College football, as has been told to you countless times I'm sure, is back. Along with the fanfare, weather, gambling, insane fans, and Lee Corso looking like an idiot, tailgating before the games is easily the most non-game related event I look forward to. And while the food, drinking and interaction with fellow fans is a big part of that, my favorite thing, by far, are the tailgating games. I've only been privy to tailgates at Big Ten Schools - Michigan State, Ohio State, and countless at Penn State, and have seen them at Pitt, although I was too young to take it all in. While I'm not here to start an argument, I think Big Ten schools would obviously represent some of the best, although still missing out on traditions of those out west or down south. The games I've been lucky enough to play are staples at these schools. I'm sure many of you have played these before, and possibly feel as devoted to them as I do. Anyway, here are my rankings of the top 4 games that I've played. I'm sure you feel differently, but that's what the comment section is for.
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4. Beirut/Beer Pong
The staple of any collegiate party, Beer Pong can also be found at many tailgates. According to wikipedia, the version in which no paddles were used originated at Bucknell in the early 80s. I have it fourth for a couple of reasons. First, the wind factor. I'm a firm believer that beer pong should be played indoors, or at the very least on a porch. Nothing like losing a game due to a tiny wind gust. The second reason is you need a folding table the size of the one in your kitchen to play on. For alumni, it isn't that difficult to pack one in the RV, but tailgates run by younger generations, the ones who really embraced pong, either don't have one or can't fit it into their Toyota Echo. Third, you have a much better chance of running into a bunch of meatheads playing this game than any other. Finally, I couldn't decide if the mandatory drinking is a plus or minus. Most football games happen in the afternoon and there is nothing like sitting in the stands in the sun for 3 hours, dehydrated and delirious after you ran the table at the tailgate. This is only a problem in September, but September would be the best time to play anyway.
3. The Washer Games
Out of all the games I see the older alumni playing, the ones who were there to see Kerry Collins wear the blue and white in person, the Washer Game is it. I've never actually played the game before, which may be why I have it at 3, but the basic premise of the game is to throw a washer into a cup for 5 points, or in the pit around the cup for 2 points. There is a variation in which there are three holes in a vertical alignment, and points are scored by tossing the washers into the holes. The latter variation is the one I've seen the most. This game gets my good graces because I bet the creation of the game involved a bunch of guys standing around in a garage with beer and a need for something to do. Other than that though, it's too much like horse shoes.
I really wanted to drop this game down to number 3 because it originated in Cincinnati, but its simplicity mixed with some strategy has made this one of my favorites. Cornhole, if you have never played, is a rather simple game. There are two teams, each with two people, with the object being trying to throw a closed pouch filled with corn into a hole that is found on a raised platform.
Putting the bag in the hole scores you 3 points, landing it on the platform nets you 1 point. The game is usually played to 21, with many scoring variations. Anyway, why do I like this game? Because it is the only game in which the playing surface has such an influence. You get an unfinished and warped board, like the one above, and the bag will stick to the platform easily. If you play on one with varnish or made of plastic, the bag grips the board as well as Nate Washington holding onto a football. Plus the boards are easily transportable, often times with folding legs. For something easy that anyone can start playing and understand immediately, cornhole is it.
1. Ladder Golf
I played this game for the first time last week, but even that short taste of greatness motivated me to write this column. Ladder Golf involves three rung ladders, two golf balls connected by a string and called a bola, and at least two willing contestants. Each team has three bolas, and they take turns tossing them at the ladder in hopes of getting them to hang on one of the rungs. Each rung has a different point value; we played with the top rung being 3 points, middle 2, and bottom 1. But official championship rules, according to wiki, have the top worth 2 and the middle rung worth 3 points. The games are played to exactly 21 - going over will result in a bust, lowering your point total to what you had at the beginning of the round or subtracting the points from your score.
What I love about this game is the deceiving degree of difficulty. You can lob the perfect bola, watch it sail straight for the top rung, only to have the balls wrap around the ladder and smash into each other, causing the bola to fly back in your direction, aka the ballbuster. Which brings me to my second favorite thing about the game: the lexicon. The people I played with had their own words for everything. Ballbuster for the situation described above, grandfather clock for one ball near the rung while the other hangs low, bulldog for the bola that completely wraps around the rung leaving the two balls right next to each other at the rung, honeypot for putting all three bola on the same rung, and the cycle for putting a bola on each rung. The great part is that wiki has completely different names for these events, as I'm sure many people do. The amount of custimization is definitely a plus. The strategy doesn't hurt either, as attempting to knock opponent's bolas off the rungs or having to hit the second rung to win the game often gives the game a different dimension the other ones don't enjoy. Lastly, the supplies are cheap (the ladder is made of PVC) and can be disessembled to fit almost anywhere. You can't beat it.
This is just my take, let me know if I left off a glaring omission or if you completely disagree with the rankings.
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