Susanne Bushman, Copy Editor
When people think of spring sports, most minds jump to baseball, softball, track and field or swimming and diving. For some Grinnellians, however, spring sport action takes place in the beer die league.
Beer die league is a competitive tournament based around a unique drinking game that runs throughout most of spring semester, with playoffs taking place at Block Party. Though beer die may seem like just a drinking game to some, for league players beer die is a serious athletic endeavor involving skill, stamina and strategy.
Beer die is played with two teams sitting on either end of a rectangular table, tossing a die into the air—as high as the table is long—so that the die bounces off of the short end of the table. If the opposing team fails to catch the die, then the throwing team scores a point. Players alternate throwing and the game goes on until a team has scored biz (five) points. Also, every player has a cup of beer sitting on the table in front of them, which they drink from if their team misses the table with the die, the opposing team hits their cup with the die or the die lands in the cup—called a ‘splash down.’
“Drinking and scoring are very unrelated. They’re correlated in the sense that if you drink a lot more then you’ll score less. But they’re generally unrelated in terms of the game rules,” said Aditi Lohia ’16, one of the beer die league commissioners.
Those are just the basic rules, however, and the rules keep adding up after that, notably including a ban on saying the number five, saying ‘biz’ in its place. Players are also not allowed to throw the die with their palm facing the opposing team, resulting in atypical throwing styles very different from the usual shooting method used in similar games.
These rules make for a complicated, highly skill-based game that can be played in both casual and competitive settings. The commissioners, however, stressed that it’s a ‘gentleperson’s game,’ where players are on an honor code to play fair and follow the rules, since there aren’t referees attending every league match.
Grinnellians took beer die to the next level two years ago by founding an official league. Aditya Kumar ’14 and Saw Min Maw ’16 founded the league to bring together previously disparate groups of players.
“We were getting more and more into it and more competitive so we figured why not make it a campus-wide thing where anyone who’s into die can play competitive league against each other? Also, we’re sort of fostering friendship because I’ve met a lot of new people, new friends, just through playing the league games, who I would have never otherwise talked to,” Saw Min Maw said.
The league has since become an official student group and now includes about twice as many teams. Each week, the beer die league commissioners set up fixtures for each team and the teams find a time to play during the week, reporting various statistics back to the commissioners, including the number of points and splash downs.
As the game has become popularized among Grinnellians, it has also come to include a greater number of women. For Becca Heller ’16, who plays on an all-female team, this is an important advancement for the beer die community.
“It’s fun to have an all-women’s team. I don’t see a lot of women playing die because I think there’s a stereotype in all drinking games that men are big and strong and men can drink. It’s really fun to have my best friends playing beer die with me and screwing around,” Heller said.
The increase in female players isn’t the only change that has come over the beer die league in the past few years, however, as throwing styles have diversified as well. Tracy Johnson ’16, a top player in the league and teammate of Saw Min Maw, feels this change shows.
“The beer die purists that I learned from … always said throw underhand, but I think it’s important to note that the game is changing with the new people that come in so we see a lot more overhand this year,” Johnson said. “There was a move for it to be banned last year but now people love the overhand. It’s a little bit more aggressive, high scoring game. I think the game will go in whatever direction that the campus wants to take it, and I think that’s a beautiful thing.”