Less Talky, More Drinky: A Gentleman's Guide to Creative Beverage Consumption

A little over a week after arriving in Boston I found myself at a keg party in the backyard of a rundown Cambridge house. Around me, mid-twenty year olds pounded beers with a gusto approaching that of freshmen at UC Santa Barbara. But they didn’t just their pound beers; they also played games with them, some involving handstands and ping-pong balls. I was confused. It was a long way from sipping Bollinger in the boardroom after closing an M&A deal.

In order to clear the air for other international students (and those who spent too long in the library while they were in college), this selfless Harbus correspondent set out last Saturday night to investigate American drinking culture.

Game: Quarters
Skill Level: High
Drinking Quantity: Moderate
Comment: Watch out for sharks. Some people really know how to play this game.

My night started in the Harbus office with pizzas and a few good friends. The game was “quarters”. In the middle of the table were five glasses, one for each player, and one in the middle. The aim of the game was to bounce a quarter off the table into another player’s glass. If a quarter landed in a player’s glass, that player skulled. If a quarter landed in the middle glass, every player skulled and the last to finish skulled twice. After a player had skulled, they were entitled to “revenge” with their left hand. Successful revenge resulted in double penalties.

Quarters required a surprising degree of skill. And as I looked around the table, I realized I clearly didn’t have it. Our game abruptly finished when worthy opponent #1 rolled a coin down his nose and it bounced into worthy opponent #2’s glass for triple revenge. In the quarters world, it doesn’t get better than that, kind-of-like an albatross at Augusta.

Game: Keg Stand
Skill Level: Low
Drinking Quantity: Gigantic
Comment: Only try amongst friends

The next stop was a party at the already infamous Hingham St. home of Jamie (NJ) and Brigit (NG). By the time I arrived, the second keg was tapped. Jamie dragged me toward the kegs. Apparently I was to do a “keg stand.” She explained: “Mike, the good thing about keg stands is that when you are upside down, it is impossible to spill beer on yourself.” It made sense to me. I was instructed to put my hands on each side of the keg while two burly section mates held my legs in the air. Thus positioned, my gracious host jammed the tap in my mouth. It was at this point I realized how vulnerable I was; my legs and arms were pinned, and breathing involved sucking down large amounts of beer. When people told me that attending HBS was like drinking from a fire hose, this was not what I imagined they meant.

Game: Flip Cup
Skill Level: High
Drinking Quantity: Moderate
Comment: Flip Cup isn’t just a game, it’s a competitive sport

The marquee event of any self-respecting keg party is flip cup. The best thing about flip cup is it’s a competitive team sport. And competitions, teams, and HBS students go together like cheese and olives.

Although I was new to the sport, I took to the field with four others from NJ in a grudge match against NG. We lined up along a table opposite our opponents and half-filled our cups. Both teams toasted and the race began with the first player on each team skulling their beer. Once finished, they placed their cup so that it partly hung off the table. Then they flipped it so that it landed upside down (depending on a player’s skill and sobriety this step can take quite some time). The next player could only start when the first player had successfully flipped their cup.

Game: The Funnel
Skill Level: Moderate
Drinking Quantity: Obscene
Comment: Open wide.

NJ went a good ten rounds undefeated. I was euphoric. However, euphoria can lead to bad decisions. My bad decision was to try “the funnel.” The funnel is to a keg party what the guillotine was to the Reign of Terror: iconic, spectacular and the last thing many people see before everything goes black. The funnel consists of a conical device connected to a long plastic tube. There is an art to using it. First, you fill the funnel to the desired level while holding the tube in the air to avoid spillage. Second, you put the tube in your mouth and your tongue over the end of the tube. Then a friend lifts the funnel in the air so that any air in the tube bubbles out the top (ed: this is crucial, funneling air can lead to disaster). Last, you remove your tongue and hold on for dear life, even when, as happened with me, your eyes threaten to pop out of your head and beer begins to pour out of your nose.

I’m sure my research has only just scratched the surface. Please email me a description of any other creative ways to drink a beer (mwalsh@mba2007.hbs.edu). There may need to be a follow-up article.