44. Ping pong cocktail

10 Dec

“Is the manager up-to-date?”

“Sure; he’s introduced a game of ping-pong in the balcony scene in Romeo and Juliet.”

— Yonkers Statesman, repr. in Life, vol. 39, no. 1019 (8 May 1902), p. 410.

To ping or not to pong, that is the question: / Whether it is more tranquil in the mind to suffer / The slings and slightings of not being in it, / Or to take arms against a slew of volleys / And by serving, smash things. To ping, to pong— / And by ping-pong to say we end the thousand other fadlets / That we are heir to, ‘Tis a consummation / Devoutly to be wished. And yet, / When he have shuffled off this ping-pong coil / What other craze my come—aye, there’s the rub!

— T.M. “A Soliloquy”, Life, vol. 39, no. 1020 (15 May 1902), p. 424.

Some countries are fadless. Therefore they sink into old fogeyism, and we rarely hear from them again. It is only by constantly creating new fads that any country can hope to hold its own. That is why, among the nations of the earth, we are so proud and happy and pre-eminent. […] If it were not for our fads we would not be the serious people that we are.

— “Fads”, Life, vol. 52, no. 1351 (17 September 1908), p. 298.

From: Publishers' Weekly, vol. 63, no. 1627 (4 April, 1903), p. 964.

Here’s yet another cocktail inspired by a contemporary craze. Ping pong or table tennis originated in Britain as an after-dinner parlour game around 1881. It was then, according to a rumour reported by Arnold Parker, the first ping pong champion of London, that “someone started to play the game . . .  with cigar-box lids for bats, champagne corks for balls, and a row of books for a net” (Ping-Pong [New York and London: Puttnam, 1902], p. 6). The first manufactured versions began to appear some ten years later: David Foster filed a patent in July 1890 for an “apparatus for imitating known games, such as lawn tennis, football, and cricket, on an ordinary table”. With its strung rackets and side-netting designed to catch wayward rubber balls, this prototype was something of a platypusian oddity. A year later, in July 1891, the venerable games-maker Jaques and Son, which a couple of years before had become the exclusive distributors of another Victorian indoor sporting sensation, viz. Tiddledy-Winks [sic], brought out the first mass-produced table tennis kit under the trademarked name “Gossima”; this featured long-handled battledores, a cork ball and high nets. Neither of these early iterations really caught on, chiefly because the balls used were, well, balls: the rubber variety was too wild and the cork one not lively enough.

Only when celluloid balls were introduced in 1900 did the game really take off. Now skill and finesse, not unpredictable bounce, determined the outcome of a match. In September of that same year Hamley Brothers trademarked the onomatopoeic name “Ping-Pong”, derived from the sound the new ball made when struck by the old-style rackets, and produced sets together with Jaques and Son, initially as “Gossima or Ping-Pong” and then just “Ping-Pong”. (A few months later rival firm Slazenger registered the less-promising name “Whiff-Waff”.) By Christmas of 1900, and for the next few months, Arnold Parker recalled, “every one, more or less, played Ping-Pong”. The game was put away during the summer, when the lukewarm British sun summoned the middle-classes to the tennis court and croquet lawn; but then, around September 1901, the “boom started” (Parker, p. 7). One American newspaper reported from London: “Bridge cards have been laid aside, motoring is neglected, the theatres are abandoned, and even the [Boer] war is forgotten in the delights of this new fad” (“The Ping-Pong Craze”, Baltimore Sun, 3 January 1902, p. 6). In fact, the only topic of conversation to rival ping pong was Elizabeth Wells Gallup’s intervention in the Bacon-Shakespeare controversy (she claimed to have discovered a cipher in Shakespeare’s plays that proved Francis Bacon was their true author). Ping-pong clubs were formed, tournaments were held and, almost immediately, rival associations sprang into existence: the Table Tennis Association and the Ping Pong Association, each with its own championship and slightly different rules.  (The schism was caused by the fact that “Ping Pong” was a trademark and strictly policed by Jaques and Hamley Bros., who insisted that their ping pong equipment be exclusively used in tournaments and clubs.)

Newspapers and magazines were flooded with articles initiating readers into the ping pong’s rules and techniques, explaining the subtle differences between available bats and balls, and offering guidance on what to wear when playing. There was one indisputable index of its high favour. “Ping-pong has completed its title to be considered a popular game,” observed the Daily Telegraph. “It has produced a disease which is at least as much its own as the tennis-elbow is the product of that delightful pastime.” Constance Bantock, the “Lady Champion of England”, might well have believed that all that pinging and ponging was “such a health-giving exercise that the game itself brings its own reward” (“The Game of Ping Pong”, Pearson’s Magazine, vol. 7: 6 [June 1902], pp. 596-600 [p. 599]);  but in the British Medical Journal Dr F. Graham Crookshank, who had diagnosed a stricken ping-pongist with tenosynovitis, warned darkly that the strain placed on the tibialis anticus muscle by excessive devotion to the “national sport” would, until appropriate “costume and footgear” were developed, result in further cases (“Ping-Pong Teno-Synovitus”, British Medical Journal, vol. 1, no. 2157 [3 May 1902], p. 1083).  The newspapers called it “ping-pong ankle”.

From: Life, vol. 39, no. 1024 (12 June 1902), p. 503.

The Ping Pong brand was licensed to Parker Brothers in the US, a company already responsible for a best-selling precursor to table tennis: “Pillow Dex” (1896), in which players swatted a balloon over a net stretched across a table. Ping pong proved just as popular in America as it had in Britain; in fact, as Henry Essex put it in the National Magazine, in both countries it was about to “reach the highest point of success a game has ever known” (“Ping Pong: The Greatest of In-Door Games”, National Magazine, vol. 17 [October 1902 – March 1903], pp. 127-30 [p. 128]). The Chinese ambassador to the US, Wu Ting-Fang, denied reports that, like everyone else in America, he had been seized by the “ping-pong-pang”, and called it a “childish game” (“Mr Wu on Ping-Pong”, New York Times, 9 May 1902, p. 5), but a fictional émigré of the Middle Kingdom had this to say on the subject:

So extraordinary was the early demand for it that it appeared as though everybody in America was determined to own and play ping pong. The dealers could not produce it fast enough. Factories were established all over the country, and the tools were ground out by the ten thousands. Books were written on the ethics of the game; experts came to the front; ping pong weeklies and monthlies were founded, to dumbfound the masses, and the very air vibrated with the “ping” and the “pong”.

The old and young, rich and poor, feeble and herculean, all played it. Doctors advised it, children cried for it, and a fashionable journal devised the correct ping-pong costume for players. Great matches were played between the experts of various sections, and this sport, a game really for small children, after the fashion of battledore and shuttlecock, ran its course among young and old. Pictures of adult ping-pong champions were blazoned in the public print; even churchmen took it up. Public gardens had special ping-pong tables to relieve the stress. At last the people seized upon ping pong, and it became common. Then it was dropped like a dead fish.

— Henry Pearson Gratton, As a Chinaman Saw Us (New York: Appleton, 1916), pp. 269-70.

Yep, by 1904 the fad had more or less burnt itself out. The game wouldn’t be resurrected for a generation, but while the craze raged ping pong insinuated itself into every corner of British and American life. Smart folks scented an opportunity. As the extravagantly named La Touche Hancock poetically counselled in Printer’s Ink, a journal for advertisers:

If up-to-date you’ll advertise / Ping-pong shoes and ping-pong ties, / Ping-pong cakes, and ping-pong clothes, / Ping-pong pills and ping-pong hose, / Ping-pong crackers and ping-pong soap, / Ping-pong cocktails, ping-pong “dope” / Ping-pong cigarettes, cigars, / Ping-pong  motors, ping-pong cars, / Ping-pong tea of ping-pong brew, / Ping-pong  ice cream soda, too, / Ping-pong  couches, ping-pong beds, / Ping-pong  hats for ping-pong  heads, / Ping-pong  for ping-pong  girls, / Ping-pong irons for ping-pong  curls, / Ping-pong shirts, and ping-pong stocks, / Ping-pong watches, ping-pong clocks, / Ping-pong curtains, ping-pong rugs, / Ping-pong remedies for bugs, / Ping-pong  hairpins, ping-pong nails, / Ping-pong carpets, ping-pong veils, / Ping-pong plasters for your corns, / Ping-pong whistles, ping-pong horns, / Ping-pong goods and ping-pong trash, / Why, then you’ll ping-pong lots of cash!

— La Touche Hancock, “Ping Pong Posers”, Printer’s Ink, vol. 39:11 (June 11, 1902), p. 45.

Included in that bewildering list of ping pong cash-ins is our real subject: the ping pong cocktail. Our old friend Tom Daly included a drink by that title in his 1903 Bartender’s Encyclopedia. It consisted of 2 or 3 dashes of wormwood bitters, 1 dash of ginger cordial, 2/3 jigger of Tom gin, 1/3 jigger of Scotch whiskey, and was garnished with a cherry and an orange twist. In truth, though, it was more whiff-waff than ping-pong. Which is to say, it didn’t catch on. The (later?) version of the cocktail that would be passed between cocktail books in the 1920s and 1930s, and which Robert Vermeire attributed to Bill Boothby of San Francisco, is rather different. It is, as Vermeire also notes, basically a Manhattan made with sloe gin instead of rye or bourbon.

1/4 gill sloe gin [1 ½ oz.]

1/4 gill Italian vermouth

1 dash angostura bitters [I used 3]

1 cherry

— “Bernard”, 100 Cocktails and How to Mix Them (London: Foulsham, n.d.), p. 54.

The result is a sweet, fruity and not particularly potent compound: a mid-game refreshment that certainly won’t affect the average Ping-Pongist’s play. As with a conventional Manhattan, a drier drink can be achieved with French vermouth.

From: Life, vol. 39, no. 1015 (10 April 1902), p. 307.

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