I vaguely heard of the cup game years ago, but never tried it before, and I'm not sure I've ever seen it in action (done by more than one person, I mean) in real life.
Turns out that at some point a few years ago, Lulu and the Lampshades figured out that the rhythms of the game went well with a song from the 1930s called “When I'm Gone.” They made a popular video (2 min) of the song with the game. I quite like their version of the song, and the video. I especially like the neat bit in the middle where they briefly do the cup game out of phase with each other, almost like a rhythm round.
You can buy the audio version for $1 (or more if you like) at Bandcamp. It sounds good even without the video.
The cup song apparently got further circulation when it appeared in the 2012 movie Pitch Perfect, which I don't think I had heard of until a couple weeks ago, though apparently it did quite well in theatres. So now everyone seems to know this as that cup song from Pitch Perfect.
And Anna Kendrick, who performs it in the movie, then did a music video of the song (5 min), which I assume isn't connected to the movie other than being the same song.
And then recently, someone did a version of the song in Irish (3 min), with what appears to be a couple hundred teens playing the cup game and singing along.
I'm posting this entry today in order to be able to close some browser windows. But because I have way too many other things I should be doing, I decided to try out the cup game myself. The first link in this entry, up above, is a how-to video; it's not perfect, but after watching bits of it a few times (and pausing in various places), I learned it. It's a remarkably pleasing and hypnotic rhythm. I think when I first saw the game, it seemed a little pointless to me, especially in the second half of the sequence when you pick up the cup, touch it to your other hand, and put it down again before transferring to your other hand. But now that I've tried it, I really like how it goes.
I'm guessing I would like it even more with multiple players in sync, moving the cups from each person to the next. That aspect of it reminds me of a passing-items-around-a-circle-in-unison game we used to play in high school (“This is a spoon.” “A what?” “A spoon”), but that didn't have the percussion rhythm aspect.
It also reminds me of the nifty four-person six-beat clapping pattern someone taught me in high school, only in that it requires everyone to do their individual parts in rhythm in order for the interaction-with-neighbors part to work out smoothly.
I'm reaching for a metaphor having to do with assembly lines, but I'm not quite getting there. I almost want to say that this kind of game (and especially the cup game) is like a non-dehumanizing assembly line—everyone doing their skilled but repetitive part to produce a greater pattern in harmony, but in the games it's play instead of work, and it doesn't last long, and it's much less likely to result in repetitive stress injuries.