Thursday, October 20, 2005
LOS ANGELES—The rim of the keg cup sits less than an inch from Lloyd Christmas’ lips. He’s hunched over it like it’s the last fire on a very cold earth. His partner, Harry, is preparing to serve the ping-pong ball towards the opposing team’s keg cups. He hopes for a cup hit.
More than 50 people in costumes ranging from Mormon recruiters to Napoleon Dynamite are piled into a converted garage-stadium in Hermosa Beach, Calif. to see whether Harry and Lloyd will drink what remains in their cups and win the Fourth Annual Beer Pong World Championship—or if they will never get the chance.
Much of the buzz-fueled competitiveness of the world championships is a natural product of the rules around which they are built. Affectionately known as the “Monterey Rules,” they differ dramatically from traditional SoCal rules, where lob shots are the law, rallies take on the general intensity of a tea party and, perhaps most damning, when you hit a winner, the other team drinks.
Monterey rules honor those with an unforgiving forehand, a quick sip, and a high tolerance for keg beer. Each player starts the game with a full red Igloo cup of beer in front of them on the table. Players alternate serves, playing standard ping-pong with one fundamental difference—hitting the other team’s cup is the object of the game. When that happens on a serve or in a rally, the members of the team that hit the cup start drinking their beers as quickly as possible. Meanwhile, the other team must track down the carom, return the ball to the table and shout “Stop.”
First team to finish both beers wins. Spill your beer and lose automatically. Sink the ball in your opponent’s cup and win instantly.
Defending world champion Theodore Chuba of Alamo describes the Monterey rules succinctly: “The truth.”
Over the course of this championship afternoon, around 150 tournament games are played—games that might be won on a single cataclysmic ricochet or might grapple down to a single sip. Each team is seeded and placed in one of four World Cup-style groups of eight teams each. The teams with the best records after group round robins advance to the quarterfinals, ideally with their hand-eye coordination intact.
Dennis Sinclitico, an attorney from Walnut Creek who later makes his second straight appearance in the finals, says the tournament is demanding.
“A lot of people fold under the pressure,” he says.
Adds Chuba, “You need a lot of heart, a lot of focus, a little bit of luck. And a healthy liver.”
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You wouldn’t know it from the look of them, but these are people with day jobs. Over there’s an environmental attorney dressed as Terry Schiavo’s feeding tube. He’s talking with a venerable high school history teacher and coach, who’s wearing an elaborate Super Chicken suit, and Super Chicken’s wife, a real estate baroness outfitted as a cowgirl-stripper. The other Super Chicken, a financial CEO, is nearby talking to a dentist dressed like an NBA player.
But worldly commitments take a back seat to world championships.
Says Sinclitico, “In the two months prior to Beer Pong World Championship, I sat for the California bar exam and received my law degree. Ranking those in comparison to a championship…[the championship] ranks first, second, and third.”
Newly enrolled UC Davis Business School student Alex Morris attributes his rediscovered drive to Beer Pong.
“When I won last year,” he says. “I realized anything was possible.”
Thirty teams have traveled here for a chance to take home the trophy with the golden pong player and keg cup on top. Most of them met at UCLA, where informal beer pong games would pop up organically anytime a table and a beer stash crossed paths, but in four short years, the event has gathered devotees from Sacramento to San Diego. And it continues to evolve an existence all its own.
Costumes—“as essential to the championship as a soundtrack to a movie,” says Chuba—have grown more elaborate. The number of entrants has doubled. The commemorative videos have earned critical acclaim. Corporate sponsorship overtures grow louder, as does the crowd as the tournament moves into the finals.
~ • ~ •
In the finals, Harry and Lloyd are down nearly a full beer to two men in mustaches and T-shirts that read “Mustache Rides, 5 cents.” The Nice ‘Stashes send a serve glancing off Christmas’ cup, finishing their beers when they do. Harry and Lloyd look like their pet bird’s head just fell off. The championship, the towering trophy—and the customary beer shower that comes with it—go to the ‘Stashes.
And Lloyd Christmas (28-year-old Orange County resident Jeffrey Gates, wearing the same bowl cut and suit that Jim Carey’s character wore in Dumb and Dumber) is left to wander off into the late summer night disappointed.
Come Monday, when he returns to his job as an orthopedic surgery resident, most of the pain will have subsided, even if the stale beer scent has not. It could be worse, he figures. Last year, he finished third, then lost control of his emotions and his consciousness.
“This year was far superior as I was more coherent,” he says gamely. “Last year I passed out on a park bench.”