Bar bet

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A bar bet is a bet made between two patrons at a bar. Bar bets can range from wagers about little-known trivia, such as obscure historical facts, to feats of skill and strength. Some bar bets are intended to trick the other party into losing.

Famous bar bets[edit]

  • The annual Midnight Sun baseball game played in Fairbanks, Alaska (the only game to be contested after midnight without the use of artificial lighting) was established in 1906 as the result of a bar bet.[1][2]
  • Two of Tony Hawks' books, Round Ireland With A Fridge (ISBN 0-09-186777-0) and Playing The Moldovans At Tennis (ISBN 0-09-187456-4), were written describing Hawks' attempts to win two bar bets.
  • The film To Have and Have Not is supposedly the result of bar bet between Ernest Hemingway and Howard Hawks, with Hemingway betting Hawks that Hawks couldn't make a good film from Hemingway's worst novel.[3]
  • It is widely believed[according to whom?] that the creation of Scientology was the result of a bar bet between L. Ron Hubbard and Robert A. Heinlein. The story says L. Ron Hubbard dared that he could create a religion all by himself. According to Scientology critic Lindsay[4] this is "definitely not true", no such bet was ever made, it would have been "uncharacteristic of Heinlein" to make such a bet, and "there's no supporting evidence". However, several of Heinlein's autobiographical pieces, as well as biographical pieces written by his wife, claim repeatedly that the bet did indeed occur. Heinlein's novel Stranger in a Strange Land is sometimes claimed to be his attempt at winning the bet.[citation needed]
  • A class of Feynman Diagram became known as a Penguin diagram due to a bar bet between physicists John Ellis and Melissa Franklin.[5]


Under contract law, bar bets may or may not be legally binding, and the winning party may have difficulty having a court enforce the bet. A written contract, drawn up soberly the next day and signed by both parties, can avoid doubt.

For example, if one or both parties are intoxicated when the bet is made, they may be found to lack capacity to agree to a contract, and the contract thus found void or voidable.

However, the fact that the agreement is oral but not written does not undermine it: oral contracts are valid, though certain contracts must be written, under the statute of frauds.

Trick Bets[edit]

In the UK in particular, bar bets are tricks which the "mark" cannot win. They usually depend upon a condition set in the bet that the mark doesn't notice. Some famous examples:

  • The mark is told that a coin of a particular denomination has been made so it cannot be laid on its edge. The trickster offers him a sum of money for any the mark can lay on edge. When the mark succeeds, the trickster grabs the coin and rewards him with the promised sum - which is always less than the value of the grabbed coin.
  • The trickster bets a mark who has just bought a drink that he can swallow the drink without touching the glass or using a straw. When the bet is taken, the trickster grabs the drink and swallows it - and hands over the wagered sum, again much less than the value of the drink.
  • A darts player is bet by the trickster that he will lose a game, even though offered many advantages, one of which is always that the mark's scores will be doubled. Only when close to finishing does the mark realise that because he started from an odd number (say, 201) he cannot finish on a double (as is traditional in darts) because he always has an odd score as a target. The trickster can continue to play from, say, 1001, but is bound to win eventually.
  • A mark is informed that it is possible to push a wine glass through the handle of a pint jar without breaking either. When he accepts the bet, the trickster places the wine glass next to the handle and pokes it with a finger that passes through the handle.
  • A mark is told that if he stands in the middle of the floor, by the time the trickster has walked around him three times, the mark will have walked away from the encounter. Various conditions ensuring no violence will be used are given, but when the bet is taken the trickster simply sits down, leaving the mark stranded in the middle of the bar.
  • Some bar bets are physical impossibilities rather than word-based tricks, such as that supposedly invented by music hall start Tommy Trinder.

Sometimes collectors of bar bets will battle each other to see which one knows the most tricks. It is a given that each must accept the bet proposed by the other.


  1. ^ "Midnight Sun Game". Alaska Goldpanners. Archived from the original on 10 December 2005. Retrieved 2005-12-19. 
  2. ^ Williams, Van (2005-06-22). "100 Years of Midnight Baseball Fun in Fairbanks: A 1906 bar bet has turned into a tradition on summer solstice". Anchorage Daily News. 
  3. ^ "To Have and Have Not". The Rake. Retrieved 2005-12-19. 
  4. ^ Don Lindsay. "Non-Scientologist FAQ on "start a religion"". Church of Scientology exposed. Archived from the original on 12 December 2005. Retrieved 2005-12-19. 
  5. ^ "ITEP Lectures in Particle Physics". 

Further reading[edit]

  • Diamond Jim Tyler (September 2008). Bamboozlers: The Book of Bankable Bar Betchas, Brain Bogglers, Belly Busters & Bewitchery- Volume One. Diamond Jim Productions. ISBN 978-0-9676018-1-6. 
  • Diamond Jim Tyler (December 2009). Bamboozlers: The Book of Bankable Bar Betchas, Brain Bogglers, Belly Busters & Bewitchery- Volume Two. Diamond Jim Productions. ISBN 978-0-9676018-3-0. 
  • Diamond Jim Tyler (June 2013). Bamboozlers: The Book of Bankable Bar Betchas, Brain Bogglers, Belly Busters & Bewitchery- Volume Three. Diamond Jim Productions. ISBN 978-0-9676018-5-4. 
  • Rub Cruit (October 1985). 175 Ways to Win a Free Drink: The Complete Book of Bar Bets. Dodd Mead. ISBN 0-396-08586-5. 
  • Henny Youngman (1974). Bar bets, bar jokes, bar tricks. Citadel Press. ISBN 0-9676018-1-9. 
  • Alan Ericksen (1981). Bar games, bets and challenges. Warner Books. ISBN 0-446-90648-4. 
  • Rich Ferguson (2010). Tricks to Pick Up Chicks: Magic Tricks, Lines, Bets, Scams & Psychology. Ingram. ISBN 1-4505-6018-0. 
  • Ill Betcha 50 of The Best Bar Bets (August 2015) author TC Tahoe and Erick Olson