The informant, GW, is my father. He was a fighter pilot in the United States Air Force during the late 1980s/early 1990s and participated in operation Desert Storm. I have heard him tell many stories from his time in the Air Force throughout my childhood, so I asked him to tell me some of his traditions to collect for my project. This was an informal interview in our household, and followed a description of another game listed in the archives as “Deceased Insect – A Fighter Pilot Bar Game”. The interviewer is indicated as SW in the text.
For another description of Crud (that claims the game as an invention of the Canadian Air Force), see Bjorn Claes’s description on F-16.net at https://www.f-16.net/varia_article4.html .
GW: “There is a much more involved game, which required skill, called crud… um that’s played nominally on a, well it’s played on a crud table, which looks a lot like a pool table. But you only use two balls in the entire game. Ones a striped ball so that you can tell, that’s the object ball, and then the shooter ball is the cue ball. The object ball is striped so that you can tell when it stops spinning. So you play with two teams… I’ll go through the rules as quickly as I can for you. You play with two teams that are opposing each other, each person on the team shoots, and then, so you have four people on a team. You have team A person 1 shoots, then team B person 1 shoots, then team A person 2, then team B person 2, then team A person 3, etc. right? And you go round and round and round and round. So you start with the uh, object ball on its designated spot on one end of the table and the shooter on the other end. You can only shoot from the short ends of the table, and um, that means that the center line of your person has to be… on the short end of the table when you shoot. You must have at least one foot on the floor, when you shoot. Uh, and you must be on the short end of the table. Um, there are violations… for not doing any of those things. Any violation is assessed by the referee and all violations result in the loss of a life for that person – each person has three lives. When all of your lives are gone, then uh, you’re out of the game. And when all of the lives are gone for all of the players on your team then your team loses and you must buy your opponent opposite you on the other team the beverage of their choice. And the losing team must pay the referee by a beverage of his choice. So, you have to shoot from the short side of the table, must have at least on the, on the um, ground whenever you shoot, and the centerline of your body must be on the short side of the table. Corners can be defined as either 45 degree corners or 90 degree corners, so that gives you another 45 degrees to get around the table to shoot. That’s important because the other team can also distract and block. Now they can’t, if you’re playing gentlemanly rules, they can’t shove you out of the way, but they can, if they have established position, kinda like basketball, if they have established position you can not move them out of the way. So sometimes having to reach around, have one foot on the floor, and still be on the short side of the table, can be fairly difficult. So, the only pockets that count in crud are the corner pockets. The side pockets are filled with toilet paper rolls usually if it’s a um, pool table that’s been pressed into service but if it’s an actual crud table it won’t have side pockets. So you can lose a life if you… if the um, object ball ends up in a pocket, then that’s a loss of life for somebody. Ok? If it’s… uh, a uh, a kill shot – so somebody shot and you kill the ball, then it’s on the previous guy. If it’s lack of hustle on the guy that’s next in turn, then it’s on subsequent. So, the referee will go ‘Life! Subsequent.’ and he’ll point with his elbow, because it’s impolite to actually point. So, he can get fined if he actually points.
SW: “Kay. There are a lot of rules to this game.”
GW: “We have… just getting started. Uh, you must make contact with the object ball, except for the serve, right? So on the serve you must make contact with the object ball and get it in motion. The next shooter must shoot, hit the object ball with the shooter ball, again, before the ball stops. The ball must travel at least six inches. Which is normally uh, a dollar bill is used as the measure of six inches. So it must travel at least six inches, and if it doesn’t, then either the referee or the members of the opposing team can scream ‘No six!’ and then it must be measured from the spot where it was hit to where it stopped to determine whether it had gone six inches or not. If it has gone six inches then it’s the subsequent player for lack of hustle, if it didn’t go six inches then it’s the shooter for no six. You with me? So, there’s a couple of different ways to play this game, right? Ok there’s also, let’s see, what other violations are there? Um, if you, if the object ball stops, and you have the ball in hand, that’s ball in hand or dead ball, right? Um, and that’s bad on you, right? You can shoot as many times as you want to, uh as long as the balls, as long as the object balls still rolling, right? But as soon as it hits, then you gotta get out of the way and it’s time for the other two to get in, right? So anybody’s whos not actively either the person shooting or the subsequent player, must be at least three feet away from the table, kay?”
SW: “That results in a lot of running.”
GW: “Yeah. Um, and you can do several different things, right? One way to get a kill is to get it into a pocket, right? So, and you, the object ball can go in the pocket any time. So if the object ball goes in the pocket then somebody’s gotta dig it out and get to the shot before it stops, right? Um, you can crawl across the table, to get to where you wanna go, if you think you’re that fast. But if you hit either one of the balls or the referee, then it’s either, so you would be called for interference if you hit the, one of the balls, that would be an automatic life. If you hit the referee, that’s usually called gross buffoonery and uh, and penalized another beverage, or a life. Um, you can argue with the ref, in fact it’s expected um, to argue with the ref and the players and try to intimidate and shout people into believing anything. Distraction is encouraged, um but you can not, ya know if the ref just screws it up, then the ref screws it up, but whatever the ref calls is what it is. Um, and so you can try to bribe, distract um, have them look elsewhere, whatever else, right? Um, I think that’s mostly the rules of the game. Usually, we would just tell people, ‘let’s get started we’ll figure it out.’ And then they get called for everything and go ‘what happened? What happened? What happened? How did I lose a life?’ Um, and I guess the only other thing, the only other rule that’s in there is if you get down to a single man on a team, um then you go into single man rules which meant you could not actively block, you had to let him have a chance to shoot. So you could get a life on somebody by shooting the object ball in the pocket, which would usually be a um life on the previous, could be on the subsequent if they didn’t move fast enough that would be a judgment call on the ref. Um, but usually, there’s also a finesse game, where you can, um, learn how to hit the ball – and none of this is with sticks, I don’t know if I said that.”
SW: “Right, you’re just throwing the ball across the table.”
GW: “Rolling, not throwing. Because if the ball leaves the table that’s gross buffoonery and you lose a life. Um, but you could, you could shoot the ball such that you had the spin on it right and just enough, just enough kiss on the object ball, that it would, the object ball would only go six inches, but then the, the shooter ball would go all the way to the other end of the table, and stop. So if the guy is trying to block you, and block your shot, right? He can’t hit your arm or anything but he can visually block and make it hard for you to see and generally just get in your way. But if you get it where you can flick it and the object ball only moves six inches but then the other ball goes way down then he doesn’t have enough time to go get the ball and shoot it again, right? There’s also a special rule called a double kiss rule, where the object ball doesn’t have to travel a total of six inches if you double kiss it, which means you hit it, it comes off a bumper, and you hit it again with the object ball, right?”
SW: “That sounds very difficult.”
GW: “Well you learn to play this little game, right? Right up against the bumper, because you can go ‘bink’ and it goes ‘tick tick’ and the object ball stops, right? And so usually if you’re starting to play that game, it’s a ‘tick tick’ ‘tick tick’ ‘tick tick’ ‘tick tick’ ‘tick tick’ ya know two guys standing right next to each other and then eventually a guy’ll get a chance where he can either put it in a pocket or, ya know he’ll do a chop shot like this, which’ll go ‘tick tick’ and then the shooter ball goes way down on other end of the table and the other guy doesn’t have enough room to go get it, right? So, um, so yeah, a game, ya know if you have four or five people on a side, I’ve seen as much as twelve people on a side.”
SW: “Oh no.”
GW: “Yeah, ya know if you’ve got four or five people on a side games usually last about 10 or 12 minutes. And then the losers buy the beverage of choice for their partners, their opponent on the other side. And somebody, usually the first one out, um is the guy that, um has to buy the ref a beer. Uh, first guy that loses a life goes and buys the ref a beer. Oh, and if there are any virgins left on the winning team then it’s double. Meaning they haven’t lost any lives. So,, if you have a virgin on the team then the other team has to buy you double. It kinda levels the playing field after a couple of games.”
SW: “Yeah, that would make sense!”
GW: “Right? And then you can get into combat rules which are really, it’s a bar room fight with a pool table in the middle.”
SW: “Great! So you play this, what? When you’re at the bar?”
Crud has elaborate rules that, in the informant’s wife’s words, “no one actually understands.” Its first purpose is a fun social activity to bring together everyone at the bar and get them all involved in a common goal. Secondly, it reinforces the drinking culture that is a major aspect of fighter pilot life. It also acts as an identifier of insider members of the group, since only fighter pilots would know the elaborate rules. The fact that there is some actual skill involved, and that GW made sure to highlight the skill aspect, shows that much of fighter pilot culture is showing off skill and proving your technical abilities and prowess to other members of the group. The rules seem somewhat intentionally vague, so that players and refs can argue over whether someone actually broke the rules or not. This might show the fighter pilot spirit of equality, both in everyone deciding the rules together, and the rules being subtly changed to help or hinder players who might be significantly better or worse than those they are playing with.