beer pong
March 9, 2015

Beer pong is actually pretty gross, study says

Brett Smith for redOrbit.com - @ParkstBrett

Like learning to ride a bike or going to that first ball game with your father, playing beer pong is a rite of passage most Americans look back upon with warm, fond memories.

But surprisingly, according to a new study, beer pong may not exactly be the healthiest way to spend a Thursday afternoon when you’re actually supposed to be in sitting in that Physics 101 lecture. In fact, it could make you sick – in more ways than one.

The new study, published in the International Journal of Food Safety, Nutrition and Public Health, tried to answer the question that inevitably gets asked mid-way though a game of beer pong: Exactly how clean are these ping-pong balls right now?

Transferring E. coli

In case you didn’t party much in your twenties, beer pong is a simple party game that basically involves taking a ping-pong ball, throwing it across a table, into a cup of beer and having your opponent drink said cup of beer. The problem is – the ball often goes caroming off the cup, and onto the floor or pavement, where all manner of things may be lying in wait. Non-germophobes will simply chase after the ball, return to the table and resume tossing the ball, possibly covered in dust and fecal matter, directly into cups filled with warm beer.

In the study, researchers tested beer pong balls used at a number of different locations, from outdoors at a barbecue, to an indoor carpeted area. While the bacterial species found on the balls were not considered pathogenic, the team did find that balls used in outdoor games had a greater density of microbes.

In a second part of the study, researchers wanted to see how effective the balls were in transferring microbes to beer. They saw that balls inoculated with a non-pathogenic strain of Escherichia coli (E. coli) were 100 percent effective at transferring the bacteria.

The best partner of all time

In January, we learned about one beer pong player that will never have to worry about getting an E. coli infection – a robotic arm called Versaball. A YouTube video released by the robot’s maker Empire Robotics showed Versaball smoothly and efficiently playing a flawless round of beer pong.

Not just built to master beer pong, Versaball is designed to pick up sharp objects and other things that might be a risk for human hands. The robot owes its unique skills to a unique gripper system based on a malleable green ball.

“The green ball is filled with a sand-like material. When air is pumped into the ball, the ball softens,” Empire Robotics said in a press release. “The ball is then pushed against the target object. Pulling air out of the ball jams the sand like material together, causing the ball to harden. This transition from soft to hard creates the gripping forces.”

After debuting at the Consumer Electronics Show in January, Versaball also went on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon – and surprisingly was not asked to play a parlor game or do an impression.

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