Filmmakers drop into town for pong history documentary

by Joanna Patterson | 11/21/06 6:00am

Dan Lindsay is in Hanover to film a documentary on the origins of pong.
by Emma Elizabeth Haberman / The Dartmouth

"Dartmouth is the epicenter of all things pong. ... Whether you call it Beirut or pong now, everybody says this is where either of those has their origin," Dan Lindsay, the documentary's director, said.

Beirut, which is popular outside Dartmouth, is a derivative of Dartmouth's style of pong, according to documentary producer Josh Otten.

"Dartmouth started pong with paddles. At some point it got taken out of the school and turned into Beirut," Otten said.

The Beirut style of pong is popular today "for ease of equipment, ease of use and the ability to get a game started and how quickly it can go. People aren't going to want to adapt to Dartmouth rules," Otten said.

Otten and Lindsay said that Dartmouth's remote location may have provided the impetus for students to develop a new, fun drinking game as a source of entertainment.

"I've heard that Dartmouth is quite the party school, so maybe there is some reflection in the fact that students would find a way to make a game as simple as ping-pong into a drinking game. I also -- from the drive in -- noticed that there is nothing around here, so I think you put people in an environment but there is nothing to do but hang out with yourselves," Lindsay said.

Despite pong's popularity throughout the country, Otten and Lindsay said they have yet to find locations besides Dartmouth that play pong with paddles.

"I would say that Dartmouth is exclusive," Otten said.

Otten and Lindsay said that one of the goals of their documentary was to establish Dartmouth as pong's birthplace.

"We've done our due diligence and have digged as deep as we can to figure out where it really started and the fact of the matter is that it almost always comes back to here," Otten said.

In their research to confirm Dartmouth's role in developing pong and to explore its popularity at the College today, Otten and Lindsay interviewed current students about the game.

Megan Johnson, the assistant director of Coed, Fraternity and Sorority Administration sent a BlitzMail message to a number of Greek members at the beginning of the term advising them against appearing in documentaries in general.

"Especially given the spin and slants [some documentaries use], we just want to give our students a heads up that this is coming," she said.

Ben Robbins '08, who is a member of Kappa Kappa Kappa fraternity, said that he declined to be interviewed for the documentary because of what he described as the merits of Johnson's blitz.

"What [the filmmakers] wanted to do was play pong then interview. But they made specific reference to having a few beers before the interview, which is pretty Borat-esque in my mind ... though I'm sure it's innocent," Robbins said, referring to students who filed lawsuits against the makers of the movie Borat because they were unaware of the way they would be depicted in the film.

Otten said that he and Lindsay, however, had no intentions using their film to ridicule anyone.

"The ultimate goal is not to poke fun at anybody. We're not doing a Borat-style gotcha mocumentary. We're taking this very seriously," Otten said.

Instead, the main focus of the documentary, which is scheduled to be released in 2007, is to chart the rise of pong from a college campus mainstay to a hobby for people of varying ages and professions, Otten said.

"We are on the brink of this thing becoming mainstream," Otten said of the Beirut style of pong. "There are too many people playing this game, there are too many bars that are openly having tournament nights and league plays. There are two bars in New Jersey that each have a $1,000 tourney once a week."