Thursday, April 15, 2010

What's your -ism?

My great blog-friend JES posted this amusing little piece yesterday, challenging his regular readers to identify a distinctive quirk or party trick, a personal piece of shtick which might be regarded as their -ism: a Weebleism, a Choirboyism, a Chairmanism, a Froogism, and so on.

I was prompted to offer the following response.

I suppose I am moderately notorious for my beermat flipping. You know the trick - where you balance a beermat on the edge of a bar counter or a table with an inch or two protruding over the rim, then bring your hand up from underneath, flicking the protruding edge of the beermat with the tips of your fingers so that it jumps in the air and performs a 180-degree rotation, and catching it cleanly with the same hand in one easy, continuous motion.

It's fairly straightforward to pull it off with just one beermat, even when you're a little squiffy. The challenge is usually seen as being to discover how tall a stack of beermats you can flip and catch without dropping any. I don't like this approach: it seems to me to be pursuing failure rather than success; it inevitably ends with beermats littered all over the floor and much embarrassment.

I prefer to elaborate the trick by switching to using the left hand. Or, when I'm really in my groove, to do synchronous flips with the left and right hand. Or to try flipping with the palm upward (strangely, this is much, much harder than the conventional palm-down technique). Or, when I'm really showing off, to attempt left- and right-handed flips, one palm-up and one palm-down. What larks! (I have annoyed bar owners across Beijing - and all around the world - by initiating mass beermat-flipping face-offs.)

However, I'm not sure that this is really unique enough (although I don't think I've ever seen anyone else attempting the last variation - other than in emulation of me), or sufficiently distinctive of me to be labelled a Froogism.

I prefer to think of Froogisms as my occasional self-composed bons mots, particularly the ones I share with friends in text messages.

[JES has discovered that there is a website devoted to this noble art: - what else? Gosh, they do take it seriously: there are stern warnings against trying to do two-handed flipping with uneven stacks of beermats.... because "it would look odd"!]


JES said...

You will be unsurprised to know that I've just returned from a saunter around the Web. The bait this time was the word "beermat" -- I'd never seen that before, always just seen then referred to as beer coasters, bar coasters, or just plain coasters. Beermat put me in mind of a largish rectangle of stiff paper or cardboard, like a... well, like a placemat. But I couldn't quite grasp (ha) how you'd flip more than one.

A quick Google search took me more or less straight here. They must have a Beermat Flipping Novelties Division, or one for Synchronized Flipping, or something at least as suitable for you!

...And why is catching something palm-up so much trickier, anyhow? It must have something to do with the fact that you must rotate the hand on the wrist at an unnatural angle, and when you quickly close the thumb-fingers gap it tends to de-rotate the wrist. Or (as always) something. Surely you've got a regular here with experience in the orthopedics of drinking.

Froog said...

Ah, the bio-mechanics of flipping!

I suppose with the palm-up method there is some tension in the elbow - with the forearm rotated outwards - that is absent with the palm-down method where the arm is in a natural position, with no rotation at the elbow joint; and perhaps there is a tendency for the hand to rotate slightly inwards, or at any rate for the motion to seem a little less 'easy'. I haven't really noticed that, though.

The problems with palm-up seem to me to be that one tends to unavoidably curl the fingers slightly upwards as one flips, and this puts you in a slight state of unreadiness to catch; you have to open your hand again slightly. Even worse, the fingers are coming up again as you make the catch, which can tend to knock the beermat(s) out of your hand again; catching them on the thumb and securing them with the fingers from above seems to be far more stable. Moreover, there is a tendency to impart too much speed with the flip, so the beermat(s) rotate more than the requisite 180 degrees. It is darned tricky!