Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Dunking Dionysus: An Origin of Beer Gaming

Recently I came across an interesting piece of information in Tom Standage's book A History of the World in 6 Glasses. Standage was writing about the Greek wine drinking party called a symposion. During these symposia, regarded as the pinnacle of social sophistication by their usually all-male aristocratic attendees, the Greeks played perhaps, the first drinking game. The name of the game was kottabos, which involved flicking the last remaining drops of wine from one's cup at a specific target. The target would vary but some flicked wine at another person, a disk -shaped bronze target (an example is on display at the Speed Art Museum) or even a cup floating in a bowl of water, with the aim of sinking it.

I can't help but think that this kottabos was the genesis of "Dunk the Duchess" a beer drinking game I played in my college years and which I'm sure someone may be playing right now. I'll quickly run down how Dunk the Duchess is played. To begin, players need two full pitchers of beer and one glass per person, plus one extra glass. Float the extra glass in one of the pitchers (Pilsner-style glasses work best). Players then fill their glasses from the second pitcher and take turns pouring beer into the floating glass. Each player is responsible for the glass for five seconds after he pours. After the five second count, the glass becomes the responsibility of the next player. Thus, the perfect pour is one that causes the glass to sink in six seconds, thereby screwing the next player before he has time to pour. The player who sends the glass to the bottom of the pitcher must retrieve it and relieve it of its new found contents.

Sure kottabos and Dunk the Duchess aren't exactly mirror images of each other, but they usually result in the same sort of post-gaming behavior. Going back to Standage's book, as more and more wine was drank, some symposia descended into orgies, and others into violence, as drinkers issued challenges to each other to demonstrate loyalty to their drinking group, or hetaireia. The symposion was sometimes followed by the komos, a from of ritual exhibitionism in which the members of the hetaireia would course through the streets in nocturnal revelry to emphasize the strength and unity of their group. The komos could be good natured but could also lead to violence or vandalism, depending on the state of the participants.

Compare that with our modern day drinking games. As more and more pitchers of beer are drank, the drinking group usually devolves into an all out quest for easy women, a challenge of whose going to pay for pizza delivery and what pranks to play on the poor sap delivering it. And our own version of the komos, streaking across campus and mailbox baseball.

As you can see we haven't deviated very far from the ancient Greeks.

never trust The Sober Brewer
Jerry Gnagy

28 comments:

Carson said...

"Dunk the Duchess" sounds a lot like "Sink the Biz", a game that's been played by Indiana University students at Nick's English Hut in Bloomington for years. You should check it out. They still serve beer in a bucket with a little floating glass. Here's a link: http://www.nicksenglishhut.com/store.html

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