Four score and two years ago, as the legend goes, the gentlemen of two rival residential colleges took time away from their studies to engage in a little healthy Bacchanalian competition. Hallowed, alongside countless time-honored traditions, the small drinking contest grew into a larger gathering and into the annals of Yale lore.
There is Society. There is Mory’s. And there is Tang.
This year, it will be a $2,250 affair, complete with 50 kegs of Icehouse, several Porta-Potties, and thousands of spectators, post-classes, pre-finals and just short of a week of sobriety and leftover coursework. Tang 2002 comes this Saturday afternoon after hours of time trials, weeks of practice with seltzer water and soda, and a semester of planning.
The actual contest, according to veterans, will take around 15 seconds.
Nick Sinatra ’03, this year’s coordinator, said he has anticipated every potential problem, called the police (of the Yale and New Haven varieties) and printed the newest Tang-team T-shirts. Historically notorious for their beer- and sex- inspired witticisms, the newest model lies low, featuring a picture of President George W. Bush ’68 drinking a beer and the phrase “Delta Kappa Epsilon: Today’s Scholars, Tomorrow’s Leaders” gracing the back.
DKE, a Yale-founded fraternity, appropriated the beer-guzzling extravaganza when it was still in its half-century infancy in the 1970s, Sinatra said, making it a Greek-sponsored event. Before moving on to that of the United States, Bush held the DKE presidency during one of his bright college years. It is a position now filled by Sinatra.
“[Tang] is really all we’ve talked about at our meetings since I was elected in early February,” he said regarding the extensive planning required for the event. “I just hope it doesn’t rain. That’s the only thing I can’t control at this point.”
The contest brings together two teams from each college — a 10-person men’s squad and an 8-person women’s — to compete for the glory of Tang and a victor’s cup lost two decades ago. Participants are lined up along one side of a 10-foot table and each is given two 8-ounce cups of warm, flat keg beer.
The first drinks one of his beers in a single swallow (that usually takes between one and two seconds from full cup lift to empty cup slam). The next may only begin when the first has replaced his cup. It proceeds in the same manner down to the 10th player, or the anchor, who drinks both of his beers in succession and sends the chain back to the start.
Tang is based on a bracket system, like the NCAA basketball tournament, but, breaking tradition, DKE will allow grudge matches after the residential college winner is decided. Also a marked departure will be the judging, which Sinatra has promised will remain honest, despite its tendency to sway toward the DKE president’s own residential college team, in this case, Berkeley College.
“We’ll start off trying to be as fair as possible,” he said. “But as the judges start getting more drunk, and I start getting more drunk, things will just, you know, fly.”
But according to Berkeleyites participating in this year’s festivities, the college has little chance of winning on its own merits. Team member Andrew Kroon ’04 said he has had a five-month drinking hiatus but will return to the table for Saturday’s event. They have yet to practice though, he said, and he is pretty sure they are the “worst team out there.”
The best team out there, among the girls and if past success is any indication, is Silliman College. Defending champions, they began practicing twice a week three weeks ago, team member Taryn Gallup ’02 said.
“We take it pretty seriously,” she said, saying that most of the women, just like the men, take their beers in one gulp.
But it is not just about winning, Kroon said. It is the symbolic value of Yalies gathering to down plastic cups of warm beer as fast as possible.
“I think that DKE embodies all the great things about Yale,” he said. “Tradition, honor, true gentlemanliness.”