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The Drinking Circle Survival Guide

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The following information is presented as a reference only, as it is neither sensible nor profitable in any way to drink alcohol to excess. This entry is aimed at helping you to avoid drinking as opposed to being a source of encouragement to those who wish to abuse alcohol. Please drink responsibly.

A drinking circle is a social gathering at which the circle members compete in games, hoping to win in order to minimise the level of alcohol they have to drink whilst forcing others to drink as much as possible. Drinking circles can be scary places when you're new to the idea, and sometimes the rules, games and terminology aren't properly explained. The following is a handy guide to all of the aspects of drinking circles.

Some Basic Terminology

The following terms are often used in a drinking circle:

  • Bad light - the time at which you are allowed to leave the circle to go to the toilet etc. This takes place when the chairperson announces 'bad light'.

  • Chairman/chairwoman - the person in overall charge of the circle.

  • Downing - drinking the entire contents of your glass in one go - this is not recommended.

  • Drink off - where two or more people have a race to see who can drink a certain amount the fastest. The loser may receive a fine.

  • Fine/forfeit - an order to do something for having failed in some way, be it in a game or for not having been observant enough.

  • The Proceedings - another way for saying 'the process of playing the games and drinking'.

  • Topping up - adding drink to a partly empty glass.

The following instructions are often used, and all relate to your drink:

  • Down a pint - this instruction is not often used - instead participants are told to 'fill it up, then see it off.'

  • Drink / have two fingers - this is an instruction to lower the level of drink in your glass by the width of two fingers. If the drink is too low to achieve this it must be topped up first.

  • Fill it up - an instruction to completely refill your pint.

  • Finish it - this is an instruction to down the remainder of your drink. When the pint is refilled first this is known as 'downing'.

  • See it off - this is an instruction to down the remainder of your drink.

Commonly Used Rules

Often, a drinking circle will have a set of rules that are implemented once the chairperson starts the proceedings. The following are some of the rules from various circles - all of them involve the drinking of beer in one way or another. It is important to note that each of the rules below will only apply to some circles.

Things Not to Say in Some Circles

  • 'Drink' or 'drinking' - the words imbibe and beverage should be used instead.
  • 'Hand' - the word 'appendage' should be used instead.
  • The 'k' sound - the 'k' sound must be replaced by an 's' eg drink should be pronounced 'drins' and kick should be pronounced 'sis'.
  • 'Twenty-one' - 'twenty plus one' should be used instead.
  • 'Next', as this leads to the playing of the game Next. The game should be referred to as 'simplicity' while not being played.
  • 'Finish', as the game Finish is played. The phrase 'see it off' should be used instead.
  • 'Bad light', unless of course you are the chairperson - otherwise you will be punished.
  • Do not tell bad jokes. You can tell if a joke is not well received, as you will end up having to drink.

Things Not to Do in Some Circles

  • Cross any of your limbs.
  • Leave a finger or thumb extended long enough for it to be grabbed by someone else.
  • Drink with the wrong hand - you must repeat the fine you were given. Usually the right hand should be used in the first half of an hour, and the left in the second half.
  • Leave the circle outside of 'bad light' - this is against the rules unless you are going somewhere to obtain drinks. Anyone caught doing otherwise is given a fine.
  • Accept a drink from someone else's hands, as this will lead to you drinking a fine while they laugh.
  • Drink so much that you vomit or fall asleep inside the circle. Luckily these things are usually not punished with a fine, as anyone in this situation will most likely be incapable of drinking any more.
  • Turn up later than everyone else in the hope that you'll get to drink or pay less - you may be given a hefty fine.
  • Eat in the circle after the proceedings have begun.
  • Question or repeatedly disobey the decisions of someone far more superior than you.
  • Catch out someone far more superior by getting them to accept a drink, say twenty-one or by grabbing one of their digits.

An Example

Each drinking circle will have its own bizarre collection of rules and regulations, usually designed to benefit the more senior members of the circle. One researcher recalls their youth:

We used to have a fixed chairman for the course of a game, who would appoint officials, who acted on his behalf. Mr Measurer who would check you had drunk enough (usually the guy with the fattest fingers). Mr Clecker who would ensure everyone spoke or acted in time or in rhythm. Mr Dogs-Knob, who would point out to the chairman anyone who was breaking any of the rules, and who was exempt from many rules, but had to fetch all the chairman's drinks and always accompany him to the toilet, there were others the entire point of which was to make sure everyone ended the night drunk.

Using Different Vessels

The most common glass of all in public houses is the pint glass and a common mistake to make is to think that you can pour the beer straight into the glass as quickly as possible. Doing this will usually result in a beer with far too much head1 and not enough actual liquid. The key is to pour the beer into a glass tipped at 45°, pouring slowly onto the side wall of the glass.

Having obtained or poured yourself drink, you may now have to drink it. Different types of container require different methods:

  • Shot glass - place the glass next to your mouth, then lift your head and the glass at the same time, draining the glass completely. Don't cover the whole of the top of the glass with your mouth as this makes it more difficult to get the drink to leave the glass.

  • Pint glass - tip the glass more depending on how fast you want to drink, making sure that you don't spill too much. If you intend to drink the entire pint very quickly then it is best to gulp it down without breathing.

  • Yard glass - stand over the glass holding it, lift it vertically towards your mouth and start drinking. Carefully manipulate it in an arc, bringing it up towards being horizontal.

  • 'Strawpedoing' - take a bottle and put a straw so that it sticks over the rim at the top. This is notably easier to achieve with a bendable straw. Drink from the bottle with the top end of the straw outside of your mouth, acting as an air intake for the bottle. This allows you to drink continuously from the bottle with it more or less upside-down.

  • Tubes - drinking from a tube is not an easy affair. A tube is simply a short length of flexible plastic tubing that can hold copious amounts of beer, and there is a definite knack to drinking from one. When drinking, you must ensure that the open end is higher than the one in your mouth. Take the two ends in your hands, then raise one slowly above your head while starting to drink from the other. Once you are drinking from one end raise the other end as high as necessary.

Drinking Games

There are quite a few well known drinking circle games in existence, such as Where's my Meniscus, Quarters, Beer-pong, The Rose, The Revolver, Fuzzy Duck and of course Bunnies. However, there are many more which are just as enjoyable - the following is a guide to the basic rules to a few of the more simpler games. These games should only be played if it is legal to do so - the legal drinking age in the UK is 18, and in the USA it is 21.

Beautiful in their simplicity, these are games that are very easy to play, have few rules, and involve the drinking of large quantities of beer.


Everyone must finish their drinks as quickly as possible, and the last one to do so must drink a fine afterwards. Usually no change is made to the volume of the drinks, and this game is often used just before the chairperson announces 'bad light'.


The game is Next. It's a game that is beautiful in its simplicity, it's bilateral, and as always it's a race.

Thus starts each and every game of Next. The rules of the game are very simple - first everyone tops up their drinks to a certain level, then the person starting the game drinks theirs. They then tap their empty glass on the glasses of the people either side of them. Each of these people down their drink and tap their glass on the next person's. Eventually only one person will be left drinking at the other end of the circle2 - they are the loser, and will receive a fine.

A different version of the game is played unilaterally - everyone drinks one by one until the person who started the game is reached.


This game involves everyone drinking simultaneously, and so a great deal of beer is consumed before the end is reached. First, everyone tops up their drinks, and the player starting the game begins drinking. At this moment, everyone picks up their drinks one by one in rapid succession3. As soon as the person starting the game decides to put down their drink, they sit down and the control passes to the next person in the waterfall. As soon as they choose to put down their drink the onus passes to the next person, and so on. Drinks do not have to be finished, but everyone drinking must do so at a rate found acceptable by the chairperson.

Drink While You Think

A category is picked for the names to be used, such as names of footballers. The first person gives a name that falls into that category, and then the next person must drink until they think of a person whose first name begins with the same letter as the last name of the previous, with no repetition allowed. If they finish their drink then the pressure to think while you drink passes to the next person.

An additional rule can be used to make the game interactive. Everyone in the circle can shout out 'you can't say...', giving their own answer before the person drinking can say it. Once a name has been said this way it cannot be used again. Giving the name of someone whose first and last initials are the same reverses the direction of play.

Television Game

This is a very simple game where you choose a side to support in a football match or other sport, and then drink a fine if a goal is scored against you or the equivalent happens in your chosen sport. Alternatively, you can watch a television programme and agree to a number of things to drink for such as the use of catchphrases by main characters.

Counting Games


The person starting this game says 'to my left, one' or 'to my right, one'. The next person in that direction says 'two', and then counting continues in that direction until a rule is broken. The rules are:

  • The number four, multiples of four and numbers containing four are replaced by silently making the gesture for a 'four' in cricket.
  • The number six, multiples of six and numbers containing six are replaced by silently making the gesture for a 'six' in cricket.
  • Prime numbers greater than ten are replaced by a shout of 'no ball' along with the appropriate gesture.
  • Square numbers greater than ten are replaced by the silent motion of a 'square cut' being hit by a batsman.
  • Twenty-one is replaced by 'twenty plus one', and the person saying this must drink a small fine. Play then continues.
  • If two or more of the above rules apply, then they are performed in the order 'four', 'six', 'square cut'. It is helpful to note that no square numbers, multiples of four or six, or numbers containing four or six are ever 'no ball'.

Twenty Plus One

The basics of the game are that the person starting the game says 'to my left/right, one' and then the counting continues in that direction. Once someone has said twenty4, the person who would have gone next, that is to say would have said twenty one, must drink a fine.

At the start of the game the rules are quite simple. If you say one number, the next person along continues with the next number. If you say two numbers, the direction is reversed and the person on the other side of you continues the counting. If you say three numbers, the person who would go next is skipped and counting continues with the person after them.

Once the game has been played, the loser drinks a fine and makes up a new rule. Each time the game is successfully completed a new rule is made. These can be one of several different types of rule, such as:

  • Swapping two numbers around so that they are each said in the place of the other.
  • Replacement of a number or all multiples of a number with another number or a phrase.
  • Replacement of all prime numbers with another number or a phrase.

When two or more new rules apply to a number, the oldest one applies first, then the next and so on.


The first person to play this says 'to my right/left' then begins playing the game with the next person in that direction. The first person says 'one, two, three' followed by 'five', 'ten', 'fifteen', 'twenty' or 'spoof'5. As they do this, both players should hit both hands on their knees three times and then display all the fingers on one, both or neither hands. The total number of fingers is added up. If the first person has guessed the correct number of fingers then they win.

If a player wins, they play again with the same person. If they win three times in a row then the second person who they have been playing against must drink a fine. The game then continues with the second person calling and the third person playing them.

Additional rules include the punishment of impossible calls such as calling twenty while you are holding up only five fingers, and extra fines for one or two wins.

Count To Ten

This game is started when the chairperson or a senior member of the circle stands up quickly, yells 'one' and sits down. Anyone may then stand up and call out 'two', and after this has happened someone may then call out 'three'. The aim of the game is to reach ten without more than one person standing up and saying the number at a time. If two or more people do stand at the same time then they must all drink two fingers of beer, but if the game reaches ten then everyone except for the person calling out 'ten' must drink.

Domino Games

Although the game of dominoes is a very popular pastime, this section isn't about playing dominoes in a public house6. The domino game is a type of game which is completely unexpected by all except for those who start it, and the effect is like a domino run. At the start of the night some of the members of the drinking circle are given a responsibility, and they are in charge of starting that game. Once the game has started the last person to perform the required action will receive a fine.

Sometimes there is a minimum length of time that must elapse between these games due to the rate of alcohol consumption involved. The worst part of being new to a drinking circle is when you look one way for a moment, and then when you look back everyone has stopped moving...

Freeze - One person in the circle freezes, usually in a bizarre position, and everyone must follow. Sometimes only the person in charge of freezing may move their eyes after freezing7.

Thumbs - One person places the tips of their thumbs on the table in a certain way8, and everyone must copy. The last person to do so is fined. The beauty of this game is that there is always someone who can't tell left from right, and so the game isn't over until everyone has had a look around at each other's thumbs.

Smile - If one person in the circle suddenly has the most surreal and ridiculous looking grin on their face, then you know that you're playing smile. The last person to have a smile with teeth showing on their face receives a fine for being so miserable.

Leg Cross - One person will cross one leg over the other above the knee, and the last person in the circle to copy them receives a fine.

Boomerang - One person will shout 'boomerang', and everyone must remove their tops. The last person to do so receives a fine. This game is usually only played in men's drinking circles, and is a very good reason not to wear a tie unless you have to.

The Burp Game - When someone burps, everyone including the perpetrator must put their finger and thumb on their forehead in an 'l' shape and name a colour. Repetition is not allowed, and neither is coming last. This game is the odd one out as no-one is given the responsibility to burp.

Other Games


One person is made 'commander', and then they call out instructions. If they say 'commander' before an instruction it must be followed, but if they do not then those who follow it must drink a fine. The possible instructions are:

  • Neutral - place both hands level with the fingers on the table in front of you.
  • High - keep your fingers on the table, but raise the other end of your hands.
  • Low - keep your fingers on the table, but lower the other end of your hands.
  • Even higher / even lower - move your hands even further up / down. Beware these instructions as they can be easily used without 'commander' before them.
  • Split - put your right hand up and your left hand down.
  • Other Split - put your left hand up and your right hand down. This is another instruction to get easily caught out by.
  • Kneel down - perform this action while saying 'kneel down' in a deep voice.
  • Stand up / Sit down - simply stand up or sit down.
  • 'Commander Fred' - passes the role of commander to Fred.

Different drinking circles have different special instructions, such as to sing a chant or something of a similar nature.

Give Me Names Of...

This game is started by the chairperson, who puts their hands out in front of them and shakes them while saying 'woooaaaaaahhhhhhh!'. Everyone else joins in, and then the game begins with everyone following the same pattern, which is described below. The person who started the game then says 'Give me, to my right/left, names of X, starting with this'. For example 'Give me to my right names of animals you might find on a farm, starting with the earthworm', sticking to the rhythm of the game all of the time. The next person must name another example of the type of thing the first person asked for without hesitating, repeating a previous example or giving a wrong example.

This continues in the circle until someone goes astray, and then they must drink a fine. The next person to get the circle going with another 'woooaaaaaahhhhhhh' gets to choose the next subject. However, there is a twist to the game in that anyone can challenge the person choosing the subject to name an example for each person in the circle. If they can't they must drink a fine, but if they can then the challenger must drink a fine.

Different Types of Drinking Circle

As there are many different types of people who are willing to drink copious amounts of alcohol on a weekly basis, there are also different types of drinking circle.

Age and Gender

University drinking circles are usually larger than other ones, reaching sizes of twenty quite often. These circles tend to be more energetic. Elsewhere the energy is linked to age - it is rare to see sixty year-olds singing the Hawaii Five-O theme tune while dancing on the tabletops.

Men's drinking circles tend to be orientated towards impressing everyone by drinking as much as possible without considering the consequences. This causes the fines to be quite high, and the domino games are used often. In contrast, women's drinking circles often have no domino games9, and often snakebite is used as a substitute for beer.

University Drinking Circles

These are usually associated with a society or sports club. Often when there is a night set aside for drinking circles at a university pub there will be competition and banter. At sports nights the usual patterns are:

  • The men's rugby drinking circle drinks the most alcohol in the shortest space of time, then gets very noisy.
  • The men's football circle is noisy anyway, and they tend to perform their entire repertoire of chants and songs every evening.
  • The women's football and rugby teams drink less and make less noise than the men's football and rugby teams, yet always seem to enjoy themselves more.
  • If there is a men's hockey team, the men's football or rugby team will most likely make fun of them.
  • The other sports clubs just get on with it in their own special ways.

However, there is another type of University drinking circle - the halls circle. A small number of people play games in someone's room at a hall of residence, the circle usually taking place late at night with various drinks bought from the local off licence just before it closes. These circles are often very quiet so as to avoid getting into trouble with the management.

Surviving Alcohol

Arthur Dent: What's so bad about being drunk?
Ford Prefect: Ask a glass of water.

A somewhat major component of drinking circles is drinking, and this almost always refers to the consumption of alcohol. It is extremely easy to become horrifically drunk, leading to all sorts of nasty experiences. Two problems you may face in the short term are vomiting and being hung over. If you become horrendously drunk, you may need to avoid going in to work.


If you drink until you vomit then you have drunken far too much. Vomiting may seem like a good way to get rid of the alcohol still left in your stomach, but the stomach acid in vomit will burn your throat, and you will be left with a very unpleasant mess unless you are careful.

The most important thing is that there is a good chance you will vomit again, as alcohol can cause you to throw up multiple times. Once you are definitely sure that you have finished, clean up whatever mess you have made and dispose of the vomit. This is a vital move as the smell of vomit will make you and your friends vomit. To recover from alcohol-induced vomiting, follow these points:

  • Drink small amounts of clear fluid at first, building up to normal drinks in the next 12 hours.
  • The morning after vomiting you should eat some small amounts of bland foods such as bread, biscuits and crackers.
  • At lunchtime have a warm drink with a sandwich or packet of crisps.
  • By dinnertime you should be more or less ready to eat normally again, depending on your alcohol intake the previous evening.


Drinking too much alcohol will probably result in a hangover, the symptoms of which include tiredness, headaches, nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to bright light and noise, aching muscles, red eyes, and guilt. The easiest way to avoid a hangover is not to drink too much alcohol, but on the assumption that you will, you should have a look at the entry on hangovers. Beware the concept of drinking more alcohol to cover a hangover - while it may work, you may end up drinking far too much alcohol in the long run.

Long-term Health Issues

If you drink far too much alcohol regularly, then you could be paving the way for problems later on in life. If a drinking circle is bullying you into drinking too much alcohol then you should consider whether you are actually enjoying yourself, and whether it would be easier to cope with life without the problems that excessive drinking can bring. For help and information about alcohol misuse see this list of handy links.

And Finally

Please drink responsibly, and do not drink at all or obtain alcohol if it is against the law for you to do so. Also, try to abide by the rules of the public house if you are in one, or by the rules of wherever else you may be. Excess alcohol consumption can lead to altered behaviour, and the author disclaims any responsibility for the actions of those making use of any of the information in this entry.

1The froth at the top of a pint.2Dead heats are quite rare.3This is mainly for visual effect rather than being an integral part of the game.4Twenty must have been said correctly, if affected by a 'new rule' - see below.5Spoof represents zero.6Although the game is played in some pubs.7This is for the purpose of determining who froze last.8eg one thumb, two thumbs, one on top of the other.9This is understandable in the case of boomerang

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