Cardinal Puff

Compiled by Pat Works

History by Bob Scott D-714

Ritual account of Cardinal Puff and Dead Ant by Mike Marcon

Cardinal Puff Cliff Davis copies of Cliff's Cardinal Puff Cards.

Cardinal Puff


An old friend, Fred from Corning, said that you were trying to get to the bottom of the Cardinal Puff legend. I sorta made it a point to listen to various people back in the early 60s to learn the legend of this fabulous drinking game, so here goes.

It started in sports jumping by two guys who drank at the Rumbleseat Bar in Southern California, not too far from Elsinore. One's name was Frank Carpenter who had the distinction of being Pope Frank the first, the other was named Don Molitar who became Pope #2. The original game consisted of three ranks:

Cardinal which involved playing the game of observation and memory using one 12 ounce glass of beer topped off to the brim;

Supreme Cardinal which involved two glasses;

Pope which involved a 64 ounce pitcher.

The game had very precise wording that had to be repeated exactly to the word without flaw, hand motions that involved a lot of tapping on various body parts. (Getting interesting isn't it) A neophyte had to have a demonstration from a Cardinal or other person of equal or higher rank than the demonstration. The neophyte had to ask for permission to begin or ask for a go depending on the geographical area the dropzone was located in. Any Cardinal in attendance could call the neophyte to drink which involved keeping the glass to his lips until it was completely empty. This often became an overwhelming task after the 31st demo when you had to go out back and yell at the ground. (big chunks had to be consumed along with the remaining beer).

The origin of the game according to legend started during the late 1920s while prohibition was raging across the land. Students at the University of Notre Dame, a Catholic school in Indiana, had been banned from going into town and drinking at the speakeasies so they sat in their college dorms getting soused without much fun. Suddenly someone was inspired to create the game that was initially a parody on the Catholic Church. Those staunch young Catholic men subsequently went to answer their nation's call at the beginning of World War II. Finding themselves in the Army Airborne with a similar situation to the one they had experienced in college, they expanded their drinking sport to include paratroopers. At that stage, Protestants and other heathens apparently were allowed to join the elite drinking and jumping society.

In the late 50s, 1958 or 1959, Carpenter and Molitar were pioneers of Southern California jumping and introduced Cardinal Puff to the sports jumping scene. At the 1960-62 Nationals the drinking game spread across the country. It spawned other games such as Dead Ants, Pygmy Mau Mau, 131st Banditos, and many more.

The game was officially expanded to include the Bishop demonstration in Northern California by members of the Golden Gate Parachute Club. At some point they went down to Elsinore and did the Bishop demo for the Rumbleseat crowd who were slightly drunk when receiving the intricate instruction on how to be a bishop so the original Bishop was actually born in San Jose and transplanted to Elsinore. To this day, depending if you are drinking in Northern California or Southern California, there is a discrepancy in the Bishop demonstration.

A good source of more information who was actually at the 62 Nationals would be Loy Bryden D-12 or his ex-wife Tee Taylor who was that year's women's world champion. They both live in Tucson.


Most of our jumpers came in from places like Baton Rouge or Mobile and some as far away as Europe. Occasionally floating through were members of the U.S. Army Parachute Team, the “Golden Knights.”

Nearly every week-end, we had several people overnight in tents or on the floor at my apartment. (I had moved up in the world.) Some stayed for weeks at a time. New Orleans was only about 60 miles away and it was as much an attraction for some of them as the jumping.

We kept the prices for jump tickets, an aircraft boarding pass, as cheap as possible, and that was another attraction for them. I usually got to the airport early in the morning and was never surprised to find somebody sleeping in their car or balled up on the ground in a sleeping bag. There were always new people coming to jump and life was full of surprises.

But no surprise was one activity that took place at the Center along with the jumping – partying. We had a hard and fast rule, however. No alcohol during the day while jump operations were going on. But when jumping was done for the day, coolers popped open. Things could get crazy after that.

Jumpers aren’t your usual party people. Most of them, not all are classic risk takers and the old saw, “Here, honey, hold my beer -- watch this…” was in frequent use.

Now, we weren’t your typical drinkers. We were noble drinkers with distinct classes within our small society. One could always choose to opt out of the class structure we had established. But you were considered cowardly in some way if you never made the attempt to enter. Not that anyone ever said anything to you.

We merely allowed you to hover on the fringes and suffer in your own pangs of remorse at not having tried to gain the rank. When you did ask to be considered for membership, you had to do so formally. This is how it worked.

You would approach a jumper who had successfully passed the ritual’s demands, such as a ranking Cardinal or a Cardinal Supreme, a Bishop, or better yet, a Pope. Then, in all humility, you would ask words to the effect,

“May I become a Cardinal, sir?” If granted an attempt, your initiation would begin.

You would take a seat at a table across from the ranking Cardinal. In a very high and ceremonious fashion, he would lean across the table and fill a glass to the brim with beer.

You would then be shown, once, the following demonstration and would then be expected to repeat it yourself making not one mistake, no matter how small. There could be no spillage of beer whatsoever. Once finished with a successful attempt, your glass would be tipped upside down. You were allowed not one remaining drop.

During the ceremony, you would have to perform this:

Hold the glass at the rim with your thumb and forefinger and hoist it outwards, saying, "I drink to the honorable Cardinal Puff for the first time tonight." Then consume what you can but not the whole glass. You will have to make five more swallows from what is left. Then, tap the glass, once on the tabletop, and set it down.

Then, with the forefinger of each hand, tap the tabletop alternating left and right, then tap the underside of the tabletop, tap each thigh top, stomp each foot, stand up, then sit down once.

Then grab the glass again, hoist it aloft using the thumb, index and forefinger and toast, "To the Cardinal Puff Puff, for the second time this evening." Then drink two more swallows, tap the glass twice on the table top, then use two fingers and repeat the first step (tap, tap, etc...)

On the third try, you will say, "I drink to the Cardinal Puff, Puff, Puff, for the third and final time this evening." Hoist the glass using your thumb, and three fingers and consume the rest of the remaining brew in three separate drinks making sure there is none left in the glass. With three fingers, repeat the tapping sequence (three times each, obviously). Upon finishing the tapping sequence and the sitting sequence, you take the glass with an inverted grip and proclaim "Once a Cardinal, always a Cardinal, never spill a drop."

While proclaiming this, you invert the glass, release your grip and then invert (to upright) again. There should be no liquid from the glass on the tabletop from the inverted glass. If there is, you repeat the whole process again! If there is none, the ruling Cardinal will ask you, "Are you a Cardinal?" To which you shall reply, "You bet your sweet ass I am!" Any other answer is unacceptable and results in having to repeat the whole process again.

Then in the future, if you are approached and asked "Are you a Cardinal?" The only answer can be, "You bet your sweet ass I am." The person asking the question may then challenge you by saying, "Prove it." The person asking must be a Cardinal and prove they are by performing the ritual before you do.

The basic level is Cardinal Puff, accomplished by using one large glass of beer. To become a Bishop requires two full glasses of beer; the first glass is fully consumed on round one, then parts two and three on glass two. Arch Bishop takes three full glasses, one for each part of the game. Pope requires a pitcher. In order to proceed up the ranks, you have to accomplish each rank ritual before it at one sitting!

Now as one might imagine, this ceremony requires high volumes of alcohol. But we did not do this every time we gathered. It was only those times that an uninitiated lurker hovering on the fringes of our Cardinal Puff aristocracy screwed up his courage and asked that the ritual be demonstrated, that the beer flowed in such quantities.

Now, each Cardinal Puff or higher rank giving a demonstration had his own moral standards when overseeing a new initiate attempting to perform the sacrament. An applicant could be “called” for anything large or small in detail, be it the manner in which they held the glass or sat in their chair. But, usually, applicants would quickly defeat themselves with a misstep in movements, whether it be missing a series of taps, or not standing then sitting when appropriate.

When mistakes were made, judgment was swift. And the sentence was always the same: hang the glass to your lips and immediately drink the entire contents and keep the glass suspended at the lips until only “dust” remained or you were given permission to remove it.

This is where the real merriment began, for the drunker one became, the harder it was to perform the complexities of the game and the more one failed, the more one wanted to pass. So more drinking would ensue, insuring that nearly everyone involved would, sooner or later, pass out.

Somewhere in there, between the beginnings of the victim attempting to pass the test multiple times and the passing out came high, loud stages of drunkenness and new games would start to be invented that usually had something to do with elevated states of bravado caused by elevated amounts of alcohol.

Two come to mind. The first was Light Socket Cardinal. The other was Dead Ant.

Light Socket Cardinal was a pure game of dangerous dare. It required one to be too drunk to think rationally. It was quite simple. The applicant would have to ask for a ritual. Usually that was in the form of a highly slurred request, as in, “Shur? Wanna show it to me?” Now, by this time, the individual giving the demo was simply being invited to stick a finger in an empty light socket as a demonstration. Everybody already knew what this game was about.

Either the socket would be electrified or not. I only ever saw one guy take the challenge and he didn’t know that the lamp was unplugged but he did it anyway. The challenger was already too drunk to see it and they argued about it the entire next day as to whether or the guying performing the challenge actually did it.


The next level of drunken gamesmanship, Dead Ant, had to take place at a bar with several inebriated jumpers sitting on barstools late at night just before the bar was due to close. I saw this game played many times resulting in several concussions.

The guys would all be sitting at the bar, chatting up girls or discussing all things parachuting or telling war stories when someone suddenly called out “DEAD ANT!”

On that command, you were to push immediately, straight back as hard as you could, and land flat on your back with your arms and legs sticking up in the air. The last man down had to buy the next round.

The beauty of it was that no one hollered “Dead Ant” until much later at night when everyone was already so drunk that a fall like that didn’t bother you much. But, once in a while, you’d hear the crack of somebody’s skull slapping the floor.

Light Socket Cardinal and Dead Ant were the truest of “Here, honey, hold my beer -- watch this.” moments.