Sometime about 3,000 years ago in Zhou Dynasty China, two people held up a certain number of fingers, each simultaneously guessing what the total number of fingers would be. The one whose number was furthest from the answer drained the glass between them, and Jiuling, the world’s oldest continuously played drinking game, was born. And people have created diversions to enhance their imbibing experience ever since.
The disciplines go hand in hand. Just walk into any pub in Portland and, without fail, you’ll find something to divert your attention as the glasses go down. Maybe the place caters to classic bar-scene sports with pool tables or dartboards. Perhaps the locale’s game of choice is foosball or shuffleboard. Some may have a stack of board games in the corner, while others have trivia cards on the tables.
Where there is alcohol, somebody is sure to come up with an entertaining way to consume it. Most college students know some variant of Quarters, bouncing coins into glasses of beer or spirits. If you have a deck of cards lying around, there are countless ways to make the booze flow faster. And what else is beer pong but an entertaining excuse to keep drinking with friends?
We’ve had at least three millennia to craft ingenious ways to play while we drink. But it was an accident of history, the reflexive prevention of a party foul, which led to the creation of the wackiest drinking game in the world.
Twenty-seven years ago, the Jackson Hole Air Force, a piratical fraternity of renegade local skiers in Wyoming, was huddled in the Bear Claw Cafe at the base of the tram in Teton Village. The group was futilely waiting out a blinding storm, drinking away the time as the skies dumped 14 feet of snow onto the mountain. The bartender was sliding full mugs down the bar to the patrons, with the beer-slicked and highly polished wood providing little friction. Then one glass got away, sliding beyond the last outstretched hand and flying off the edge.
One of the barfly skiers astutely snagged the glass in midair before it hit the ground. In one swift motion, he immediately pounded what brew remained, slamming the empty mug back onto the bar for full effect. As the group of friends clustered in the pub cheered, the disappointment of a ski day missed gave way to an epiphany.
The group set up bar rails outside on snow mounds once the storm had settled, calling their new game Gelande Quaffing after the German term for a style of ski jump that had been popularized by Pepi Stiegler, the 1964 Olympic gold medalist who relocated from Austria to Jackson Hole a year after his victory. With four people on each team, two groups compete to see who can catch more mugs of beer in a minute.
For years it enjoyed favor as a niche pastime, eventually disseminating through the ski resorts of the Rockies via the transient community and a series of entertaining YouTube video footage. Finally, the original group of rowdies who stumbled upon this absurd combination of athleticism and alcohol teamed with sponsors to create their own Gelande Quaffing World Championship in 2008. It took a quarter of a century, but the world’s wackiest drinking game is no longer obscure. The sixth annual world championship took place on Feb. 27 in Teton Village, at the base of the tram where it all began.