Bingo Unchained

BingoSomewhere, in a parallel universe, “Bingo” is probably the name of the Marx Bros.' schnauzer. In our universe, however, Bingo is a game of chance that involves matching numbers drawn at random against others on a five by five matrix, with one axis corresponding to the letters B-I-N-G-O. The first to “spell” Bingo announces this loud and proud and wins whatever prize is at hand (cash, booze, eternal life). Early versions of the game can be traced back to 16th century Italy, however, Bingo as we know it today wasn’t codified as such until the 1920s by a Pittsburgh carnie promoter named Hugh J. Ward. Despite, the ability to win cash, Bingo is to gambling as a Vargas pin-up is to porn. It’s good clean fun that’s apparently enjoying popularity among hipsters and those with hip replacements alike.

From twenty-somethings to pensioners, Bingo is the great equalizer in social games seeing as it’s a pastime predicated on pure chance and requires no strategy whatsoever. Basic knowledge of the alphabet and numbers (at least to 90) helps as does a couple cocktails and a sense of comic irony – at least when playing at the Park Slope Bingo Club in NYC. There, your hosts are a couple of wags who go by the Mad Men-era-inspired sobriquets Dick Swizzle and Perry Comb-over. Their main prize seems to be more drinks.

Predictably, there’s been a Cambrian explosion of bingo-related games online, many of which, like PartyBingo.com, emanate from the trendsetting UK, where it’s thought as many as 350 online Bingo sites currently operate according to BBC News.

Online or off, Bingo is like vodka – you can mix anything with it, hence the innumerable variations and customizations of its basic game play. Sports and popular culture themes are prevalent. Are we far off from Beatles fans playing “Ringo!” in which various tunes by the Fab Four are used instead of numbers or an Aussie version called “Dingo!” that uses baby names?

The Wall Street Journal recently reported on a “version in Philadelphia involving drag queens on roller skates, to ‘cosmic bingo’ played under black light.” Bingo! We have a winner.