by Brian Clarey




Almost a week after my foosball cover story [“Foos paradise”; Nov. 28, 2012] I am still thinking about that sport — the 13 little men on pivoting bars, the fast action, the passion of the people who play it. Foosball is a great game, no doubt, but the video-game revolution around 1980 brought it to its knees. Before Space Invaders hit, there were lots of great table sports, some of which still survive today.


Pool, or pocket billiards or snooker, has ancient roots. It is one of the few surviving cue sports that date back to the 1400s — Mary Queen of Scots was buried in her billiard-table cover, and variations on the game are referenced in Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra. Originally, billiards was played on a pocketless table. It remains very popular today.


Every child of the 1970s remembers air hockey as an arcade and basement staple, invented in 1969 by employees of the Brunswick corporation, which made pool tables. The game hit a peak around 1975, with US and world championships and a tournament circuit. The US and world tournaments are still played— the reigning champion is Billy Stubbs — but video games put a real dent in the game’s popularity.


Purists call it “table tennis,” but it will always be ping pong to me, named for the sound the game makes. It began in England in the 1880s, when drunk aristocrats would make a “net” of books, and use other books to hit a golf ball back and forth. This may be the most successful of table games — it is the only one played in the Olympics.


This is the ice-hockey version of foosball, with players controlled by knobs than move them in proscribed patterns on the “ice” and spin them to hit the puck. The game was more prevalent in the home version, but an arcade model was made with a big plastic dome over the rink. And if you know of any of these machines in operation in the Triad, please let me know.


Pinball is technically a table sport, though it has become much more sophisticated than its original form. The pinball industry also took a beating after Pac-Man Fever hit, but places like the Lost Ark in Greensboro are feeding a resurgence of the game.


Regular shuffleboard is for old people. Bar shuffleboard is for cool people! The indoor version of this retirement-home favorite comes in varying sizes, from 9-22 feet, but real players know the long ones are way better. Natty Greene’s in downtown Greensboro has one of the short ones, and I know the old Red Oak Brewpub used to have one of the long ones — I’d love to find out what happened to it.


This one is a classic, and all you need to play is a flat table and a piece of paper folded into a dense triangle. Slide the paper at your opponent’s side. If you can get it to hag off the edge without falling off, that’s a touchdown. Flick it between the uprights, made by your opponent’s thumbs and forefingers, and you’ve got an extra point. This one got me through many a study hall in junior high.


This one is another relic from the 1970s, a standby of rec centers and arcades featuring a smaller green-felt pool table with a single pocket at either end buttressed by a couple of bumpers, with a cross of bumpers in the center of the table. I did not like bumper pool, but it was very popular when I was a kid.


This game, a mixture of golf and pool, was extremely big on the eastern side of Garden City, NY, where I grew up, but I have never met anyone from elsewhere who is familiar with it. The player used a cue to shoot a rubber-sided puck from a tee into a hole in the fewest strokes possible. We played it at Grove and Hemlock parks, and proficiency at the game was a prized skill. I have never seen a table since.