Nine states and Washington, DC have legalized recreational marijuana since 2012, and the once-underground substance slides further into the mainstream with each passing day. Pop stars openly smoke weed on social media, TV shows are devoted to the art of cannabis cooking, and corporations market to pot smokers with little-to-no subtlety. Yet as marijuana has come out of the shadows, so too has the culture surrounding it. Nowhere is this more evident than with the rebirth of the classic stoner game Zonk.
Created sometime in the 1970s (no one is entirely sure when), the game has been a popular pastime on and around college campuses for decades, particularly in the Northeast. Much like many drinking games—Zonk’s more socially acceptable cousins—Zonk is a competitive enterprise. The main difference is that, while most drinking games use alcohol consumption as a form of punishment, Zonk uses marijuana consumption as a reward. In the end, Everyone Wins (it even says so on the box).
With the United States now undergoing a marijuana Renaissance, its no surprise that Zonk is undergoing a Renaissance of its own as well. While most Zonk aficionados came of age playing the game in some makeshift form, the days of DIYing it are quickly becoming a thing of the past. That’s because Zonk recently hit the market in an easy-to-use, officially licensed format called The Legendary Underground Game of Zonk.
At its core, Zonk is a dice game in which players roll a set of five dice, hopefully accumulating points throughout each turn, in a race to 10,000 points. Of course, the games calls for players to take plenty of hits from the pipe as they cross over certain thresholds or land on specific bonuses (for instance, 1950 is commonly known as the “Stevie Wonder Bonus”), making every step toward victory a little more difficult than the last. Players often incorporate their own terms—such as “spaz”, “bloads”, “power Zonk”, and “vanana”—into the game at various points as well. The whole thing is a bit more complicated than that, but you really have to give the game a whirl before you fully understand how it works.
Fortunately, giving the game a whirl is now easier than ever thanks to The Game of Zonk, which has (almost) everything you need to get started. For instance, players have traditionally rolled their dice on the cover of whatever book was nearby, but the official edition of Zonk comes in a book-shaped box that standardizes the “board”. There’s also plenty of score sheets, and the set even comes with its own pipe. The marijuana, on the other hand, must be purchased separately (more on that later).
The Zonk Family Conference
The people behind the Game of Zonk have been marketing their product pretty heavily on the music scene, hosting a festival called the Zonk Family Conference, recording a jam session with North Carolina funk-rockers The Fritz and unleashing their branded beach balls everywhere from Phish Dicks to Hulaween and Jam Cruise. Part of this is because they know their target demographic, but—more importantly—its because music is an integral part of the Zonk experience. Music and marijuana go together like peanut butter and jelly, and the same be said of music and Zonk. So much so that the score sheets include a section for logging each game’s playlist, making for a nice piece of memorabilia that offers a snapshot of the night’s shenanigans (the score sheet doubles as a victory trophy for each game’s winner).
The Fritz – “Too Late”
“I had to chance to play Zonk after Fools Paradise with the whole Zonk family,” says The Main Squeeze frontman Corey Frye. “[Legendary Underground Game of Zonk CEO] David [Rakower] explained the rules and we learned as we rolled dice and blazed into the wee hours of the morning. Zonk is a great game to play with your smoking buddies. No matter the score, everyone’s a winner.”
“I used to play Zonk quite a bit in high school,” explains Galactic bassist Robert Mercurio. “It was a great way to spend an evening with friends. We really never knew where this weird combo of Yahtzee and bong hits came from, but now we do!”
With its sudden jump from the underground to the mainstream, the story of Zonk mirrors of the story of marijuana in the United States. And like marijuana, the future is looking bright for this beloved stoner game. In fact, the Game of Zonk will soon be diving into the marijuana business in its own right when the Zonk-branded strain—a sativa-leaning hybrid with roughly 24% THC, in case you were wondering—is unveiled in mid-July.
“There’s no words that can describe the immediate response we received from Zonk players over the last 2 years; especially when we get recognized at shows and festivals,” says CEO David Rakower. “People were showing us their winning score-sheets from 20 years ago, sending us pics of them holding them up with their kids in the background, even telling us that they’ve had them in their garage since college and will never throw them away.
“As former Zonk players ourselves, it validated that, without a doubt, its’ not just a game, it’s a culture,” he continues. “With what we have planned for the near future, we intend for everyone to agree with us. Keep the dice on the board and don’t be a ‘spaz’.”