The Penny Game

A very simple drinking game played during formal dinners ("Formal Hall") at Cambridge University, and probably elsewhere.


  • If you drop a penny in somebody's drink, they must down it - "In order to save the Queen from drowning". (All British coins have a picture of the Queen on them.)
  • After a penny is dropped in your drink, you have about sixty seconds to five minutes to down it. Time limits vary between colleges.
  • If you drop a penny in somebody's drink which already has a penny in it, then you must down your own drink, immediately.
    • You may not penny somebody if your own glass is empty.
  • If you attempt to drop a penny in somebody's drink, and you miss, either by ineptitude or a skilful deflection, then again, you must down the drink you were aiming for.
  • You may not drop a penny in a drink that you just poured for somebody. This is unsportsmanlike. You may, however, arrange for somebody else to pour the drink (without necessarily asking or informing the target).
  • You may not drop a penny in the same person's drink twice in quick succession. Again, sportsmanship.
  • You may not penny somebody's glass while they are holding it.
  • Anything can be pennied during Formal Hall, and though this is usually wine, it can be extended to water jugs (full ones). It is not known if a British penny will fit through the neck of a wine bottle, but there's no harm in trying.
  • After downing a drink you get to keep the penny or pennies that were in it, either for yourself or to penny other people with.
  • You may penny yourself to no effect.
  • The game ends when the formal dinner ends, or when you get thrown out for being drunk, whichever is earlier.

In some circles, food may also be pennied; this must then be consumed without using one's hands.


  • Bring pennies ("ammunition"). Bring many of them. Look out for the guy who brings one hundred pennies to Formal and strolls up and down all the tables, individually pennying everybody's glass one at a time.
  • Keep a close eye on your opponents to see if other people are pennying them. You don't want to accidentally double-penny someone.
  • If you REALLY don't want to be pennied, you're probably best off drinking water instead of wine.
  • A penny is more easily visible through white wine than red wine, so you stand a better chance of being double-pennied if you drink the red.
  • Try not to behave too badly. Penny Game-induced drunkenness and disorder (sometimes degenerating into food fights) has resulted in Formal Hall being withdrawn completely at a number of colleges, while the Penny Game is officially banned in various other Halls. Respect the other diners.
  • It is not advisable to attempt to penny the soup of Professor Stephen Hawking.

A final word of advice. The Penny Game is NEVER played outside of Formal Hall - people who attempt to penny your beer in the college bar afterwards are to be shunned and ignored.

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