It’s Wednesday, Oct. 29, and Hula Hank’s is host to the New Haven stop of the World Beer Pong Tour. I’m here to play, and to assess the game’s legitimacy outside of college.
The bar is decked out with skeletons and cobwebs for Hulaween. It can’t be more than 60 degrees inside. On the dance floor are 10 long tables manufactured specifically for the game. The gatekeepers to the playing area are two Southern Connecticut State University students, both tan and blonde and dressed identically in black. The backs of their tank tops read “BEER PONG DIVA.”
They are Kathleen and Casey, and they’re new to the tour, having been recruited via Facebook. Tonight’s emcee, tour founder Sam Pines, comes over to give them their instructions: “All right, ladies, I’ma have you give out T-shirts.”
A line has formed of 50 or so entrants, almost all of them men. The only female players are Traci and Lindsay, a.k.a. the Lady Tigers. Traci has played at a previous tour event, in New York, and she knows what it’s like to compete in male-dominated fields. Once, on a cruise, she was barred from entering the belly-flop contest. “There had been injuries,” she explains, “I’m guessing with breasts.”
At the bar I meet Amanda, a pale, softspoken girl who’s here to watch her boyfriend and his buddy, who are playing tonight as Moo & MaGooGoo. MaGooGoo, Amanda’s man, is getting a degree in criminal justice and fixes Jeeps at a dealership. Moo goes to UConn. All three are enthusiasts of the game: Amanda’s family teaches its underage members to play soda pong at picnics.
On the microphone, Sam announces that 24 teams have been registered. The format is double elimination; the prize is a free “spring break trip.” (To where is never specified.) “Good luck, honey,” Amanda tells MaGooGoo. “Win us a trip!” Once he has gone, she adds, quietly, “He’s not taking me if he wins.”
My partner, John Hannon ’09, has entered us as the Yale Daily News & Pain. Our first opponents, called the Ninjas, are James, a swarthy Pacific Islander with enormous arms, and Tommy, the barback at Hula Hank’s. John sets the tone for the match by sinking the very first shot. Though I haven’t played since high school, and have never really cared for the game, I am incredible. My arm feels like the neck of a swan during take-off; my shots fall soft as snow into the enemy cups. We dispatch them. They look despondent.
Then we play horribly and lose two games in a row. Out of contention and free to circulate, I observe the several matches being played and note the variety of throwing styles, from a slight flick to a violent snap. I hear MaGooGoo scream out his own name; Moo has just scored. MaGooGoo grabs his dick like Michael Jackson, holds the ball aloft, and sinks it. “YEAH, BOI. BAM. WHAM.” Amanda looks embarrassed as he stamps his feet and shouts. “I just don’t want to get too excited,” she says. She’s never won anything before, except tickets to see Gavin DeGraw at Six Flags from a Hartford radio station last summer.
Several rounds are played. Sam makes Casey the Diva remove her scarf. Suddenly I notice that Amanda has started to cry. Guessing that her mother is in the hospital, and that she’s been trying all this time to put on a brave face for MaGooGoo’s sake, I ask her what’s wrong. “We’re in the top four!” MaGooGoo shouts. “I didn’t think they’d make it this far,” she says, smiling through what I now perceive correctly to be tears of joy. “Next week,” MaGooGoo tells me, “we’re playing in Danbury. You gotta come.” I mumble something equivocal. “What are you saying, we should do a shot? Of Yager?” At the bar we’re given three tiny plastic cups, like you find on the top of a Dymatap bottle, and are charged six dollars. “I got this one,” says MaGooGoo. “You get the next.”
My boys are slated to face a team called Squanto. Amanda is confident: “I know how to pick ’em.” I ask her what she remembers about Squanto. “An Indian,” she says, scrunching her face. “A bad one.”
After another shot of Yager, MaGooGoo is wasted and playing terribly. He and Moo lose. The final is set up: Squanto vs. Mystery & Matador, two douchebags from Branford, Conn., whom everyone seems to hate. At the bar, ousted players complain bitterly. “I’m just mad at myself,” one says, “because that should be me at that table. Mystery & Matador played girls the first round!”
The final begins. “Oh my God,” Moo says of Squanto, “they’re getting their dicks kicked in already.” Sam’s shoulder bag is already packed and on his person.
It comes down to one cup on each end of the table. Squanto sinks; everyone cheers. Incredibly, Mystery & Matador hit back, setting up a tiebreak. “This is for a spring break trip,” someone says. “Fucking ridiculous.”
Mystery & Matador quickly take the lead. Squanto 1 tells Squanto 2, “No more dancing when you’re throwing. It makes a difference.”
“STOP FUCKING TALKING TO ME WHEN I SHOOT,” Squanto 2 screams to an encouraging bystander, “YOU’RE NOT ON MY TEAM.”
And then Mystery & Matador win and the whole thing is over. Squanto 2 punches the bystander and storms off. Someone says he’s got the perfect ending for my article: “The tools will not be getting laid in Cancun.”
Mystery & Matador are defiant. “I’m going to Jamaica!” one of them shouts. “Fuck it, I get to pick, right?”