Naming the game: Beer Pong or Beiruit?

By on January 31, 2007

Six or ten cups. Two ping pong balls, water, a table and there you have it – the most popular game on college campuses nationwide. It’s not soccer or basketball, hockey or even baseball. This game requires much more than athletic skill, but like any sport, a steady hand, good aim and the right partner can make or break a team’s success. The true debate lies not in whether the game requires skill but rather how to play it and what to call it.Beer pong or Beirut? Two different names for the same thing. Right? Think again.

When asked what he calls this game, sophomore Steven Bontempo said that calling it beer pong was his inclination. “Beirut makes absolutely no sense,” he added. “Beer pong is just the name of the game, that’s what it is. I don’t even know where Beirut came from.”

Others would disagree. Jackie Schank is one such sophomore. She said that geographical location plays a part in how the game is identified. “Well I call it ‘Ruit’ because I’m from Connecticut and that’s what my whole town calls it,” she said. “I have also heard that Dartmouth College named it beer pong and used paddles. That’s a different game. None of us use paddles here.”

To settle the debate, one must look at the facts. An online encyclopedia alleges that the drinking game’s origin is “uncertain,” though the New York Times attributes it to Dartmouth College in the late 1940s or early 1950s. According to the New York Times article, the game seems to have begun at Dartmouth in the early 1950s. American history professor emeritus Jere Daniell (Dartmouth class of 1955) stated in the article that he played the game as an undergraduate. In the early version of the game, participants used a regulation ping-pong table and paddles, as opposed to an ordinary table.

The article also states that “the game without paddles has a murkier beginning.” The Daily Princetonian, the student newspaper of Princeton University, attributed the origins of the paddle-less game where balls are thrown into cups to the early 1980s at Lehigh University or Bucknell University.

As for the great name debate, the naming, as Schank suggested, seems to depend on the location where the game is played. Wikipedia.com, an unofficial online dictionary agrees, adding more to the confusion.

“Beirut is unambiguously accepted to be the version of the game where players throw the balls, while beer pong can mean either the same game as Beirut or a similar game where players use paddles to hit the ball.”

The reasoning behind calling the game Beirut is murky as well. Beirut-Guide.com reasons that the label reflects the violence that occurred in Beirut, Lebanon in the eighties, which seems to signify that the namesake came into use after its opponent, beer pong.

Despite its disputed title, the game seems to have become a staple in the lives of many college students. Some non-drinkers even play it with alternative liquids to beer such as water or juice in order to preserve the spirit of the game.

The pastime’s popularity continues to grow with national teams and competitions, t-shirts, posters and even pre-made portable tables, giving closet doors and desk chairs a much needed rest.

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