The Cocktail Party is an essential part of Oxford University student life, if for no other reason than that it involves alcohol. It is very true that similar forms of alcohol binges exist in most, if not all, other universities, but only in Oxford can it be carried out to the last degree of pedanticism and be made to seem traditional. There are numerous steps which must be undertaken to hold one successfully, but they are not too difficult to follow.
Think up a title. Naming a society, then following it by the word 'drinks' or 'cocktails' will usually suffice. But make sure that it is clear that everyone is invited, whether they are a member of that society or not. Otherwise, name it after any national holiday that's nearby on your calendar.
Get everyone who will be attending to chip in a nominal sum; from three to seven pounds1, depending on the expected duration of the event. This is the only time when discriminating against non-members is permitted, as they may be asked to pay a bit more.
Organise a time and a venue, pointing out that the dress code is black tie.
On the afternoon before the event, take all of the money collected to the supermarket. Purchase three buckets, in the colours red, black and yellow where possible, and a large number of disposable plastic drinking cups. Make sure that they are fairly strong, because no matter how many are available, you will normally end up requesting that people re-use their current one.
The rest of the money should be divided to a ratio of 80:20 on spirits versus mixers. Traditional spirits might include Bacardi and the supermarket's own make of vodka and gin. Standard mixers are the supermarket's own brand of lemonade, cola, orange juice, and whatever fruit juice2 is on special offer.
Borrow a stereo, and get hold of some music which is comfortably cheesy but not actually considered to be dance music.
Half an hour before the scheduled start, arrange the furniture. Towards one side of the room there should be a table capable of holding all three buckets and several bottles, with just enough space behind it for a couple of reasonably sober people to pour the drinks without tripping over the stereo cable. The only other requirements are a discreetly placed, but easily-locatable dustbin for those with weaker stomachs, and the removal of everything else that isn't fastened into place, leaving a vast, empty floor area.
Everybody will be 'fashionably late', so at the official start time, create the cocktails in the colour-coded buckets. Vodka and orange juice in the yellow one, rum and cola in the black one, and gin, lemonade and your special offer fruit juice in the red one. Place the stack of empty cups on the table in front of the buckets.
Once everyone has sampled each drink, decided on their favourite, and is now standing around waiting for them to take effect, it is time to break the ice with a few boat races. For anyone who has not encountered one of these before, it involves arranging everyone in the room into two or three approximately equal lines, then getting everyone to down their drink. The rule 'don't start your drink until the person in front has finished his/hers' tends to slow down the process of getting drunk, and should only be observed during Fresher's week, when the First Years are still gullible enough to think that there is a serious competitive element involved.
The next stage is the 'sconceing'. Someone must say 'I sconce anyone who...' (and name some preferably embarrassing deed). Anybody who satisfies this criterion must now own up to it, finish their drink, and get another one. This is best done towards the end of the night, when people are more likely to own up to whatever it was. The lifetime of this game is fairly short, for after a few minutes, the ideas start getting boring or irritating, so don't let it go on for too long.
If you haven't already, get a camera out and take some shots which, at a later date, will be useful memory aids to those who may by this time be only physically (rather than mentally) present.
The minute people start looking drowsy or bored, shout party's over, or words to that effect, and stand back as everyone rushes for the last free drink.
Before reconvening in a pub or club, allow time for people to get changed out of their formal wear, so that they can avoid being beaten up by any passing student-haters. Go either to a pub for many expensive drinks, or to the nearest club hosting a student night for very cheap drinks. The agenda for the rest of the night can safely be improvised, but may involve bouncers, kebab vans and/or traffic cones. The following morning, there will of course inevitably be hangovers.