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

beer pong

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

Flipcuppers (1)

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


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


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.