Battle of the bar games

When the kiddies are away, CN&R’s staffers will play—the Bar Olympics

Shuffleboard with Meredith J. Cooper

Shuffleboard with Meredith J. Cooper

The business plan of a bar seems pretty straightforward: provide beer, booze and at least passable savory snacks as cheaply as possible, and people will come. But, since every bar is using basically the same formula, in order to stand out—especially in a college town—establishments need to do more. And in Chico, every watering hole features some level of additional distraction: live music, comedy, Giants games on giant TVs, DJs, karaoke and games—lots and lots of different games. There are table games (pool, ping-pong, foosball, etc.), video games, board games, trivia nights, card games, darts; something for everyone every night of the week.

And since this issue of the CN&R lands on the traditionally festive St. Patrick’s Day holiday—and during the week Chico State traditionally schedules its spring break and diverts students from its sphere of responsibility—the time seemed right for us to celebrate our local purveyors of fun at a time when their chief clientele is off partying elsewhere, and at a time when the town is quiet enough to coax locals out to make up for their absence.

So, to gauge the possibilities for gameplay in Chico, we organized a competition, a Bar Olympics if you will, featuring some of the “seasoned” members of the editorial staff competing in 10 different games at 10 different bars/restaurants. We even dragged along a couple of young’uns to beat up on … er, we mean, to keep the oldsters sharp.

We went out twice. First, on a Sunday night, with four stops and four contestants—Managing Editor Meredith J. Cooper, Arts Editor Jason Cassidy, Assistant News/Healthlines Editor Howard Hardee and 23-year-old intern Mason Masis (someone needed to take notes … and accept humiliations gracefully). That was followed by a Wednesday night, six-venue/event marathon, with additional players—Staff Writer Ken Smith (pulling double-duty by competing and celebrating his 40th birthday) and Calendar Editor Ernesto Rivera (a recent Chico State grad charged with smart-ass retorts and keeping Mason’s spirits up) joining the rest in competition.

What follows is both a diary of our 10-event progressive party of games and revelry, told by the winners of each event, as well as a guide for locals to go out and play while the students are away. As you’ll read, Howard won the most games. But in spending time with friends, sharing beers and laughs, tears and beer-soaked bras, we were all winners.

All feet on the table

The owners of the DownLo should change its name to The Basement. It’s underground, there’s a bar, snacks, widescreen TVs, occasionally bands will play shows down there, and there are a ton of games—darts, a mini shuffleboard table, pool (10 Diamond tables!) and, in one dark corner, a solitary foosball table at which we kicked off our 10-event Olympiad.

With pints in hand, and under cloak of darkness (neither the bartender nor anyone in our posse could locate a light switch), the four who made it out on this first night quickly whittled down to two finalists, with yours truly facing off against Mason. Being journalists and all, we didn’t bother to look up any rules and simply played first-to-10-points wins (instead of five, as it is actually played), and after surging ahead 8-6, the intern was summarily skunked.

My strategy was two-fold: Pay enough attention after each point to ensure my goal-defenders were realigned and ready to block, and when the ball was in play, violently spin the footballer-kebobs any time the ball is remotely in the vicinity. Apparently, spinning is a frowned-upon technique in “table football,” but whatever, it’s not like the intern’s going to do anything about it.

—Jason Cassidy

Bring me his head!

The Tackle Box doesn’t spend a lot of time worrying about preconceptions. It’s a tackle-and-bait shop, and it’s a nightclub. You can buy a gun and a wood-fired pizza. It’s a lot of things all at once, and it’s best to not overthink it. If you have a craving to drink, play, hunt, eat, fish or dance, they’ll take care of you.

One of the many things under the roof of the south Chico gathering place—at the far end of the building under a row of mounted animal heads—is a shuffleboard table. With time constraints and the distraction of plates of delicious fried fish and potatoes informing our approach—we stationed two players on either side of the long table and played four at once, with the winner being whomever was in the lead when we had to bail. The intern and Meredith offered as much resistance as a weighted puck gliding across a slick, sandy surface, and it came down to Howard and myself. With one final turn to go, he led 11-10, and then my last gently arcing shuffle curved around the other pucks and landed snugly in the 3-point zone as the spirits of vanquished wildlife howled in support.

—Jason Cassidy

Oh, the humanity!

Jason, Meredith, Mason and I headed over to The Argus Bar + Patio and sipped some top-notch cocktails over Cards Against Humanity, which is basically a dark and often sexually perverse take on Apples to Apples. The lounge area was entirely empty on this Sunday evening and just a few guys were sitting at the bar.

The gist of the game is that you complete fill-in-the-blank statements (i.e., “What don’t you want to find in your Kung Pao chicken?”) with one of seven cards in your hand and whoever has the funniest answer wins the round. So, it’s mostly about knowing your friends’ sense of humor. Whatever was most intensely gross won Jason’s favor, while Meredith appreciated the combinations that actually made some sense and Mason seemed to prefer witty stuff. Mason came to the wrong table.

We played the first to seven cards wins. The highlight was Meredith’s incredulous reading of a card—“micro-penis”—and then going off on one of her unstoppable laughing sprees in the otherwise dead-silent bar.

Mostly by luck of the draw, I was the first to seven. My personal favorite winning card asked, “What’s the most emo?” The answer, it turned out, was geese. Geese are the most emo.

—Howard Hardee

Put a S-P-E-L-L on me

Spelling Bee with Howard Hardee

For our fourth and final stop the first night out, we headed over to the Maltese Bar & Tap Room at 9 p.m., in time to sign up for Smashed, “the booze-fueled spelling bee.” Of all the events on our schedule, this one was certainly the most unique. Held the last Sunday of each month, Smashed is exactly as advertised—you must have a drink in hand when you arrive on the stage, and when you’re given a word, you must say it, spell it, repeat it. Just like a real spelling bee! Only all the words were kinda dirty!

As one might expect, the first round was the easiest—mostly four-letter words (hehe)—and each round got progressively more difficult. All the guys got knocked out in succession, starting with Howard, who apparently thinks there are two Y’s in “rhythm.” Jason and Mason don’t know their drugs, as they failed with “ecstasy” and “peyote,” respectively. I went two rounds further. Some of my words? Monogamy. Fornicate. And, finally, I was out with “abstinence.” (Not sure what that says about me.)

—Meredith J. Cooper

Going for bulls-eye

Darts with Ken Smith

We started our second—and final—night out on the north end of town at a funky little bar called Shenanigan’s. I love the feel of this place. It’s like being in an old house (because it is an old house), with private little alcoves and a nice open bar.

When we arrived—Ken joined us, but Jason and Ernesto were running late—we ordered beers and made our way to the basement, where there are two nice pool tables and an old-school jukebox with a constantly rising volume button. We were there to play darts, and the aficionados among us (if you could call them that) settled on a game of cricket. The goal is to hit three each of everything from 15 to bulls-eye, with the thin outer ring counting double and the thin inner ring and dead-center bulls-eye counting triple.

Howard came out to an early lead while the rest of us worked at hitting our marks. We were all pretty even by the final round, in which Howard was shooting for three bulls and I needed a 20, 15 and three bulls. In that one turn, though, I hit the 20, then the 15 and finally the dead-center bulls-eye. Take that! (The sad part of this story is that for days my arm was totally sore from repeatedly throwing those tiny projectiles.)

—Meredith J. Cooper

Balls to the wall

It was fairly busy in Quackers’ new pool room when we arrived, but we lucked out and got a table, one of the 8-footers, and deposited enough cash ($4) to cover us for an hour. We decided that since I play pool, like, all the time, the guys would play off to determine who would face me. (And I crossed my fingers I’d win!)

First up was Jason vs. Howard. There were some pretty awesome shots in this game, and after a short 8-ball battle, Howard sunk it. Unfortunately, he sunk the cue ball, too. The second game, though, between Mason and Ken, was a doozy. Early on, the 8-ball found its way to the corner pocket, blocking just about every one of Mason’s stripes and one of Ken’s solids. It was really only a matter of time before one of them knocked it in early, and sure enough that honor went to Mason.

Somehow I missed most of the playoff between Jason and Ken—all I know is the birthday boy (Ken) came out the victor. Then it was my turn. I screwed together my cues, donned my super fashionable glove, and let him have it. To be fair, he made a few good shots and left me some pretty tough ones. But yeah, I got him.

—Meredith J. Cooper

Trivial tippling

Drinking makes you smarter. Sure, there’s plenty of so-called scientific evidence to the contrary, but a good quantitative measure of the more-beer-equals-more-brains theory is barroom trivia, a rare situation in which we drunken lovers of useless knowledge can hoist our nerd flags high and slit some throats.

So it went at Woodstock’s Pizza that fateful Wednesday, where my “News” team (Howard, Mason and myself) steamrolled our co-workers on the Meredith-led “Review” team (which also included Jason and Ernesto) in two rounds of trivia. We cinched the victory 10 to 8 by knowing things like Pax is the Roman goddess of peace, a female horse under 4 years old is called a filly, and that MacBeth takes place in Scotland.

Woodstock’s trivia is held every Wednesday and runs longer than the two rounds we participated in, and the overall winner that evening was “Team Pie Hole.” It’s usually themed—recent examples include “animals” and “slogans”—but the night we played was “random.” It can be played as a one-off event, or teams can compete in five-week challenges.

Though technically not barroom trivia, there’s ample beer available, so it qualifies.

—Ken Smith

Hot air

Air hockey with Howard Hardee (foreground) and Mason Masis

We headed across the street and underground to the University Bar for air hockey. I wasn’t feeling so hot about the Bar Olympics, considering my heartbreaking losses in shuffleboard, drunken spelling and darts. The only event I’d won at that point was Cards Against Humanity—not even a true bar game. Maybe I’d lost my touch.

So I watched somewhat anxiously as Mason and Ernesto duked it out (Mason won handily) and then Jason defeated Meredith. Then, in the game to decide who’d play me, Meredith beat Ernesto 7-2, to Ernesto’s everlasting shame. Meredith and I had a hard-fought match, which I won 7-3, but I was totally sweating it.

Next up was Jason, my longtime nemesis. Before inserting the coins, he told me, “If I win, you’ll lose to a 46-year-old man.”

Nothing gets this typically mild-mannered reporter fired up like shit talk. Apparently, I got visibly serious, because I was roundly mocked by the peanut gallery for assuming an “athletic stance” and my “nice form.” Turns out my stupidly competitive side just needed some prodding.

I dispatched Jason 7-1, and I’m pretty sure I heard him whimper a little. Next up was Mason. I could see hope in his eyes, which, of course, had to be extinguished. After drubbing the intern 7-2, I left the U-Bar with a little swagger in my step.

—Howard Hardee

Off to the races

Trike races with Ernesto Rivera

The trike races at Madison Bear Garden, held every Wednesday at 10 p.m. sharpish, go like this: While wearing a funny helmet (mandatory) and bra (optional, but it takes 10 seconds off your time), you ride a lap around the bar and then chug a beer. The clock stops once said beer is pounded.

As the last CN&R staffer to race, I concluded that nothing gives me more joy than watching Meredith ride a tricycle. The time to beat, however, was Jason’s (21.10 seconds).

Ken gave me a pep talk. “For the rest of us, this is all fun and games,” he said. “But I expect a performance out of you. You’ve got to crush these fools.”

Before mounting the trike, I was handed the official Bear bra, wet and spongy from spilled beer, but I had some difficulty with the straps. (Never been good with those.) I decided to wear it like a necklace. “That’s a funny way to wear a bra, dude,” the race host observed.

I pedaled furiously, but while making a turn around the bathrooms, my foot slipped off. I’d botched it. No—do it for Ken, I thought, and hit the nitros.

The beer-chugging part was gross because it was Bud Light. Also, I was breathing in the fumes of burning rubber. From the tires. Because that’s how fast I went.

My time: 20.44 seconds, right in Jason’s face.

—Howard Hardee

For ultimate glory

Ping pong with Jason Cassidy (left) and Howard Hardee

Our last stop was The Oasis, which bills itself as Chico’s longest-running college bar. It was past midnight and pretty much everyone was drunk and loud.

The game was ping-pong, which historically I’ve taken way too seriously. Again, Jason was talking mild smack because Meredith and I were tied in total events, 3-3, and this decided the Bar Olympics gold medal winner. No matter. He didn’t know how much ping-pong I’d played over many long, dark Alaskan winters.

My first opponent was the always-gregarious Ernesto, who, though charming, couldn’t return a serve to save his life. I skunked him 7-0.

My final threat was Jason, who can return a serve. We had some good rallies, but by game point the score was, like, 20-6, or something just as silly.

Obviously, I delivered the final blow, crushing a ball past Jason—who, by my razor-sharp recollection, was openly weeping—and fulfilling my destiny as undisputed bar-games champion of the universe, or the office or whatever. Surely it was the culmination of my journalism career, the reason I went to college and played all those bar games.

What I didn’t know: The winner was obligated to pose on the cover of the CN&R in a really tight-fitting track suit. So, yeah. Sorry, public.

—Howard Hardee