Just think of it as trying to win a goldfish at the fair.
Beer-pong is a drinking game. However, because of its extensive equipment requirement, it is more likely to be played at home than at a pub. To play, you will need:
A table - The basic size, as indicated by the name of the game, is a ping-pong table. In any case, the table should be long enough that even very tall players cannot reach all the way, or even much past halfway, from one end to the other.
Two ping-pong balls - One good thing to look for here is that each ball is distinguished by some feature, this allows players to choose a lucky ball as superstition.
22 cups - These should all be the same size, and really, the only requirement for these is that a ping-pong ball can fit inside with little or no trouble. The 16-ounce plastic picnic cups are a good size to look for.
Four people - This is standard - two teams of two. Actually, this game can be played with two players, in which case the number of cups is dropped to 14 total.
Four cans of beer - It turns out that 24 ounces of beer per team is just about right to keep the cups down and the players up. Having more beer doesn't hurt, but having less makes the cups liable to tip over.
Once the players are divided into two teams of two, they can begin setting up. One player should take two of the cups and fill them with warm water, another player should get four frosty cool beers from the refrigerator, and the last two players should put the remaining 20 cups in position, divided in half, ten for each team. These should be placed on the table like pins in ten-pin bowling: a row of four, a row of three, a row of two, and a single cup. The cups should be touching each other, and the row of four should be lined up about a half-inch from the end of table. The end result should be two ten-cup equilateral triangles pointing at each other from opposite ends of the table. When player two returns with the beer, it should be distributed evenly among these cups. The last two cups are 'water-cups' and will be used to rinse the balls between shots.
The players should decide which team goes first. This could be as simple as a coin flip or 'house rules'1, or you could volley for the first shot and allow the better team to go first. In a series of games, the winners of the last game should go first.
Regardless of who goes first, play proceeds the same. Each member of a team takes a ping-pong ball and tries to throw, toss, or bounce it into one of the opposing team's cups. Players should not move any part of their lower body past the edge of the table; that is, you can lean over the table, but you can't shoot from half court. If the ball goes in, the opposing team takes that cup from the formation and drinks its contents. Between shots, the balls should be dunked in the cups of warm water to keep them clean2. Each team should take two shots per turn, trying to eliminate the other's cups.
When all of a team's cups are gone, that team loses. That team then has to drink all of the remaining beers, which can be a considerable amount if one team is especially good and the other not. After that, the cups and beer can be set up again, and a new game can begin.
The standard rules make beer-pong a game, but tradition makes beer-pong an epic struggle. Many players find luck in shooting with the same ball each turn or from the same side of the table. Consistent teams may have rituals to decide who shoots first, like using rock-paper-scissors, or who gets to drink what cups. These should all be respected no matter how silly they seem.
Moreover, to personalise beer-pong, many players will add a system of house rules. Feel free to create your own rules; the ones suggested below are simply common and can be altered to fit your own game. Even more cups or a different system of balls are commonplace. Extra rules may make the game harder on the losers, or harder on the winners, or harder on both teams, but in any case they make beer-pong a battle.
Reforms are the most basic house rule. In essence, when a team makes a certain number of cups, the remaining cups can be consolidated into a tighter group. For example, after four cups on a side have been hit, the remaining six cups can be rearranged into a triangle of a row of three cups, a row of two cups, and a single cup. When four cups are left, they can be formed into a diamond of one cup, two cups, one cup. Whenever it's done, reforming makes it easier for more inebriated players to hit cups.
Psyche-outs may actually be more integral to beer-pong than reforms. They allow players to do anything short of interfering with the throw or flight of a ball or otherwise physically preventing its going a cup. A simple wave of the hand or display of the genitals can distract even the stoniest player, and a loud noise or disgusting phrase may disrupt the shooter's confidence just enough to make them miss. It always helps to have a good selection of put-downs, especially if they're mother-related.
Good psyche-outs should be acknowledged as such. By the same token, if a cup is hit while a psyche-out is being performed, that psyche-out should be ridiculed ruthlessly when the psycher is shooting.
Let's bring 'em back.
The second most common house rule involves a team hitting two cups in one turn. In this case, the balls are 'brought back' or returned to the shooting team to be thrown again.
A more vicious rule takes precedence if both balls enter the same cup. Here, because of the defending team's lack of quickness in removing or 'pulling' the first hit cup from the formation, the throwing team wins the game automatically.
That just fell over on its own. I never touched it.
In more ways than one, one sticky issue in beer-pong is what to do with spilled cups, and there are two schools of thought on the subject:
One school says you should refill the cup and continue play as normal. This should be the prevalent belief in friendly games or when a bystander knocks over a cup, as long as the bystander can't be connected to any of the players by intrigue.
The other school of thought says that spilled cups should count as hit cups. This is only fitting since spilled cups won't get drunk anyway. However, this should not count for the last cup; the last cup should be earned and not taken through suspicious measures of any means.
We can still come back from this. We're fine. I swear.
To keep games tense and interesting for bystanders, rebuttals can be introduced. With a rebuttal, if one team hits the last cup, the other team may shoot again. If the other team makes any cup on the other side of the table, that cup remains on the table, but play resumes as normal with the hit last cup remaining in play.
Often the worst players in normal times are strangely good at hitting rebuttal shots.
Smacks and Bounces
That was nowhere near the cups!
Sometimes, when a team or player is doing really poorly, it just helps to let off some steam; this is most often where smacks come in. By many house rules, a team gets one smack per game. This means that they can swat the ball away from their cups on the fly to prevent its going in a cup and perhaps psyche-out the other team. With an all-out smack, the ball should be returned and the tossing player allowed to shoot again.
Smacks are also important with bounces. Many times, a ball will bounce around on the table if it misses the cups on the fly; other times, players will intentionally try to bounce balls into the cups, feeling it gives them more control than a toss. With smacks, a defending player may swat or grab a ball that has bounced more than once to prevent losing a cup. These swatted balls do not need to be returned.
You want to see some nakedness tonight? I want to see some nakedness tonight.
If a team or group of people knows they're really adept at beer-pong, they'll often invoke the 'nudity' rule to keep lesser skilled players from the table.
Under the nudity rule, a team has to make a certain number of cups before losing. If they don't, they have to run naked around whatever building in which the games are being played. If the losing team just doesn't have that kind of self-confidence, they may buy the winners a case of beer to be used as the winners see fit.
A good required number of cups is three.