Ever curious about the origins of beer pong? Thank Dartmouth, apparently:
As of spring 2006, various newspaper reports have attributed the origin of beer pong to Dartmouth College: “Legend has it that the game, which can be played with paddles and is also known for some reason as Beirut, started years ago at a Dartmouth College fraternity party.”  
The version of beer pong played at Dartmouth College, however, differs from that played at many colleges and universities in the U.S. Standard “beer pong,” the game known to Dartmouth students as Beirut, in which ping pong balls are thrown by hand at an opponent’s cups, is rarely played at Dartmouth, where play with paddles and back-and-forth volleys is the norm. Among students, this game is known simply as “pong”.
In its general form, pong has been traced back to at least the 1950s as a casual attempt to combine the popular activities of drinking and ping pong. The game is said to have been started when a fraternity brother first put his beer on the table while playing ping pong. Early pong had fewer cups and fewer rules, and was played by both men and women at parties, although it emerged before Dartmouth’s coeducation.
One of the earliest published photographs depicting a game of pong appeared in the Aegis of 1968, on page 304. The game as it is played today probably did not evolve until the late 1970s and may be tied to the advent of cheap plastic cups.
Adam Diamond ’03 wrote a Wespeak a while back also explaining the game.
Beirut is an offshoot of the drinking game Beer Pong. It is widely believed that Beer Pong first emerged in the 1950’s at either Dartmouth or the University of Massachusetts. Beer Pong involves using a paddle to hit a ping pong ball into beer filled cups. However, paddles proved difficult to come by or in some cases, even hold onto. Drunken collegiates learned that throwing the ball was quite challenging and just as much fun. Beer Pong was slowly morphing into The King of Drinking Games. By the early 1980s, the game was spreading like syphilis across college campuses all over the country. Since the arcing balls reminded many players of the bombs being dropped on Beirut, a new name was officially adopted. Beirut was born.
Beirut is played in a number of ways and numerous different sets of rules can be found at the web site www.playbeirut.org. I would like to share three of my favorite rules of the game. First, the Naked Rule occurs when one team hits all of their opponents’ cups before any of their cups are hit. When this magnificent feat is accomplished the losing team must strip down like John Charters in a drunken rage and take a lap outside the playing venue in their birthday suits. As far as I know Stephen Woodruff holds the record for personally handing out eighteen naked laps, and Flappy has also done three himself (and just think, he has all spring to add to his record). My second favorite rule is Bitches Blow, of course. This gives co-eds the opportunity to blow a swirling ball out of the cup before it touches the beer. It also allows them to showcase their hidden talents (believe you me, I have never seen anyone exploit this opportunity as much as Ms. Bianca Sultana does). The third rule, which I would like to discuss, is the rule of Thunderdome. While playing Thunder-dome Beirut the ball is “live” anywhere, in other words, after a ball is shot, both teams must frantically and sometimes viciously scramble for loose balls. This showcases the physical side of Beirut, with larger players, or those with more leverage, often pushing aside smaller players, such as Nick Armstrong or slow and lazy players like Mike Cappola for the live balls. The most epic Thunderdome game that I have had the pleasure of watching occurred with Pete Salisbury on one side of the table and his nemesis Tom Moran on the other. These two grown men wrestled each other raw, over and over again, all for a little ping-pong ball. Although I cannot recall who won the game (I blame the booze) it was one of the most entertaining games that I ever witnessed, and the passion…uhhh.
One final issue that I would like to address is the Field of Battle upon which you test your honor. Beirut tables are often over-looked, but they are an integral part of the game. I prefer to play on an 8 x 3 wooden table with raised edges. The wood allows for a natural, consistent bounce, while the raised edges can save a team at the end of the game as it is much more difficult for the last cup to be knocked off the table by balls commin’in hot. Also, remember that it is of course acceptable and highly encouraged that you decorate your table. Not only does it bring some color to those often drab “borrowed” Campus Center tables, but it shows a house’s enthusiasm, respect, and love for the game. In my time at Wes-Tech I have seen a number of great tables. The cream of the crop are the 1999 DKE Table (simple and classy), the Beta Flag Table, Chi Psi’s 12 Foot Table (with small cups), White Lightning’s Andrus Field Table, Brad Wasik’s Ghana/Bahamas Table, Chris Walsh and Tom Moran’s American Flag Table, and my home table, the Lebanese Flag Table at the Vineyard. After all, why not honor the country that was the inspiration for The King of Drinking Games. But perhaps the most interesting and original set up is on Fountain Avenue between the two houses spearheaded by Sam Hiersteiner and Dave Vanech. On this table, players from each house drop, bend over, and blast each other with greased-up potatoes instead of the smaller, gentler ping pong balls.