Don’t flip out, it’s just a game

Drinking games have come a long way—all the way from ancient Greece to modern-day Las Vegas

Flip cup is one of the most popular drinking games amongst university students, whose roots can be traced all the way to ancient Greek society.
Flip cup is one of the most popular drinking games amongst university students, whose roots can be traced all the way to ancient Greek society.
Illustration by Tyler Ball

The ancient Greeks left a legacy of architecture, mythology, philosophy and science, but their myriad of accomplishments left another legacy—one of drinking games.

 One of the earliest references to drinking games is in Plato’s Symposium—translated as the Drinking Party. The game’s rules were simple: fill a bowl with wine, drink the contents, slap the bowl and pass the turn to the next player.

Kottabus, another ancient Greek indulgence, is a game where players would use their wine residue—fermented bits called lees—to hit targets across the room.

 Ancient China also appreciated the playful nature of alcohol. With use of aids like dice or riddles, the Chinese invented their own social lubricants. Like in any well-respected game, rules were, of course, strictly enforced: rules of how much a player had to drink, depending on his age or his rank in the game, his alcohol tolerance, his social skills and so on were highly enforced.  

Although the general notion of drinking games is sometimes frowned upon—universities like Appalachian State University and the University of Florida have officially banned them—the legacy of the alcohol Olympics has come to be taken as a serious sport. Many tournaments, events and competitions are set up within colleges, universities and towns all over North America.

One establishment, the Flip Cup Guys tournament, was featured in magazines like Maxim, Time Out New York and Sports Illustrated. It’s hailed as the world’s largest flip cup tournament.

 Next weekend the Flip Cup Guys are hosting the world’s largest flip cup tournament in Las Vegas, when 64 teams from across the United States compete for the title of the ultimate flip cup champions.

“Flip Cup Guys is the largest flip cup company in the world,” said the company’s co-founder, Scott Gerber. “We have a variety of different leagues all across the U.S. and soon to be in Canada. Our competition is run in an NCAA-style bracket competition with 16, 32 or 46-team brackets, in which the best of seven rounds wins and moves on to the next level.”

The company started out small and within months became an instant hit.

Gerber and his partner Mike Volpe co-founded the league after being involved in social sports like dodge ball.

“We noticed that after every game people were always playing—and I mean, we’ve heard of the game and we’ve played it once or twice but we never saw the value of it until after we saw how much it was played after these games.” Gerber and Volpe decided to host a charity flip cup tournament, set up an event and in three weeks’ time had 32 teams—about 250 people overall.

“So we said, ‘I’m sure this was just a fluke, let’s do one more to test that out,’” Gerber said. “Two months later, we sold out our next tournament in 24 hours, and it was at that point that we knew we had something here. And since then we’ve really crafted it as a true niche sport. We’ve organized it in a way so it’s very legitimate, not a drunken free-for-all, we have in tact certain safety protocols—for instance, we arrange taxis for players to take home and we allow water, but at the same time we still allow the whole point to be having fun and donating some of our profits to charity.”

 Not unlike every major sport, flip cup has its own set of rules.

“Basically the most important rules are the safety rules,” Gerber said. “You’re never allowed to drink anything other than light beer or water. We also have guidelines about things like certain levels of beverage depending on the cups used or the ways you’re allowed to flip—you can use both hands to sip the alcohol and place the cup, but you can only flip with one hand.” Gerber said people constantly ask him for advice about the perfect flip.

“Some teams can go down the entire line in 11.2 seconds—which means that they have less than a second to drink and flip the cup,” he said. “My advice is stay as low to the table as you can, never swallow the beer before you start the flipping motion—you want to swallow and flip at the same time. You have to have complete trust in the person next to you. It’s really all about the team.”  Gerber said players tend to get very excited about the games.

“It’s pretty crazy. People come in matching uniforms, with intimidation tactics,” he said. “There is a team from Detroit who comes in with a team psychologist and a team coach. The coach blows the whistle and the team marches up while the psychologist introduced them to the other team—it really works in getting in their heads.”  Gerber said 60 per cent of the flip cup players are women.

“Flip cup is probably the most social drinking game. What  it comes down to is the difference between us and beer pong, is that beer pong is so competitive and has a major money-oriented view of it,” he said.

“We would rather people have a good time, because flip cup is a social activity, non gender specific and it lets players bring along all their friends as opposed to a select few.” Daniel Rosenbluth, ArtSci '11 and a flip cup-enthusiast said the secret to the perfect flip lies in the mentality.

 “You have to keep a cool head, don’t freak out,” he said. “Often people will get caught up in the wild party atmosphere and they mess up. Then you get things like people yelling at you and enormous amounts of pressure—and then you just freak out. But you can’t rush the technique.” Rosenbluth said he first started playing the game during his high school years.

“I love flip cup because it’s a very social game and it allows you to play with many people, as a team. I guess so many people enjoy it because it’s just a great bonding experience—you can bond with people you’ve never even spoken to before just by playing together,” he said.

Rosenbluth—whose friends call him “Flip Saunders”—has his views on flip cup engrained in his mantra.

“Flip cup is not so much a physical battle as it is a competition of the mind,” he always says. “The finger strength required to participate pales in comparison to the poise necessary to become a champion.”


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