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The Dartmouth
June 20, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Don’t Say ‘So Long’ to Pong!

One writer explores the ways in which Dartmouth students keep the tradition of pong alive after graduation.

This article is featured in the 2024 Commencement & Reunions special issue.

Pong, like much of Dartmouth culture, is steeped in tradition, passed down by generations of students. Just as we scamper across the Green for a giant snowball fight on the first snow of winter term or take a lap around the bonfire during our first Homecoming, Dartmouth students snap the handles off our ping pong paddles and take turns trying to sink balls into the opposing team’s cups.

But unlike some of the other traditions that dot our experiences at Dartmouth, pong continues long after graduation. Although it takes place in different shapes and forms, the principle of the game remains the same: shared community and friendly competition.

While the most famous pong tournament, Masters, takes place on campus during sophomore summer, the competition doesn’t end there. According to their websites, Dartmouth alumni clubs in New York, Silicon Valley and Colorado have all organized alumni pong tournaments. 

Natalie Schreder ’24, a self-described pong fanatic who runs an Instagram account, @theperfectterm, detailing daily pong games featuring different guests, said it “would be fun” to participate in pong tournaments away from Hanover. She added that alumni tournaments provide a “great option” for city-dwellers to play pong after graduation.

“It’s just so hard [to play pong] in the city, especially in New York,” Schreder said. “Everyone’s living in a tiny little apartment. Where are you going to put a table? You need so much space for it … So I think people get really excited when there is the option to play pong.”

For some serious pong players, a smaller apartment does not stop them from playing, according to Colton Sankey ’24. Sankey said his brother, a member of the Class of 2021, frequently plays pong in his Brooklyn, N.Y. apartment — hosting a pong tournament just the day before Sankey sat down with The Dartmouth. According to Sankey, his brother has “two four-by-four pieces of wood that he puts on a picnic table so it’s portable.”

According to Jordan Stern ’94, some Dartmouth alumni use pong as a way to reminisce about their years spent on campus. In his immediate post-graduation years, Stern and his roommates — “a bunch of friends” from Dartmouth —  placed a pong table in their front yard.

“We had a pong table on our front lawn, [and] we played at parties,” Stern said. “You know as time goes on, you play less and less.”

Schreder said, if possible, she would like to replicate Stern’s post-graduate experience.

“If I end up living in any place with a yard, I would love to have a pong table,” Schreder said. “I know a lot of my friends who are ’23s or ’22s have pong tables, and that’s a really fun thing.”

She added that she does not view pong as a typical drinking game — where the goal is to merely get drunk — but instead as “a fun 30-minute way to chat with your friends and meet new people” while also having “a little activity” to do. 

“I think a lot of people don’t see it as a drinking game first and foremost,” she said. “The Dartmouth personality is so intense and competitive — we were all high achievers in high school — and pong is kind of a great way to get really into [an activity].”

For Stern, pong has even become something of a family activity. Stern, whose daughter is currently a member of the Class of 2027, recalled “play[ing] pong … when she came home for a concert a few weeks ago.” According to his daughter, Avery Stern ’27, they have a ping pong table in the basement of their Brooklyn Brownstone. While “it is not quite the dimensions … it works,” she said.

Sankey, whose parents and siblings all attended Dartmouth, said he also frequently plays when he is back home — on a pong table he painted his freshman summer. He added that pong even played a role at his parents’ wedding.

“At my parents’ wedding, they played pong with dinner plates as their paddles, like the little small ones that you can hold in your hand,” he said.

Just as pong comes in all shapes and sizes, from Stern’s repurposed ping pong table to Sankey’s parents’ makeshift wedding setup, the actual rules of the game are not universal. 

Rather, the rules for pong are a matter of campus geography, according to Stern, who enjoyed many different versions of the game during his time at Dartmouth. At Chi Heorot fraternity, “it was lob, speed and slam,” among other variations, he explained.

In Stern’s day, Battleship, the game that most closely resembles today’s pong, “was just beginning as a game,” while Lob “was the most popular.” Lob only included two cups, which made for a much quicker game than the present-day iterations.

This variety may just be the crux of why Dartmouth students and alumni take so much pride in the game. 

Or perhaps, pong just provides Dartmouth students a chance to socialize as much or as little as they please.

“We’re all a little bit weird and quirky in our own way and pong is a great game where you can be chatting with your friends as much or as little as you want,” Sankey said.

While one could hypothesize about the game’s formation and evolution at Dartmouth, the matter of the fact remains — Dartmouth students feel they invented beer pong.

“I feel like we take a lot of pride in having the title ‘the original beer pong,’” Schreder said. “I also think it’s kind of a hard game to learn and explain, and you need a massive table and a lot of material. So, it’s not super easy to just whip up and explain to people.”

Dartmouth pong consists of a large wooden table, 11 cups in the shape of a tree and any drink — usually Keystone.

Our graduating seniors have laced up their frat shoes for the last time, and their days of ‘treeing’ — beating an opposing pair before they sink any of your cups — freshmen and chasing ping pong balls across floors sticky with beer have come to an end. But their ability to engage in friendly competition and become part of a team can last long after they walk across the Commencement stage, if they choose. Whether it’s an impromptu match in someone’s apartment, a fun pastime in someone’s backyard on the first warm day of spring or even an organized tournament at an alumni club, Dartmouth pong remains a pillar of the community beyond campus.