Quinns’ Favourite Drinking Games

headbutting tables, examining lentils, Quinn's most secret vegetable
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Continuing what we started with Brendan’s Correct Way to Scratch and Leigh’s Month as an Assassin, we’ve got our third ever spoken article! Quinns wants to tell you why drinking games are important. In fact, he’s waiting for you in our podcast section right now.

Too nervous for a private performance? It’s understandable, of course. You’ll find a written transcript right after the jump.

Take your pick ladies, gentlemen, and teenagers who definitely shouldn’t be reading this. No. We wouldn’t condone that at all. Enjoy, everyone!

Quinns: Like many Europeans I began drinking as soon as I could. Which means, as soon as I was old enough to put on a baggy coat, enter a shop and do a kind of detached impression of an 18 year old. So, 15. I’d always do a couple of laps of these shop like, I imagined, an adult might, appearing to browse an issue of FHM and consider a bag of lentils before finally deciding on, yes, the litre of Smirnoff please.

Where I was unusual is how much I loved drinking games, which I studied with a kind of nerdy fervour. Whenever conversation stalled at the kitchen or patio or tree we were drinking at, someone would ask me for a game. That was my role, and I loved it. “OK,” I’d say, a grin creeping across my face. A clink as I’d set my bottle down.

Now, before we get in to the best games I remember playing I want to take a little jab at a kind of person who’s been bothering me for my entire drinking life, and that’s the one person in a group who says “I don’t need a game to drink. Why don’t we just drink?” Thinking about it now, maybe this is a kind of cosmic role handed out as well, just as mine was. Maybe our two archetypes of us have been dueling across culture, across time.

Drinking games, of course, aren’t about getting drunk. They’re about taking the best reasons TO drink – the silliness, the laughter, the easy, happy socialising – and concentrating it, folding it double, and then quadruple, until all the room’s honest attention and comic befuddlement is located in a single person, a single act. And then because you’re all drinking during this, you’re chasing that moment of joy down deeper, drunker chasms that are even sillier and even funnier. Brendan’s essay on the Irish concept of craic might help you out here.

When we’re feeling sentimental on Shut Up & Sit Down we sometimes say that board games are just about creating memories with your friends. Happy memories you’ll carry around like a bag of jewels. Drinking games are much the same thing. I can’t remember every night at the pub. But I can definitely remember each brilliantly stupid, laughing-until-your-sides-hurt game that we played.


So. Allow me to present five of my favourite drinking games. Ladies and gentlemen, children who ostensibly shouldn’t be listening to this- please do try these at home.

We start with a classic. We’ll get into the esoterica later.

Number 1: Categories

An old standby, and an easy game to start the night. Categories sees players sat in a circle. A category is agreed upon. Dog breeds, names of Battlestar Galactica characters, bones in the human body, anything. A starting player says something from this category, Lee Adama or the spine or labradoodle, and points at somebody else. That player must name something else from the same category. Immediately. Failure means they must drink.

It’s also important to enjoy a bit of mob mentality here. Spine, skull, metatarsal, kneecap, funny bone, ahh…. and every should shout at them to drink. Yes, command them! They deserve it! Enjoy being part of a mob. Or if you’ve lost, enjoy being the centre of attention. These are two of the oldest human instincts, and there’s warmth in them.

Now, European drinking games distinguish themselves from games popular in North America in one key way. Americans and Canadians value skill. Beer pong, flip cup, keg stands, all of this encourages glory for the victor. As any European knows, however, glory in drinking games is boring. Failure is what we seek. Beautiful, stuttering failure. Because that makes a room feel good, as opposed to an individual. It encourages laughter, rather than shouts.

With this in mind, one rule are important to enjoying a pleasant game of categories. Pick an astonishingly broad category. Countries of the world is a good one, or colours, something that anyone could name on the spot. It’s easy. Let us be clear. The win state of categories is to reduce your friend to a paralyzed grunt, when he’s asked to name anything you might buy in a supermarket. The whole room with rejoice in this demonstration of something more precious than expertise- humility.

Number 2: Thumb master

One of the most delicate game designs even outside of drinking games, Thumb master starts with one player being designated with the holy mantle of the Thumb Master. At various points throughout the evening at their discretion, the Thumb Master hooks their thumb onto the table. Just the first knuckle or phalange, like a mouse peering up at everybody from the lip of the table. The game is afoot.

Upon noticing this, other players must silently hook their own thumb onto the table, ideally without giving any sign of having noticed at all. Eventually only one person will be left, having not noticed. He or she is the loser. This next part is very important. Do not tell them they’ve lost. Continue talking with them. Share a knowing glance between the other victors. until finally, However many seconds or entire minutes later, they spot a thumb and hook their own onto the table. You may now enjoy the sight of their eyes flicking from thumb to thumb, as, in horror, they realise that not only have they lost, they have no idea how long they’ve looked like an idiot for. This failure means they must drink.

As with most of the games we’re looking at today, and as with categories, as with SU&SD favourite Galaxy Trucker, Thumb Master makes fantastic use of the relief players feel when they are not the odd one out. Losers, however, can enjoy the sense of attention they’ll be unwittingly receive.

For a more dramatic game, replace the thumb master with a pose master. Rather than hooking a thumb, the pose master merely adopts a pose and holds it. Eventually other players catch on to this lack of movement. While funnier than thumb master, the payoff is quicker and dirtier. It won’t take long for a player to notice that they’re the only one without their hand behind their head, but it makes them look still more unobservant.

Thumb master

A quick mention here should be made of the related game of Sniper. Here, a player designated as the Scout can shout “Sniper” and the last player to lay their head on the table must drink. If they yell “Grenade”, and the last player to be lying on the floor must drink. While less clever and more dangerous than Thumb Master, Sniper has earned a mention here because few games can conjure the sight of five competitive friends simultaneously headbutting a table, or one panicked friend diving headlong into a table leg. For this gift, I am eternally thankful to the game of Sniper.

A final note on all of these games. Abuse of the position of Thumb Master, Pose Master or Scout should be met by immediate and noisy rebellion from the room, stripping that player of their post.

Number 3: International Drinking Rules

Like any judiciary system, International Drinking Rules varies from country and country and has the potential to ruin lives. I like the followed pared down version.

1. No saying the word “drink”.

2. No saying any other player’s name, or whatever they are usually known as.

3. No swearing.

4. No pointing with the finger or thumb.

If anyone catches you breaking any of these rules, you must drink.

This is the game most likely to catch flak from people. They don’t want to have rules enforced over their evening. Which is… impossible to argue with. And as a veteran of teaching these games, I quickly developed a revolutionary’s instinct for when the status quo was stable.. I learned to await the time for my crap revolution, or walk into a room and recognise the potential immediate.

What people don’t realise, first and foremost, is that International Drinking Rules is funny. And it’s funny because it’s a system designed to catch people out, precisely when they’re trying to make other people drink. For example. Betty calls Ben’s name across the room. That breaks rule number 2. Ben then points at Betty, and says drink! Thus breaking rules number 1 and 4. Betty says he broke a rule too. Shit, Ben says. Breaking rule number 3. Ben then has to have three drinks for Betty’s 1. Ben and Betty share this funny moment on the way to becoming completely hammered.

The other service International Drinking Rules provides, like many drinking games, is i’s the ultimate icebreaker. Players are shouting at one another, enforcing and breaking rules, before they even know one another’s name. Which is great because they can’t say names anyway.

There are countless other drinking rules you can put onto this list, but I’ll mention a couple here because they value creativity, can be played by themselves, and are as funny as the group is. The first is…

5. The little green man.

With this rule, everyone has a little green man perched on the lip of their drink, who’s invisible. To have a drink, you must first mime removing the little man from your beverage, and you must put him back on when you finish. Does that sound annoying? It’s not. It’s funny again. Because you’re watching your friends take care of a tiny invisible green man. But most importantly, if the green man is ever forgotten about, the player in question must, of course, go and get him. And he’s very fast. “I think I saw him run outside the pub door,” says someone. And of course, you must leave the pub to go and get your man. And put him back on your drink, otherwise he’ll run away again.

The other rule I’d recommend is…

6. Copy / Paste.

If anyone does or says something funny, anyone can say copy. Whenever you say paste to someone, they have to do or say the same thing with the same intonation. This is especially good when someone spills their drink on themselves.


Number 4: Roxanne

To do this day Brendan plays some variant of this with The Chain by Fleetwood Mac, but I want to tell you about the drinking game that accompanies Roxanne by The Police. You form two teams of people. One team must drink whenever Sting sings the word Roxanne. The other team must drink whenever Sting sings “Put on the red light”.

Don’t look up the lyrics to this song. Don’t even listen to it before you play this game. Just declare that’s what’s happening and put on the song, and prepare to enter a tiny little circle of hell.

What’s the point of this game? It’s complicated.

I mean I’ve been using a lot of fancy language up to this point, but a lot of the fun of drinking is just getting drunk. There’s some lizard corner of your brain that gets tickled by it. The game of Roxanne plugs directly into this part of your brain. You’re not just drinking. You’re among a tribe. There’s MUSIC. You’re drinking TOGETHER. You MUST drink. You must watch the OTHER tribe drink. They drink at a different time to you. They are other. Probably, after the game finishes, you will have to destroy them.

Roxanne is love. Roxanne is hate. Roxanne is life.

Most importantly, Roxanne is hearing the song at a party, sprinting down to the kitchen to take your position on a team and find a fresh drink, and only then snarling “Who put this on?!”

Number 5: Vegetable

To finish my list, I present you with the rarest game that I know. Because it’s ocurred to me that now I’m too old to play it, it might die with me if I don’t share it. So this is me putting my stupid game in a bottle and casting it out to sea, hoping it reaches some boozy teen out there.

Vegetable is a very simple game, and should be brought out once everybody’s a few drinks deep. First, everyone declares their vegetable name. Sweet pea, parsnip, potato, whatever. When the game begins, somebody says someone else’s name – say, pumpkin – and then pumpkin must say someone else’s vegetable name – cauliflour, and so on. Cauliflour’s technically a flower but it’s a good name for reasons that will become clear. You teach the game like this. Do a little test run. Everyone’s waiting for what comes next.

You must take pleasure in saying the final rule. For, as the deliverer of drinking games, it’s a pleasure that only you will receive. You tell them that the final rule… is that you lose if you show their teeth.

This, of course, reduces you all to a room of senile, toothless octogenarians calling out one another’s names in gummy hostility. “sweet potato? cauliflaaaar?” What everybody finds out quickly, though, is that if you laugh, at all, your teeth pop into view. And if you don’t start laughing immediately, you will as players start trying to crack one another. “Cauliflower?” “Cauliflaaaar?” Or when two players other than you start aggressively calling one another’s names back and forth, until they’re screaming.

What does this game have going for it? Nothing, really. But I have happy memories of playing it and I have no idea who taught it to me. And that’s kind of magic.

That’s it. That’s all the games I’ve got for you. I bet you’ve got some stuff for me, though. Why not drop your favourite drinking game or memory of one in the comments? We’ve always been told to drink responsibly. Surely it’s the responsible thing to do.