The new craze that’s making people broke and fearful of their phones

Flip Out is a new sadist spin on the old “no phones at the table” etiquette.

While teenagers mark the new year by clinking Tide Pods together like champagne, the thirtysomething crowd (in Brooklyn, NY, anyway) is playing a different kind of game—one that’s more taxing on the health than swallowing laundry detergent.

It’s called Flip Out, and it’s a new sadist spin on the old “no phones at the table” etiquette.

“When the drinks arrive, everyone at the table must place their phones facedown,” a bird-like woman at the far end of my table announces. She will be one of my four opponents on this overcast afternoon, out in front of The Stone Park Cafe, in Park Slope. “If anyone at this table, at anytime, flips their phone screen-up, they are the loser, and they must foot the entire bill.”

I will learn over the course of the next three hours that Flip Out is less of a game, and more of a very tense war of attrition. It’s less about playing than surviving. It’s like trying to participate in Jenga while a bullet ant—the insect with the bite so powerful, it causes afflicted animals to throw themselves off cliffs—crawls across the back of your hand.

Most Flip Out sessions extend past two hours, much longer than the average brunch date (which restauranteurs must love). The longer it carries on, the more you feel like you have been administered a questionable pill, and are just now coming up; to endure Flip Out is to be variously anxious, manic, excited and scared.


The other players at my table are surprised to learn I’ve never played before. After all, this is the new craze where we live. Wherever you go, whether it’s a nice restaurant for dinner, or a bar for drinks, it seems like every table is encircled by Flip Out fiends.

It’s bringing groups of strangers together, and sending one of them home destitute.

Disclaimer: if you’re financially strapped, Flip Out is not for you. Because, unlike most party games, a few losses stringed together can actually destroy your life. That being said, my opponents were not well-off by any means. Two of them admitted to not having a comma in their savings account, e.g. they were “just getting by.”

But being broke does not deter Flip Out participants from playing aggressively—which involves racking up the bill with reckless abandon.

The group mentality becomes like the inverse of Monopoly’s Free Parking rule. “I’ve seen this game ruin friendships, relationships” says Gary L., the youngest guy at the table, and the most serious. He approaches Flip Out with no humor. He’s not here to chat. Which is part of the reason why he’s never lost a single game.

Gary wears a suit and tie, though it’s Saturday and we’re supposed to be having fun. “Friends of mine who are generally mild-mannered will surprise themselves with what comes out of their mouth when they realize they’ve lost. Or won.” He takes a sip of beer. Then he levels with us. “Does anyone really win Flip Out though?”

Gary loves the game not just for its unique thrill, but how it urges people to tell others how they really feel. Social niceties are blown apart. There’s so much on the line that you can easily forget (or completely ignore) the fact that, say, your best friend, sitting to your right, who is on federal assistance, cannot afford to lose.

You wouldn’t think it’s that hard not to grab for your phone during a prolonged period of time, but it is. You can’t realize how hard it is until you try it in a bustling social setting, under scrutiny. Especially after a few drinks.

There are all of these micro-moments that happen during gameplay, when you come close to caving in. You are a baby grasping for a toy. Within fifteen minutes, you are prone to feel subtle vibrations, as in phantom vibration syndrome. Within a half hour, you will have to restrain your mindless, arm-jerking reactions to any pang of awkwardness.

Not that you will experience something like a lapse in conversation during Flip Out. Everyone’s giddy. Super-alert. You know there’s nothing to gain but to not lose your money, but it feels like there is.

Here are some facts and thoughts regarding my first game:

  • It lasted two hours and forty-two minutes.
  • By the first hour, the bill had ballooned to over $1,000.
  • By the second hour, though my opponents were complete strangers, it felt like we’d known each other for years.
  • I learned the girl to my right lost more than five figures due to the game, and that people know her around Park Slope as “weak hands.”
  • The girl to my left brought her nine-month-old son with her. They were attached together by way of a front facing BabyBjorn. She carefully maneuvered her beer around the baby’s head. I realized Flip Out is whiter than old chocolate.
  • Gary, I learned, had installed a device on his phone that zapped his fingers with an electric shock.
  • My strategy was to sit on my hands.
  • Everyone at my table was seasoned at Flip Out except me. I kept it to myself that I thought this all was pretty unfair—until the second hour, when I really loosened up.
  • I was pretty sure we were going to be sitting there all day, waiting for someone to end it. I thought my opponents might be so good, they might never slip up.
  • But then Gary suddenly reached out and flipped his phone over. He had made no signs that he was going to it. He might have been biting his cheek. But I don’t know. It all happened so fast. I think he might have wanted it to be over with. He might have hated himself.
  • When the check arrived, we all leaned in to peek at the damage and howled with laughter. Hot tears exploded from my face. Gary owed The Stone Park just under $3,300.

As for me, I had $6,000 reserved, should I lose. And I thought I would lose, as I have an addictive relationship with my phone that I suspect is worse than most people’s.

I had practiced quite a lot, though. Throughout the week leading up to the game, I tried to keep my phone within arm’s reach while subjecting myself to extreme amounts of stress. I found a Youtube video called Fear/Anxiety Inducing Music — 17 hz tone laced with 396 hz binaural beat, which I played on loop while taking inventory of any little unnatural twitches of my body.


Gary’s loss, revisited

I am still surprised by Gary’s sudden loss, considering his record, and how seriously he took the game.

So here I am detailing indicators, to try to piece it all together, which are more for me than you.

So—When the drinks arrived, the waiter switched the glasses as if to assure each of us that our respective drink wasn’t poisoned, and then we placed our phones facedown as bird-woman had told us to.

Right off the bat, I had a problem with Gary. During the first fifteen minutes of gameplay, we were giddy, drinking beer, making small talk and laughing self-consciously at the absurdity of what we were doing. Meanwhile Gary was mumbling to himself under his breath. I heard him say that the conditions were “less than optimal” for a balanced game.

After my second drink, I pressed Gary to elaborate on his insular complaints, which drew some nervous laughter from the girls.

Gary smiled and looked at his hands. He claimed the “stroller gridlock in Park Slope is at a high today,” the entangled, leashed children caused “all kinds of subliminal distractions” for him.

It is possible, I said.

But I could not accept Gary’s claims that the birds were out in droves. From the Park to Boerum Hill they went tweet, tweet, and could easily be mistaken for ringtones. His words, not mine.

I wanted Gary to flip his phone. A nasty, alien copy of me grew inside of my sternum, started speaking for me. I didn’t care how long it took for Gary to breakdown, if I had to sit there and grit it all day.

By my third drink, I knew exactly how to crush Gary’s resolve into powder.

I called the waiter over and ordered the most expensive bottle of beer they had on the menu.

When the waiter came lurching over, white-gloving it like a Harlan Estate, I told him assertively that the bottle was for me solely. Then I ordered an oyster po’ boy and several plates of Andouille sausages. I ate all of this methodically, staring Gary right in the eyes. But I didn’t say a word. I just let him unravel his own yarn.

When Gary finally “flipped out,” it was not by the usual fluoride-eyed jerk I had expected to see, but a very lucid flick of the wrist. It was a movement that suggested devout resignation. When I held out a hand for him to shake, he stood up. I thought he was going to turn the table over and punch me. Instead he pulled out his wallet, dumped the contents on the table, and pushed them towards me: greasy receipts made invisible by age, half-used gift cards, even one of those spider rings you buy with tickets at an arcade. “Just take all my goddam money,” he kept saying. But I didn’t see much of it, and I let him know.

And everyone but me stood up when, attempting to put his foot through a planter, Gary collapsed through a lean-to, causing a circle of tourists to scream.

The owner of The Stone Park tried to pick Gary up by the wrists as they both slipped, got up, and eventually rolled around in the debris.

I reluctantly put in for the bill because the idiot was hauled away blithely and I was increasingly desperate not to cave-in yet another who-you-know, you know? But, I said to the girls, aren’t rules rules? You don’t see a snooker player getting a pass because he didn’t chalk his cue.

I did not blame myself, because I did nothing more than read the signs. And that is quite hard to do these days when we are more liable to run into them than see them.

Patrick Berlinquette

Written by

Founder of a NY digital marketing agency (like we need another). Finding humor in marketing tech’s depravity. Send vitriol: patrickberlinsem[at]gmail[dot]com

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