Saturday, November 06, 2010

Congress Street

This aptly named side street in Saratoga Springs, New York was once the traditional destination for a few randy Dartmouth men who had struck out with their dates at Skidmore (The Skids).  To get a better idea of the true purpose of this diversion read this fictionalized account of one Halloween there: Trick or Treat.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Wales's Tails

Recently on Dartblog, Isaiah Berg mentioned that Dartmouth fraternities/sororities were playing the drinking game, “Tails” (see here). That rocked me back on my heels … as over 50 years ago at Sigma Nu we played a drinking game “Wales Tails” (in order to speed up the inebriation process.) May I assume that the current game is one and the same? To test this theory of tradition persistence I thought I would describe the game we played and see if it is equivalent to what fraternities and sororities are playing today.

The premise of this game was that the Prince of Wales had lost his cut-away tuxedo (his tails) and was trying to find it by accusing others at the table (usually from 4 to 7 others) of taking it. There was a pitcher or two of beer at the table and everyone had a plastic cup that was to be constantly filled with same. One person would be chosen as Prince (usually a senior) and he would begin by saying, “The Prince and [the number of players at the table, not counting the Prince].”

Then, “The Prince of Wales has lost his tails … Wales … tails … [a number] sir!” The number given would be the person being accused and it was the seat number of a person at the table counting counterclockwise from the Prince. This person was to immediately respond, “Nay sir, [and then the number of another person at the table … or ‘Prince’] sir.” This person accused was to respond in kind and this new person would offer up another culprit’s number (or “Prince”), until someone screwed up in answering at which point the loser had to take a slug of beer.

Now this seems simple enough, but there were a number of nuances that went along with this game:

   1) The Prince could declare a “tightening round” whereby the loser would have to chug-a-lug his beer instead of just taking a gulp.

   2) The Prince could declare a “rotating Prince” whereby the person accused automatically became the Prince and all numbers changed in kind dynamically counterclockwise around the table. This could get quite complicated really fast and pity the poor player who did not have all his faculties due to over imbibing.

   3) The person accused could call his own number (or “Prince” if things were rotating) and then respond with a denial and an accusation of another player … or even himself again, etc.

   4) The person accused could call another number but simultaneously turn to stare at another player who was not that number. This was called an “elementary head fake.”

This game would often go on until the wee hours of the morning … or the keg tapped out.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Grabowsky's Musings

The following is the Traditions section from “Then and Now” in the 50th Reunion publication of the Dartmouth Class of 1960, Musings Unlimited.  The following compendium was put together by Axel Grabowsky '60 and we are all the better for it.  Thank you Axel ...

"President Jim Kim tells a funny story about the circling of the bonfire on Homecoming Friday evening which captures the essence of “traditions.” After the speeches from the steps of Dartmouth Hall are all done and the bonfire is flaming away lustily, our new president decides to partake in that primeval Dartmouth tradition of running around the bonfire. He does half a dozen laps and figures that’s enough of one strenuous tradition for one night. He stops at a cluster of alumni, faculty and administrators who all applaud his run and says something to the effect that six laps is enough . . . no need to do the last two class numerals plus 100 laps. Everyone stares at him and then they proceed to tell him what the “real” tradition is. By the time he hears seven (or maybe a dozen) different versions I suspect he realizes that traditions are a very personal thing. Every class, every alumnus or alumna, every faculty and administration member has their own version. And particularly the alumni, the more so the older we get, have our own “real” real version.

With that in mind let me run down Dartmouth’s hallowed traditions, well-beloved, usually somewhat lost in the fog of history . . . but our traditions nonetheless. (Some of this comes from the Sept./Oct. 2008 Alumni Magazine with revisions as needed.)

Bonfire: Supposedly it started in 1888 to celebrate a baseball victory. “Then” and “now” it is one of the essentials of celebrating Homecoming. In the late 1950s we scoured the countryside for creosote-laden railroad ties, fallen-down barns and outhouses, crates, pallets and cartons from Thayer and local merchants and pretty much anything else combustible that we could get our hands on reasonably legally and for free. The College helped us move our material to the center of the Green, and then we built the pyre ourselves. The tradition lives on strongly with a few modernizing changes. The College buys the materials to be burned and brings it to the Green; the lumber and other stuff is lifted up the side of the pyre by fork-lifts, everyone working on the bonfire wears a hard hat and only a certain number of people can work on it at any one time. There are as many traditions as to the required height of the pyre as there are undergraduate classes or perhaps even alumni. (In October 1959, there were 28,530 living undergraduate alumni and a total of 29,658; on October 9, 2009 there were 56,697 living undergraduate alumni and a total of 71,087.)

I have divided our traditions into three groups: the grand old or essential ones, the “nice to have” ones and the minor ones . . . and I expect to be properly castigated for making these divisions.

The Homecoming Parade and the Circling the Bonfire: The returning classes parade through town and around the Green to the steps of Dartmouth Hall. The freshmen “then” and the first year students “now” equally enthusiastically circle the bonfire until it collapses. That’s the tradition . . . I think.
Ice Sculpture: “Then” as “now” the DOC designs and builds a usually monumental ice sculpture in the middle of the Green. “Then” just about every fraternity and dormitory also built smaller ice sculptures on their front lawns. “Now” only a very few fraternities still do.

Freshman/First Year Student Trip: An enduring tradition for new students before classes even begin, “then” and “now” expertly planned, arranged and managed by the DOC. There are some differences, though. About 100 ‘60s hiked into the woods and mountains of New Hampshire; more than 95% of the ‘10s made the trip, although in addition to hiking, they also mountain climbed, canoed, kayaked, rode horses . . . you name it. One of the best parts of the trip is the telling of ghost stories at the Ravine Lodge.

The Dartmouth Indian: He came a cropper in the 1960s. Suggested replacements such as an anthropomorphized beer keg named “Keggy” or a similarly anthropomorphized moose called “Dartmoose” haven’t quite caught on. Neither has been the attempt to “mascotize” the Lone Pine. The Big Green would seem to be a reasonable placeholder . . . although certainly not for everyone. Indian Head Senior canes, going back to 1898, hung on a little longer but were discontinued by 1972. Clay pipes ceased to be a tradition in 1992.

Pong: “Now” labeled the “quintessential Dartmouth drinking game.” It is a tradition less than 50 years old. The better your aim, the thirstier you get.

The following traditions are in turn nice to have, sometimes delightful, and sometimes hard to fathom why they lasted at all.

Sink Night initiates the new brothers and sisters into Greek-letter and similar houses. At Wetdown the newly elected student government members were originally pelted with food and water on the Green. When food and water was replaced by flogging with belts, the tradition died in the 1960s.

The a capella choral competition, aka "fraternity hums", going back to 1899, pitted the various fraternities against each other on the steps of Dartmouth Hall in the spring. Misogynistic lyrics in 1975 apparently ended this truly delightful tradition.

Freshman headgear was very much still in fashion “then.” It disappeared from the scene in the early 1970s.

Rubbing Bentley’s Nose in Hopkins Center has become a well-entrenched tradition “now.” Then” we used Dean Craven Laycock’s nose in Baker but not nearly as assiduously.

The Trip to the Sea is the Canoe Club’s annual 218-mile paddle (and sometimes race) from Hanover to Long Island Sound, re-staging John Ledyard’s escape from Dartmouth in 1773. Paddling through Hartford, CT in the buff is definitely a new “now” tradition.

Milk Punch, a combination of left-over liquor, milk, vanilla ice cream, and chopped ice, was served in a large galvanized wash tub in fraternities on Sunday morning to, as one of our classmates wrote, “purge the demons and ethers” of the weekend . . . usually to no avail. Not even the supposedly well-worn jock strap, usually floating in the punch, cleared anyone’s head.

Finally, road trips, mostly to women’s colleges, “then” were traditional, always much fun, always dangerous and a few times fatal. There is not much need for road trips “now.”

Here, in no particular order, are some minor traditions; some have held on over the last 50 years, some have died and some have started new:

Fraternity Play Contest, rushing the football field at halftime, Sanborn tea, Salty Dog Rag, 24 hours to Moosilauke, Baker Bells on Request, Keg Jump, Ledyard Challenge, old and new chariot races, polar bear swim, Senior Fence, tennis balls at Princeton hockey games, toga parties and the Tuck Bicycle Races."

Sunday, June 13, 2010

I Remember …

Ripples on the water are funny. Sometimes you throw a big stone in the pond … KERPLOP! … and there is very little ripple. (Competitive divers are judged on how little splash and ripple they make.) And sometimes a small pebble hits the water just right and it sends out a crescendo of wavelets. So it is with life.

In the book and movie Animal House, many of the brothers of the late 1950’s Alpha Delta Phi (AD) fraternity at Dartmouth were given nicknames: Bluto (after a character in Popeye), the Pinto (for the piebald coloring on his nether region), and Flounder (for his pale complexion and close-set eyes). The perpetual success of the Animal House movie has consequently engraved the representations of these characters on the American psyche.

This past weekend I attended my 50th reunion at Dartmouth and, among the many festivities designed by the college to encourage future generous donations was a moving Memorial Service for our 124 classmates who had “passed on” (out of a graduating class of around 650). This interdenominational service was very well attended and filled with prayers for the deceased and a few old Dartmouth songs. But one of the traditions that was herein continued was to read aloud the names of all our deceased class members and, as each name was recited, we who knew him would stand (or keep standing) and say “I remember [the deceased classmate’s name].”

Going through 124 names was a moving experience. Some got a plethora of responses … and a few got none save the minister's reading of their name. I stood and testified for Ned “Pat” Patrick (dorm-mate and our Freshman class President), Ned Nabers (a classics scholar in my freshman and sophomore dorm), Dick Reynolds (a fraternity brother and cool saxophone player in the Barbary Coast band), Mike Menaker (who snaked my date from Colby Junior College), Jim Sniderman (a fraternity brother), Robert Postel (a frequent seat-mate in class and aide in getting me married to my current wife), Jay Emery (a fraternity brother and all-around good guy), and Bruce Thorton (a fraternity brother). But it was the deceased (and unknown to me) Jessee "Nick" Fate who then made a indelible impression on me. After his name was read and his friends said in a cacophony, “I remember Nick Fate,” someone shouted from the back of the chapel, “FLOUNDER!"

Nick Fate has obviously left a very big ripple.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Walking Tall

My mother used to chide me, "You don't make yourself any taller by claiming someone else is short." Apparently, many opponents of Joseph Asch, in the current election for Dartmouth College's Board of Trustees, don't believe this platitude. The have been circulating many half-truths, innuendos, and even slimes besmirching Joe. I won't name these opponents but I'm sure most of you have received e-mails, letters, and even whispers to these effects. What I would like to do here briefly is tell you why I voted for Joe ... and ask you to do the same. If you have been a reader of Dartblog, you know that when Joe cuts himself, he bleeds green. (If you haven't, please link to He clearly loves our college and has offered many suggestions in the hope of helping President Kim solve Dartmouth's current financial crisis, re-enfranchising Dartmouth alums, bolstering the academic and social experiences of our students, and recapturing what was once the glory of our sports teams. All, in my humble opinion, noble endeavors.

It would seem that this is what trustees are supposed to do and this is why Joe would be a valuable addition to this august body. But one thing most clearly distinguish him from his opponent ... he has committed to trying to restore parity to Dartmouth's Board of Trustees. "Parity" means that we alums would have the potential once again of having equal say in who represents us on this group. I can't see why this is a bad thing (like some who have been disparaging Joe of late.) I have never been able to follow the logic of those who decry an equal voice for us alums ... like we so recently had. To me, a self-perpetuating Trustee Board almost guarantees that we will dig more fiscal, pedagogical, and public-image holes at our college for our children's children. We might avoid this bleak outlook by taking this small first step and voting for Joe Asch '79 for Dartmouth's Board of Trustees. I have. And, if you do, I sincerely thank you.

George W. Potts '60

Thursday, January 21, 2010

A Dartmouth Trustee to Trust

I know it's been a while since I have posted here ... and much has happened in Hanover in the interim ... some good, some bad. But now there are two openings for the college's Board of Trustees that need to be filled with thinking and probing champions of the institution we all love so much. My classmate, Mort Kondracke, is running and, although I sometimes find his cable-TV knee jerks a little too left-leaning, I do believe that he would be open-minded and a contributor to many of the tough decisions that will need to be made while Dartmouth digs itself out of its current fiscal hole.

There is another candidate for Dartmouth's Board of Trustees that I am more enthusiastic about -- Joseph Asch. Joe has been a major contributor to that very popular Dartmouth blog, Dartblog. There he has mainly posted important and quality analyses about many of Dartmouth's financial problems (warming to President Kim's serious treatment of same), championed Dartmouth's many sports teams, pointed out some irksome misallocation of our school's pedagogical assets, and shared his taste for quality food and drink. He has not yet addressed the degeneration of many Dartmouth traditions that have occurred over the last 20 or so years ... but I'm working on him for that. His background well demonstrates his financial analytic talents, his love for his Alma Mater, and his liberal (small "l") worldview. To verify that he is eminently qualified for this position, please visit Joe for Dartmouth where you might also reference, download, sign, and submit a Petition for his Trustee candidacy. I hope you'll find him as attractive a candidate as I do.
George W. Potts '60