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Pennying is a drinking game that is thought to have originated amongst students and dons at the University of Oxford during the 13th or 14th century. Unlike most drinking games, the rules of pennying are almost never explicitly declared to be in force; rather, by putting oneself in a social situation involving the consumption of alcohol, one is implicitly subjected to the rules should a "Pennying" situation occur.
At Oxford, there is a similar tradition named a "crewdate", deriving originally from rowing crews, but which has now expanded out to encompass other sporting teams and societies. This is similarily true for the Cambridge, pennying is especially prevalent at "formal hall", or other dinner equivalent, between two dining societies. In most cases, sufficient wine will be provided so that there is enough to go round, and hence the aim is to get other people to drink as much as possible, or to avoid drinking oneself, due to the copious resources available. The occurrence is less common in pubs where drinks are larger and more expensive.
Should someone manage to slip a penny into another person's drink after officially announcing pennying will take place on the night, the owner of the drink must completely consume it in one go, as fast as possible.
- The victim of the pennying is thereafter said to have been "pennied".
- In most universities, there is only one penny in play at any one time, and the person "pennying" must know the year on the coin. Once the person who has been "pennied" has finished their drink, they are allowed to check the penny and ask the "pennier" to name the year. If they don't know, or claim a different year, they are liable to finish the rest of their drink. Should it be empty, they must fill another and drink that as punishment.
- The person whose drink the pennier is about to penny, has to be touching the glass or holding the glass as you cannot penny a drink with nobody around and claim for the other person to drink. However the opposite is sometimes true, in that you can only penny someone if they are present but not holding their glass.
- The pennier cannot penny a glass that he or she has poured. As such, cooperation is often an essential part of the pennying process.
- A person unknowingly slipping a penny into a drink that already contains one is obliged to consume that drink as if he or she themselves had been pennied (double or revenge-pennying). A variant of this is if a person is guilty of double pennying then they must instead drink their own drink. This allows the person being pennied to keep their own drink and thus prevents people from intentionally double pennying to earn a free drink.
- The pennier must have a quantity of drink in his or her own glass to be eligible to penny. If someone pennies when his or her glass is empty, he or she is obliged to refill the glass and drink from it as if he or she has been pennied. The phrase employed is "an empty glass is a full glass".
- The owner of a pennied drink is allowed to keep the penny. Therefore, a "pennied" person has the small comfort of a free penny at the end of their forfeit, whereas someone guilty of "double-pennying" must forfeit both pennies to the owner of the drink.
- It is generally frowned upon, possibly even to the point of taboo, to refuse to drink a pennied beverage, or to "double-penny" intentionally a beverage with the intention of earning a free drink.
- If someone tries to penny a glass, but misses, he or she must down their own drink.
- In Australia, the official currency denomination used for pennying is either the five cent (5c) coin or the ten cent (10c) coin, depending which university one considers. Pennying in Australia is known more widely as coining, or 'God Save the Queen', where one must save the 'Queen' (that is, the image of the queen imprinted on the coin) from drowning.
- Paper money is invalid for the purposes of pennying; as paper floats, the drink poses no danger to the Sovereign.
- If the person who has been pennied catches the coin between his teeth, then the pennier must down his own drink/pint. This rule is sometimes not enforced due to the easy nature of catching the penny in such a way.
- If the person pennied can correctly predict the date on the penny they are not obliged to drink, but the pennier must drink their own drink instead.
- The "engineered penny", a penny which has been bent so that it can fit into a wine bottle, is not universally accepted as valid. The name refers to the clandestine use of university engineering equipment to bend the penny.
- Rules vary with location and company, as this is a light-hearted drinking game.
Variations and additional rules
Whether players follow these rules will likely depend on social pressure; there is no standard set of rules that players are obligated to follow. Where guests from one college are dining at another's formal hall, the rules followed by the hosts tend to apply. Dubious sources of authority are often cited; for example, at Cambridge, quite often the presidents of college "Dining Societies" are said to arbitrate on the rules.
- Much discussion exists over rules regarding pennying an empty glass. In some places this is frowned upon, but in many Durham and Cambridge Colleges the "Empty glass is a full glass rule" is often enforced. In these situations, if a diner has an empty glass pennied, the diner must fill it up and down it. This leads to certain elements of trickery, for example, if a glass has a small amount of wine in it, a potential pennier will double penny the near-empty glass, finish it, and then penny the glass, forcing the glass's owner to down a full glass.
- In some places, although generally not at Cambridge, one may not be required to drink a pennied beverage unless one has first acknowledged ownership of it by either a) drinking from it or b) pouring it for oneself. In the latter case, one pouring a drink is presumed to have intended it for oneself, and although that presumption is not conclusive, one claiming that one poured it for someone else must produce at least some evidence to support that contention.
- Suitably liquid foods may be used in place of drinks: soup and yoghurt are two prime targets. The victim must finish the pennied item of food in one go and without the use of cutlery.
- Similarly, a dessert may be pennied, the objective being to consume it hands free. However, this, in some Cambridge Colleges, must be done with a 5p piece. Here, the victim has been "silvered", and must thus consume their dessert without silver ware.
- If there are no pennies to hand (or if pennies have been banned due to their damaging effect on dishwashers), special powers may be invoked by which honorary penny status is conveyed upon a seemingly mundane object such as a fork, spoon or Smartie. To convey such a status one must place the item in the target beverage and declare it to be "The Knife of Strife", "The Spoon of Doom", or some such other rhyming title.
- In some places, Double-penniers are required, in addition to consuming the double-pennied drink, to replace the drink owner's drink with one equivalent in genre and volume to the pennied beverage, or alternatively of the owner's choosing (of a similar price). This acts as an effective deterrent to those who would intentionally double-penny a drink with the goal of winning a free one. This is usually not a problem at Oxford and Cambridge formal halls, due to the large amounts of wine that tends to be available.
- Coins not featuring the reigning Sovereign (foreign coins and those featuring deceased monarchs) do not incur the "pennying" forfeit as their submerged nature poses no metonymical danger to the Sovereign (see History Of Pennying below). Test cases involving abdicated monarchs are not known to have arisen while one was still alive (the only example in British history being Edward VIII), though theoretically a Pennied person would owe no allegiance to someone not of the direct line of succession of the British Royal Family.
- Pennying has even managed to adapt to the narrow-necked alcopop bottles - these are no longer safe from pennies folded in a vice, which are thus slim enough in profile to be dropped into the bottles through their openings. The pennies are called engineer's pennies and are often created by undergraduate engineers.
- Members of the Trinity Hall Guards must not penny other member Guards. Failure to comply will result in communal punishment. In the past this usually constitutes the requirement of guilty Guard to 'down' the remnants of his bottle of wine.
- In some variations, the year of issue of the coin must be stated to validify the pennying attempt. Upon the coin entering the drink, the thrower must state the year shown on the coin. If, after the drink has been consumed, the date is found to be incorrect, the thrower must also down their own drink.
- If a person who drops the penny into another's drink cannot recall the year on the coin, they must down the drink instead.
- The Rule of Dan states that in any dispute over drinking, whichever option involves collectively the most drinking is the option chosen. Anyone may invoke The Rule of Dan by saying: "I invoke The Rule of Dan".
- If the act of Pennying with a penny has been banned then there are accepted alternatives which can be used instead. These include Smarties, Lovehearts, M&Ms, or a bottle cap folded in half.
Variations between universities
- The Oxford and the Cambridge rules vary. In Oxford, one must have the glass in one's hand for it to be eligible for pennying, the only exception being at dinners in the Great Hall of Christ Church, Oxford where such a condition is not required for a pennying to be valid. If a glass on the table is pennied, the pennier must forthwith down the beverage, and buy the intended pennyee a replacement. In Cambridge there is no such rule and pennying may occur at any time, or sometimes the exact opposite rule is played.
- In most Cambridge colleges, anyone holding his or her glass above the surface of the table is immune from being pennied at that moment.
- In most Oxford colleges, a drink can only be pennied if the owner of the drink is touching or holding the glass. If an individual pennies a glass that the owner is not touching, then the pennier must down his or her own drink.
- In most Oxbridge colleges, once an individual has pennied a fellow diner they are then immune from being pennied by the initial penny-ee until the penny-ee has pennied another diner. Should the initial penny-ee proceed to penny the initial pennier without the prior pennying of a separate individual then this shall be declared to be a back-pennying and thus invalid. This rule is intended to disestablish cliques or vendettas which may form and promote social interaction.
- A variation on the pennying tradition is shoeing – if there is a spillage resulting from an unsuccessful pennying attempt, or any other unsocial or drunken act, the senior member of the table is obliged to remove his shoe. It is presented as a receptacle for the remains of the unpennied wine, which must then be drunk from the shoe by the pennying miscreant. This is used during Boat Club crew-dates at Oriel College, Oxford.
- Pennying has been explicitly banned from Pembroke College, St. Anne's College and Brasenose College, Oxford, as well as Jesus College, St Catharine's College, Cambridge, King's College and Magdalene College, Cambridge. Brasenose's code of conduct refers to the illicit activity as “the practice of dropping a coin in a cup to coerce someone to consume the contents." Student Newspapers reported that the St Anne's College authorities and the Junior Common Room had come into serious conflict when the Freshers of 2006 were informed that pennying remained 'a forbidden pleasure' in one of their guides to the college.
- At Durham University the glass must be held in the right hand in order for it to be eligible for pennying. Some would maintain - particularly in Durham Colleges - that one should not place one's hand over a glass or bottle ('guarding') in order to avoid its being pennied.
- The University of Bristol rules state that for a glass to be "in play" some of the contents must have been imbibed by the owner, and the owner must be at the table. Shielding of glasses is therefore very common and is not frowned upon. Any coins bearing the monarch's face may be used, although coppers tend to be the most popular. 'Double Pennying' is not regarded as an offence on the person adding the second (or further) coin but rather a shameful act on the part of the person who has been pennied for not finishing their drink with alacrity.
- In Teesside University, the person who has been pennied must down their drink before a chant (We Like To Drink With Jake, 'cos Jake is our mate, And when we drink with Jake, he gets it down in 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.".), sung by those around them, has finished. Such a chant generally lasts around 15 seconds.
- At Cardiff University, those within the student media societies (particularly Xpress Radio) drop badges into drinks bearing other radio station logos. However, only one badge is "in play" at any one time.
- The Royal Veterinary College in London follows standard pennying rules, however in foreign countries the use of the smallest coin is acceptable even though it lacks the queen. You may also be required to funnel your drink instead of just downing it but this is subject to appropriate chanting from the surrounding drinkers.
- In Northumbria University, pennying is not permitted, so the variant known as "two-peeing" must be used. This is where a 2p coin must be used as opposed to a 1p coin, with all other common rules in force.
At University College, Durham corking is enforced in Formal Hall. This makes use of traditional cork corks, metal wine bottle caps and champagne corks. The standard rules require that the glass to be corked is not held at the time and the glass cannot be purposefully held in order to prevent corking. If a drink is corked, the owner must down the wine the next time he touches the glass. However if another corker adds a second cork (double corking) the drink must be downed immediately. Some debate ensues between social groups as to whether one corker may cork with more than one cork. A person may call 'last glass' if it is the last of their wine, but this must be heard by at least four people immediately after being poured. It is illegal to cork a 'last glass', and some group maintain that the corker must down their own glass if accidentally corking a last glass. Champagne corks hold a special status, requiring the current glass, and a subsequent glass, to be downed immediately. Glasses should be kept over half full at all times - a corked glass containing less than means that, if corked, the corker is allowed to fill the glass to a level of their choice before the owner downs it. In the Undercroft Bar of the college, corking is not played and instead pennying is employed. In addition to standard rules, if the person pennied can correctly predict the date on the penny they are not obliged to drink, but the pennyer must drink their own drink instead.
The oft-quoted reason given for the need to "drink up" is that the Sovereign (depicted on the obverse or "heads" side of the submerged penny) is in danger of drowning and must be rescued immediately. Cries of "God Save the Queen!" may be heard, uttered immediately prior to the consumption of the beverage. No canonical text outlines the custom of pennying, hence the great variations in its practised rules. Despite there being no evidence that this practice goes back more than a few decades, apocryphal tales and oral tradition among some within the University of Cambridge would attribute its origin to the time of the reign of Henry VIII.
While the historicity of this account of the origin of Pennying is almost as doubtful as the validity of its posing actual mortal danger to the Sovereign, Pennying has certainly lasted long enough to become a credible tradition within Oxford, Cambridge and a few other places (such as the University of St Andrews) elsewhere in the United Kingdom.
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