Get hammered

New drinking game Stump hits the Bay Area: watch for blood

Setting up a classy stump

Until recently, its existence has played out quietly in Alabama basements and Vermont backyards. If you've seen anyone engaging in it, chances are it was a group of raucous bros on YouTube or Elijah Wood and Jimmy Fallon on The Late Show. If you saw it up close, you may have fled the general area.

Though its origins are obscure, most agree that Stump, the rather insane game in question, comes from some densely wooded part of Maine. It's since been zigzagging its way across the country, through college campuses and rowdy backyards. Recently it made its way to the Bay Area.

"I first learned about it because I walked into my friend's basement and there were 20 people screaming drunk throwing hammers. It turned out they'd been having these Stump parties every week for a while," said Richmond resident Elon Ullman. "After a while, we got good at it and started adding our own variations."

"Beer pong and flipcup are pretty one-dimensional," adds Penn Chan, who attends Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y., (where the game was introduced by a Wisconsin girl called "Sparky") with Ullman. "Stump evolves as people who've played in different areas come together and discuss how they've played."

The fundamentals are simple: a hammer, some nails, and a stump. You toss the hammer in the air so that it revolves completely, catch it, and bring it down on the nail without breaking its momentum. If you drive your opponent's nail all the way into the stump, you win. It's usually played as a drinking game — you drop your hammer, you drink. You catch it awkwardly, you drink. You drink if you miss the nail and hit the stump, or if you hit your own nail, or if somebody else hits your nail, etc.

Rowan McCallister demonstrates a double toss

Because Stump is usually played in large, chaotic groups, hitting anything at all is a matter of chance. But if you take it seriously as a game of skill, a whole series of choices opens up, starting with where to place your nail. A stump that's seen a few games has its own unique geography. Nail "cities," twisted lumps of jagged metal, spring up in heavily used areas of the stump. Danger can attend: it's possible to put your nail so close to an opponent's that, in trying to hit your nail, he risks shredding his knuckles.

"The first rule of Stump is, if you bleed you have to bleed on the stump. The second rule is, no coagulating," says David Liefert, who'll be a junior at San Francisco State University this fall. On a warm Saturday a couple weeks ago, he invited me over to watch a few games. He and his friend Rowan McCallister, also a student at SF State, started playing Stump with Elon last summer, and created their own variations. Longer, thicker nails make for a longer game. Gold nails sink faster. Players can flip the hammer more than once, and can choose whether to flip it forward or backward.

Blood on the stump

Then there's the question of the hammer itself. Metal hammers are evenly weighted, while the head of a wooden hammer is much heavier than the shaft. This tends to make the hammer spin fast and wild — it's harder to control, but it's also easier to make it flip over twice. Liefert and McCallister play a few rounds with a wooden hammer, then switch to the metal hammer for a two-flip game. The change throws them both off. On his first toss, McCallister miscalculates and wings the hammer over his shoulder. "Shit," they both call out automatically, following the arc of the flying hammer.

"It looks like we're doing something really wrong," Ullman says. "I've always wondered what would happen if I were to play in Golden Gate Park. Could we be charged with anything?"


Bay area Plays like pussies. NH roots.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 02, 2011 @ 6:00 pm

This is a joke, right? The kid in the picture isn't even holding a beer, which is a crucial component to the game. While I understand there are regional variants to the game, this is inexcusable. To see the real rules of the game, check out this link:

Posted by Guest on Mar. 03, 2011 @ 1:25 pm

he was just demonstrating the throw -- not engaged in play. Sorry if that didn't come through.

Posted by marke on Mar. 03, 2011 @ 2:45 pm

Stump is in no way a matter of chance. Stump is a way of life. It doesn't appear that David Liefert or Rowan McCallister take Stump or Life very seriously. To be an ambassador of the sport, you should display it in the correct light... with a beer in your hand. Hell, even Frodo figured that one out.

If you actually care about Stump, you do not live in "Nail Cities" because your nails are driven straight and true. Also, the first rule of bleeding during a game of Stump is not that you have to bleed on the stump... the first rule of blood is that it is a social beer chug. However, Liefert and McCallister look too busy growing their sideburns to notice that it is 2011 OR that they should drink more beer and date less women with armpit hair.

I hope that they do go to Golden Gate Park and get arrested. The cops should charge them with indecent hammer tosses, bent nails without being under the influence, and impersonating a man.

Posted by Stump Anger on Mar. 03, 2011 @ 6:11 pm

Now Terry you're repeating yourself
But that's okay drunk people can't help that.
A chemical reaction happening inside your brain causes you to forget what you're saying.

Posted by Sarah TS on Mar. 11, 2011 @ 9:26 am

Dear Stump--I'm writing here about an approach to the game that takes it beyond a drinking game. So as it's being played by the people the article is about, holding a beer isn't really as crucial as playing the game well. The game as it's played according to the wikipedia rules is much easier than the versions that Rowan and David play.


Posted by Marianne Moore on Mar. 05, 2011 @ 12:46 am


I agree that Stump can be more than a drinking game. In fact, I believe that my post states that Stump can be a way of life. However, to play Stump without a beer in your hand is like playing stump without a hammer. Perhaps you'd like to give Stump a go without nails. What's next? Stump with no stump?

Your tag line reads, "New drinking game Stump hits the Bay Area: watch for blood". I do not mean to attack your journalistic integrity, but your follow up post sounds a bit to me like backpedaling. Yes, it can be more than a drinking game, but at it's core, it is a drinking game. Therefore, a beer in your hand is a requirement.

Respectfully, you unfortunately chose to profile two non-drinking hippies that have no clue what it means to be a competitor. Now don't get me wrong, I'm sure Rowan and David have fine qualities that would serve you well at a Widespread Panic show, but please keep them away from the game that I love.


Stump Anger

Posted by Stump Anger on Mar. 06, 2011 @ 2:40 pm

We have been playing Stump in SF since 1999 at the Pershing apartments. It was taught to us by a guy from the East Coast. But it aint new kids, just popular with wimps now i guess.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 07, 2011 @ 12:21 pm
Posted by Guest on Sep. 05, 2011 @ 10:40 pm

F-, now that stump is in the Bay area, it is surely souless. What's next, organic free-range fair trade stumps that didn't require harming any trees? Like fixed gear bikes and PBR, anything else the hipsters glom onto has clearly become a fad to be religiously pursued by the herd. My new vision of hell is standing around a backyard in SF with a bunch of tight jean, chuck taylor-wearing mop heads, munching on vegan snacks and acting backwoods playing stump while sipping organic, local lager (from within my 50 mile foodshed), or even worse, wine.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 05, 2011 @ 8:12 am

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