Whether you find yourself arranging cups to house music in a basement after a few shots of whiskey or prepping for the World Series of Beer Pong with some serious wrist flicking action, beer pong has infiltrated the deep corners of pretty much everywhere. And being a game made for drunken competition, there sure are a lot of rules. Official East Coast Pong has twenty-one, to be exact. This is our (not so official) guide to regional variations, some of the crazier rule concoctions, plus a brief overview of some rules that totally suck. Going forward with this knowledge, you can swing some new rules to your advantage—be it with friend or enemy. Happy ponging!
Standard Beer Pong Rules
Just in case you’ve depressingly missed out on this lil’ cultural gem of a pastime, here’s a quick rundown of general play. Ideally, you’re playing on a surface about the size of a ping-pong table, but any long table will do. If you’re desperate, take a flat door off its hinges, or use that broken closet door that bothers you, and prop it up with some imagination. You can play ten cup or six cup (16oz) games, generally with two players on each side, two ping pong balls, and cups filled to the point that you can’t knock them over with a bad throw.
Pro Tip: One 12oz beer should fill six cups appropriately.
If a team sinks a ball, the other team removes the cup and drinks. If both players on a team get their ball in, they get a rollback and toss again. If a player bounces a ball and sinks it, it counts for two cups (this rule varies from house to house). The winning team eliminates all the other team’s cups and remains to "run the table".
Regionally Shifting Rules
Heating Up: If you make your shot every time on your first three turns, you are “on fire” and get to keep shooting until you miss… as long as you call out that you’re “heating up” on the second hit and announce you’re “on fire” on the third. This is more of a West Coast rule, but you can always call it out wherever you are and see what happens. The origins of this rule likely lie in the greatest basketball video game of all time, NBA Jam. Don't @ us because this isn't up for debate.
Re-racking: This will change EVERYWHERE. Some places allow constant reracks, which feels like charity. Competitors in the World Series and East Coast do them at six, three, and one cup, and each time they are to be racked in a proper triangle. Some house rules only allow one rerack per game. In most places, each team gets two reracks, but they can only be done at the start of a team’s turn. In California, the defending team can set up the new rack however they like. You just have to keep the rims of the cup touching somewhere.
It has been said that frats in Pennsylvania set up two triangles of six with a center cup, and the triangles don’t merge to the middle until someone makes it into the center cup. Initially set aside, when both teams have made it, they cheers and drink.
Balls Back: Everywhere has a variation of some sort on their balls back rule. Whether it’s unlimited tosses until a miss, or just one throw regardless of the outcome, it’ll depend on the house rules. In Arizona, if you and your teammate make the same cup on the same turn, it counts for three cups. Their reasoning? Because it’s “awesome”—naturally. In New York, on table rollbacks entitle the shooter to a ‘behind the back’ shot.
Getting Skunked: If one team wins by making all their shots before the other team can even sink a cup, losing team runs around the house naked. This is a surprisingly well-known rule all over, but depressingly not part of official tournaments.
Celebrity Shots: Official games also don’t let you call in substitute players. In California, you can sacrifice your turn by calling in a “celeb” and having someone else shoot for you. If they make it, it counts for two cups. Some other regions also play this way but have less fun names for it and more rules about how many times it can happen.
Death Cup: Say you’re chatting someone up and forget to pull a sunken cup, or you’re standing there holding it while you talk. Either way, if the other team sinks a ball into that should-be-empty cup, you automatically lose. Depending on the niceness of the house rules, you might just lose, or you might lose and have to drink all the opposing team’s leftover cups.
Complete Garbage Rules
Leans: East Coast and Official World Series pong both allow “leaning.” It should be common sense that you can’t just sway your upper body over the table and basically place your ball in the other team’s cup. Even with limits like “both feet on the ground” it still takes away a lot of the sport and gives taller players a huge advantage. Most regions play elbows or bows, meaning your elbow or wrist can’t cross the edge of your side of the table when you throw.
2 Balls Same Cup: Okay, so we’ll allow this to an extent. But to call a game within seconds of starting because Keith and Tucker threw a same-cup hail mary is a bit preposterous. Take our advice, unless you got a line out the door to play next, stick to Arizona rules on this one (see above under ‘Balls Back’).
Blowing/Fingering: If a ball is swirling on the rim of the cup then someone (specifically a female for not-so-subtle reasons), can “blow” the ball over the rim and out so it doesn’t count. Men can “finger” it out by flicking it before it hits the booze. Although they’re found a little bit everywhere, they tend to be some of the most debated rules.
Redemption Overdone: Redemption is when the “technically already losing” team gets to shoot until they miss, and if they can score the rest of the cups in one go, both teams basically go into a three-cup “overtime.” For East Coast players, overtime can happen endlessly, over and over. Where’s the fun in that? If you lose, cut your losses, take a shot, re-rack, and start over!
Calling Shots & Island Cup: We’re not sure where the concept of ‘calling shots’ originated, but the rule allows players to call out cups before shooting. If they score, said cup is pulled along with a second of their choosing. Calling ‘Island’ is the same idea, only for singled-out cups. You’re only supposed to get one of these per game, but for some lawless east-coasters, it's free for all.
Taking your next shot without drinking first: Why would you even do that?
Rules That Should Be Applied Everywhere… According To Us
Bitch Cup: If the first cup made on a team is the middle of the pyramid (the bitch cup), that player is to spend the remainder of that game sans trousers.
Russian Roulette: Both teams set up each other’s pyramids and add a shot of hard liquor to one of the other team’s cups for an extra mid-game kick.
Dance Cup: Whenever a player accidentally throws their ball into one of the already emptied cups, they’re to yell, “Dance Cup!” at the top of their lungs and everyone must dance. We sincerely believe this should become an official tournament rule as well, but that’s just us.
Open Suggestion for the Rogue Crew
Don’t use the “water cup” to clean the ball in between. It will be legitimate germ soup within the first ten minutes.