The Science Behind Beer Pong

The Science Behind Beer Pong
beer pong by Laura LaRose licensed by CC BY 2.0

It’s Saturday night, and you’ve made your way to one of the many sorority or fraternity parties occurring all across the country. Once inside the house, and well-refreshed, a noisy celebration from the next room over draws your attention.

As you come closer to the room in question, it becomes evident that you’ve stumbled in on one serious game of beer pong. Rather than sitting idly by and witnessing other people become heroes, you decide to claim rights to the next game.

Before you pick up that little plastic ball and put your reputation on the line, you might want to learn a little more about the science of beer pong.

Whether you realize it or not, during the course of a game of beer pong, you probably performed a method similar to the famous Scientific Method in your late-night quest to achieve glory.

The Scientific Method includes the following steps:

  • Make observations
  • Form a hypothesis
  • Formulate a prediction
  • Perform an experiment
  • Analyze the results
  • Draw a conclusion
  • Report the results

As you observe other players nailing cups with precision, you begin to formulate your own hypothesis as to how you will hit your intended target. The instant that you grab a ball and position your arm to hit the cup that you’ve selected, mechanoreceptors in the skin of your fingers relay information about the size, weight, and texture of the ball.

Proprioceptors in the muscles in your throwing arm relate information about where your arm is in space back to your brain. Gamma motor neurons begin to stimulate your muscle spindle fibers in several muscles (Deltoid muscles, triceps muscles, biceps muscles, etc.) to create the proper muscle tone in preparation for your throw.

Light energy from the surrounding environment enters your eyes and stimulates photoreceptors. These photoreceptors relay the input to sensory neurons in your retina and eventually to the occipital lobe of your cerebral cortex, resulting in an image of your target.

With your cup and victory dance pre-determined, you decide to throw the ball. When you do this, you create several action potentials, or electrical impulses, in your brain that are aided by the input from all of the senses (and more) mentioned above.

These impulses travel down your spinal cord and cause events that activate nerves that originate in your spinal cord. The nerves originating in your spinal cord will then cause you to contract specific muscles after a series of complex interactions inside the muscle.

If you’re lucky or talented, you’ve produced the perfect amount of force in the right direction and are one cup closer to being named champion. Unfortunately, if you unknowingly calculated with error during your throw, then you have missed the cup entirely and amused your opponent in the process.

So, you observed, hypothesized, predicted, and experimented. Now you must analyze the results, conclude what happened, and report the findings to yourself.

Thankfully, you can perform every critical step in seconds, which wouldn’t happen without the science of your body!