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.