Ping Pong Fever

May 2, 2012

Ping Pong Fever: The Madness That Swept 1902 America by Steve Grant

During a break between coaching sessions I pulled out the book "Ping Pong Fever" (260 oversized pages, available at, $15.95) and spent a fascinating afternoon learning about the 1902 American table tennis craze. (Here's the cover.) The basic story is this: table tennis swept America in 1902 as a huge fad, and then was nearly forgotten for over two decades. If you have any sort of historical bent, or simply want to read about table tennis and its beginnings, you'll want to read this book. You don't even have to read it, though that's highly recommended; just the pictures tell the story. And it's absolutely packed with vintage table tennis pictures, circa 110 years ago. (Now I know why Steve Grant is the #1 contributor of pictures for A bunch of kids on break gathered around and spent a bunch of time browsing the pictures with me.

The book has an unbelievable number of excerpts from newspapers of the time, giving readers a flavor of just how the game was viewed in those days. Numerous Ping pong cartoons also adorn the pages. The book has 26 chapters divided into six sections: 1. Going Viral; 2. Changing Lives; 3. The Victims and Their Gatherings; 4. Serious Cases; 5. How It All Started; and 6. How It All Ended. There are also ten "Side-Spin" sub-chapters that cover various themes, as well as an epilogue with four sections.

One of the best chapters is the one titled "Who Really Invented It?", which explains that "As with many inventions, this one was evolutionary, not revolutionary." The chapter gives "...the true early history of table tennis and ping pong, the most complete and accurate yet published, beginning at the beginning." While the sport was developed incrementally, Steve traces the name Ping Pong back to 1884, and declares the actual inventor of the game: James Devonshire, an electrician, in 1885.

You'll learn that originally players served by hitting the ball directly to the opponent's court, like in tennis (i.e. the ball didn't have to bounce on your side first), but the serve had to be done underhand--and to thwart very tall players from smacking the ball downward, contact had to be no more than five inches above the table. Did you know that in doubles players once had to use one racket, and between shots place the racket on the table for the partner to grab? (You couldn't hand it to him directly.) And that scoring was at one time done tennis style ("40-love!"). You'll also learn about tiddledy wink tennis, balloon tennis, and other early versions of the game.

You'll read about ping pong perfume, ping pong drinks, twins named Ping and Pong, ping pong in Broadway shows, ping pong gambling, and ping pong on a train. You'll read about the early tennis champions that dominated early table tennis. You'll learn that a wedding was cancelled because a woman insisted that she'd continue to play ping-pong even after the wedding, and the non-ping-pong-playing husband-to-be thought that was unbecoming of a lady. Yes, ping-pong players were crazy even back then.

I'll close the review with the poem on page 1 (from a ping pong ad), one of several from the time:

That's Ping Pong dear---it's all the rage,
The Bar, the Church, the House, the Stage
All Ping pong now---it's quite the fashion,
And you don't know it? (with compassion).
"Such ignorance is quite a shame;
Come, you shall see us play a game!"
Alas, she saw---she caught the fever---
(And goodness knew when it would leave her.)

Celebrities Playing Table Tennis

I've updated the Celebrities Playing Table Tennis page with 19 pictures of 9 new celebrities. This brings the total to 1407 pictures of 819 celebrities! This month's updates:

  • Andy Sonnanstine, baseball pitcher (4 pictures)
  • John Garfield, actor
  • Chris Gethard, actor, comedian, and talk show host (3 pictures)
  • Dave Haywood, Lady Antebellum band member (2 pictures)
  • Hillary Scott, Lady Antebellum band member (3 pictures)
  • Charles Kelley, Lady Antebellum band member (6 pictures)
  • Jason Slim Gambill, Lady Antebellum band member (2 pictures)
  • Redfoo, member of band LMFAO (2 pictures)
  • SkyBlu, member of band LMFAO (2 pictures)

Interview with Dora Kurimay

Here's an interview with Dora Kurimay, author of the ebook "Get Your Game Face On," the sports psychology book for table tennis.

Crazy table tennis shot

Here's one of the craziest table tennis shots you'll ever see (0:30) - the ball hits the net and goes off the side of the table at a crazy angle. The opponent scoops the ball off the floor besides the net, and hits a pop-up ball with backspin - but the ball lands very short, and bounces back onto her side of the table, unreturnable! (Wait a minute - I do versions of this shot every day while coaching kids, where I'll suddenly throw a backspin lob up, and if they don't get to the side of the table quickly (and pick the right side to go to), the ball bounces back to my side. Of course I don't normally scoop it off the floor....)

Warren Buffett's Olympic Discovery

Here's an article in this morning's Wall Street Journal on Warren Buffett and . . . Ariel Hsing! According to Ariel, "The luckiest moment of my life was meeting Uncle Warren and Uncle Bill." To find out why (and to find out who "Uncle Bill" is - Duh!), read on!

Pong . . . with Cars???

Remember the game that started the video game craze, Pong? Well, here's a video (1:30) of the new version of Pong that's sweeping the nation, "Smart E-Ball," i.e. Pong played with cars! We're talking real cars, driving back and forth to "hit" the ball on a video screen! 


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April 30, 2012

Tip of the Week

Chalk Up Wins with Chop Blocks.

Coaching breakthroughs

A number of my students had "minor" breakthroughs this weekend, especially some of the younger kids, and it all added up to a rather successful weekend of coaching. (Twelve hours total.) I titled this "coaching breakthroughs," but perhaps that should be "playing breakthroughs"? After all, it's the players who are having breakthroughs!

  • One six-year-old who literally couldn't put the ball on the table last week - he had this nasty habit of opening his paddle at the last second and smacking the ball up - mostly fixed that problem, and was able to hit about 20 in a row. In a game at the end of the session he knocked down nearly an entire pyramid of paper cups with one shot, something he hadn't come close to doing before.
  • Another solved her problem on the backhand and hit 65 in a row. She's the type that never seems to smile while playing - but she was all grins after that.
  • One kid learned to loop for the first time. Another discovered the joys of counterlooping, and we counterlooped for half an hour. (More! More! More!).
  • One kid finally mastered "Doing the Journey." He's now hard at work on doing the "Return Serve," where you serve high with backspin so the ball bounces directly back over the net. (And his regular serves are getting spinny as well!)
  • Among older students, one really began to master spin serves - and after the session, we spent ten minutes doing the 50-foot serve, where we serve from 50 feet to the side of the table and try to curve the ball so it lands on the table with a legal serve. (It's fun and good practice in creating spin.)
  • Another advanced player continued his backhand development, and is beginning to win matches because of it. (Many players have good backhand drives but weak backhand loops; he has a good backhand loop but his backhand counter-hitting for his 1900 level was weak and is the primary thing holding him back from 2000 and beyond.)
  • And another experimented with various grips due to a hand injury - but he'll get over that. (Actually, it only affected his forehand loop, so he got lots of backhand practice.

USATT Coaching Newsletter

The new USATT Coaching Newsletter is out! It's mostly about new ITTF coaching seminars. I'm planning to run one around late August or September, but haven't scheduled it yet.

Ping Pong Fever

The book Ping Pong Fever: The Madness that Swept 1902 America is featured in the new issue of The Table Tennis Collector. (I just read most of the book and went over the huge number of pictures, and plan to write a review soon.)

MDTTC May Open

If you are in the area (or want to do some traveling!) come join us for the $2600 MDTTC May Open at the Maryland Table Tennis Center this weekend, May 5-6. The prize money has more than doubled from past tournaments. Here's the new prize money and events:

Open:   1st $1000 2nd $400 3-4: $200
U2300: 1st $200 2nd $100
U2150: 1st $150 2nd $75
U2000: 1st $100 2nd $50
U1850: 1st $80 2nd $40
U1600: 1st Trophy 2nd Trophy
U1350: 1st Trophy 2nd Trophy
U1100: 1st Trophy 2nd Trophy

High-tech ping-pong table

The surface and net of this computerized ping-pong table is a touch screen, and the computer can display the exact position where the ball bounced. It displays the score and statistics. Soon it'll probably play the game for us as well!

Amazing Table Tennis

Here's a video of the most amazing table tennis shots of 2011 (8:49). (I don't think I linked to this before, but if I did, it's worth watching again.)

Pearls Before Swine

They did a table tennis cartoon on Saturday, April 28.

Crazy Japanese table tennis

Here's 9:41 of crazy Japanese table tennis as they aim at targets (including human faces behind a glass window), play on improvised tables, with rackets with big holes in them, and other weird stuff. (Thanks Julian Waters for sending this one to me. Now I'm going to have nightmares.)


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