Drinking while you think

Whenever this column mentions a number, take a drink.

It’s the summer of 2008, and it’s getting late — too late to start drinking, but I do it anyway.

I’m in Groningen, northeast of Amsterdam, at an apartment 20 minutes from the city’s university. The August air is warm and salty and the night sky is clear. Will and Max, my traveling companions, have been riding the rails with me throughout western Europe for over three weeks, and they’re excited to throw their heavy packs down in the corner and be still for a moment. Will’s Dutch friends — two of them his cousins, the other three housemates of theirs — bring out a case of Jupiler pale lager, uncap a few bottles and slam them down in front of us.

“We are going to play the best drinking game,” says Maarten, Will’s older cousin.

It is not the best drinking game.

I find myself surrounded by four boisterous, half-drunk Dutch students whose soap-operatic reactions to dice throws put Daytime Emmy winners to shame. When it’s my turn I pick up the dice and roll them quickly. Too quickly, it turns out, as the rules of this particular game state that one is supposed to call out evens or odds before rolling, an action that somehow alters how much I drink or give away to others. It also hopelessly confuses me.

So I call evens and roll the dice. There is a brief moment of silence as Maarten calculates the value of the numbers I’ve thrown and shouts, “Oh, 600! Very nice!”

One of the others instinctively picks up his beer and downs it like someone poured a carton of Drano down his throat before the game. I won — I think.

From now on, drink whenever this column employs a proper noun.

When it’s Max’s turn, he calls even, rolls the dice and gets a result of 300. Whatever that means. He is instructed to place his beer in the middle of the table, where it will act as a landmine of sorts that piles another layer of complication onto an already Rube Goldbergian set of rules. Will rolls next, and his dice clink off the landmine and ricochet wildly before turning up boxcars.

The whole room is enveloped by the shout that goes up. I’m told by Maarten that everyone except for Will has to drink two bottles — off one fucking roll — and Will skips his next turn.

It’s like Candyland, except we’re all hammered after two rounds. Every time the dice are rolled something different and seemingly random happens. There are too many rules to keep track of. A couple more rolls of the dice and the night becomes a blur, punctuated by Maarten wrestling Will to the ground for urinating on his house and Max getting into a scuffle with a shirtless bar patron.

Needless to say, it was tons of fun.

Drink whenever this column attempts to broach some universal truth about drinking games.

Drinking games like Dutch Candyland do not necessarily have to make sense, nor should they. Of course, you have your more institutional games (or ritualistic, depending on your outlook) such as beer pong or 21. Some people enjoy charting their drinking progress, and games like these pave a steady, if predictable, road to inebriation. Some people find solace in the structure of these games, but for me drinking games are about introducing excitement to an otherwise commonplace activity.

Drinking games are also fundamentally different from all others. Players are punished rather than rewarded, although avoiding said punishment feels a little bit like hiding in the corner during a dodgeball game.

That’s exactly why the rules should not dictate the pace of drinking games. Unlike any other game, losing is actively rewarded — why not cheat the system and try to lose instead?

Personal grudges are also encouraged. Why not gang up on someone because they used up all your laundry detergent? Get them drunk, I say, if they didn’t tell you about that party last weekend!

The true joy of drinking games is their spontaneity and randomness. That, and the fact that you’re killing two birds with one stone — drinking games encourage friendly competition and prime you for a (potentially) great night.

Which is why, despite finding myself half-buried in couch cushions the next morning in Groningen and having no idea where I had been for the last several hours, I would like to thank Maarten and crew for their hospitality all those years ago. I was not part of their team. I had no idea what the rules were. I was young and stupid, but they showed me a good time nonetheless. Games are universal, and there’s no faster way to get to know somebody than through shared interests — especially beer.

By the way, take a drink for making it through this column.