As Told By Your Conscience

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Whether your preferred drinking game is beer pong or flip cup, everyone can agree that suds sports are the best. Except for maybe “scientists.” Or “health experts.” Or “other people we can subtly undermine by putting their job titles in quotation marks.” And in order to prove that we aren’t just making an arbitrary claim, here are five ironclad reasons why throwing things into booze legitimately makes you a better person.

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1. Having excellent hand-eye coordination benefits every aspect of your life. Except hammock napping.

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Plenty of drinking games, like quarters, beer pong, and flip cup, require a high level of hand-eye coordination. And those skills have uses outside of the party scene, as the better you get at it, the more you can increase your “reaction times, as well as enhanced agility and athleticism“. It could even improve your “typing skills”, though that could also be construed as a negative if you’re using said skills to text your ex after seven games of pong at 430a just to tell her “tht song u lik is on”.

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2. Socializing Makes You Happier

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According to a researcher, “everyone feels happy when they socialize” (even introverts!), and there’s nothing more social than spending hours alone on a Saturday night scrolling through your Facebook newsfeed to see what everyone else is up to drinking with friends.

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3. Competition is Good For You

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According to the book Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing, competition can benefit people greatly, as it “challenges people to strive to be better”. Hold on to your competitive spirit during flip cup on Friday night, and then unleash it in the workplace on Monday morning, and soon, you’ll be running that “only chicken fingers and Choco Tacos” restaurant chain you work at.

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4. Teamwork is a Bonding Experience

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Any drinking game that requires teamwork will strengthen the bonds between you and your friends, as it requires you to “mutually support” one another, which “can encourage people to achieve goals they may not have realized they could reach on their own” — like the goal of drinking a whole lot, or, you know, something super-productive.

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5. It’s the Most Fun Way to Hang Out With Your Parents

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Spending time with your parents can be a real downer, especially when Dad is always bringing up how dumb your tattoos are (uh, sorry Dad, but it actually IS funny if Calvin is peeing on a Calvinist document!). But playing quarters with dear old Dad can be a good thing, as bonding with the ‘rents can mean improved communication, and make it easier to lean on them in times when you need it. Like the next day, when you’re hungover, and you need them to buy you breakfast.


Lee Breslouer writes about food and drink for Thrillist, and once interviewed a flip cup champion. Follow him on Twitter @LeeBreslouer, because you can’t make a name that good up.