Nick & Choose 8: Cornhole

Published February 4, 2009

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Kernel Knowledge
Drinking where the sun don’t shine.

As someone approximating an adult, I’ve learned that drinking isn’t for games. Drinking is for dulling the miserable ache of a monotonous, workaday reality. Alcohol is a depressant, and it takes a learned man to embrace that.

In college, our game was Beirut. For the uninitiated, Beirut involves caking dirt and germs onto a ping-pong ball, then throwing it in a cup of beer to create a fetid bacteria culture your opponent must drink. It’s fun, but something I gladly left behind at graduation.

I first saw Cornhole a few years ago when I was living in Missouri. You play by throwing beanbags at two small ramps, with one point for landing on the ramp and three for sinking a bag in the cornhole. The difference is tallied and awarded to whichever team scores more. Game to 21. House rules vary, but getting cornholed is usually an occasion to drink. It’s Beirut for hicks, and I used it to validate my Yankee arrogance. Our game is a subtle allegory for Middle Eastern conflict; theirs is a blatant sodomy reference.

But Cornhole is spreading. In fact, the American Cornhole Association (really) claims its membership grew to over 25,000 last year, so the goal of its “founding memeber” to “make Cornhole, America’s game” now seems less ridiculous, if no less grammatically hilarious. Maybe you shouldn’t play before writing your mission statement, man.

Cornhole is huge wherever they love college football. It’s a great tailgating activity. But this is Boston. I know more Republicans than I do college football fans. How successful could a league here be? Well, the Social Boston Sports league filled up within days, with over 70 teams and an extensive waiting list. I only snuck in by agreeing to split one team between four people. Apparently, if there’s beer, Bostonians will come. So with Cornhole officially on our turf, my friend John and I set out to defend our regional honor in a best two-out-of-three match.

“This is my first game. Have you played a lot?” I asked, introducing myself to our opponents.

“We’re from Tennessee,” one twanged. “We played every weekend.”

There’s nothing like getting your ass kicked to build enthusiasm for a new sport. On his first turn, the guy on my side sank three bags and turned to me with a look I read as,” Hey, what can ya do? I’m a dick.” They built a commanding lead, and my frustration mounted as keeping score required both math and paying attention, two things I suck at even while sober. So I was never quite sure if they were cheating.

Then, as the beer kicked in, I caught fire. I’m not exaggerating when I say I’m undoubtedly the best Cornhole rookie who has ever lived, ever. I put on a clinic, and soon enough it was 21-19, good over evil.

Leading 19-10 in Game 2, I watched all the color drain from the Tennesseans’ faces. I could feel their anger, and I thought to myself, nothing beats pissing off a Southerner. I may have even written it down. I knew it was a curse, but I was drunk with power, and also beer. Besides, we only needed two points.

Of course we lost. My fire sputtered out and John started throwing like a rusty tin man. Despite a valiant comeback in Game 3, we went down 19-21, and the Confederacy won.

Convening at the bar, a friend observed, “You know Johnny was throwing with his right hand.”

“Yeah, so?”

“He’s a lefty.”

“Johnny, what the hell is this, The Princess Bride?”

Seems that my partner chipped his elbow after a drunken spill and was forced to use his off-hand and the elbow he broke last year while drunk. I was bitter, but at least I had someone to blame, which, as consolation prizes go, ain’t so bad.

With my return to drinking games, I’m a little surprised at how badly I want to win. I know now is a time to put away childish things, but for the next two months, I’m as focused as six pints will allow me to be. After that, I can go back to drinking like a man—alone, in the dark, softly crying myself to sleep.

Nick & Choose 7: Medieval Manor

Published January 14, 2009

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King Me

Nick goes Medieval

For years, I’d seen the Medieval Manor as I drove down I-93. It’s a roadside curiosity, like a hitchhiker or a hooker, and sooner or later, you’ve got to pull over and ask for directions.

Since 1972, the Medieval Manor has promised a raunchy romp through the Middles Ages. I’m all for bawdy humor, but I’ve never been one for the classics. In school we read The Canterbury Tales, a text pretty much designed for the teenage boy—all farts and sex. I found it mind-numbing. Even the kids who made swords out of PVC piping were bored.

However, I appreciated the tome’s enthusiasm for ale. And as my friends and I settled into our communal table on a blustery winter’s night, we were delighted to learn from our “primary beer wench” that flagons came in both light and dark varieties: Busch Light or Michelob Amber Bock. OK, so there’s no mead on tap. Authenticity isn’t what you’re paying for, a point hammered home when the court jester introduced himself with a penguin masturbation joke and our wench removed the lid from our appetizer: medieval pita pizza.

As we merrily crunched away, the festivities began with a rousing guitar number from the minstrel Bill. (The jester calls himself Squeegee and there’s an oaf named Sponge, but apparently Bill is a proud man.) The show proceeds in stages, as the cast, led by a king dressed regally in black tights, performs songs and skits until it’s time to eat another course with your bare hands. After a winning spot of repartee concerning the queen’s butt, faux dragon soup was ladled from a metal bucket.

“They didn’t have celery in the Middle Ages,” said my friend Casey, suddenly looking for historical accuracy as Squeegee referenced the iPod.

“How do you know?” I whispered.

“I was an art history minor.”

Oh, well there’s no arguing that. Please, have some more of the dark.

It’s all a bit ridiculous, but supping from my own bowl, I found it easy to tumble into the revelry. Save for a group of stone-faced dunces in the front row sipping pink lemonade and looking like serfs who’d lost their cows to famine, we all were getting into the spirit. The king decreed, “Eat, drink and be merry,” and we obeyed.

Still, it’s not all frivolity. The show hits a low point when the wenches gather for an anti-war ballad. If anything, it could have used a sword fight or two. But the formula must be working, as the content and the cast rarely change. I can’t commit to a channel, yet here’s a man who’s spent 19 years as Squeegee, a man who smiled as he shared a post-performance beer with his king and accepted a pickled thanks from us.

“I liked our wench,” said my friend Adam later, as we discussed the show’s merits. “I would recommend it, as a Bostonian, as something to knock off your checklist. But I was looking forward to the old English arts, thys and thous. That was my one letdown.”

I found the omission a blessing and hereby decree: If Chaucer isn’t your thing, the Medieval Manor might be.