You might want to think twice before you open that Pringles can. Or slip on those shoes. Or go to move that sweater off that chair. You sure you want to? I mean, go ahead, just be cautious. You never know where one might turn up. And when it does, there’s no going back. You’ll sigh, crack a smile, take a knee, and someone will hand you the bottle opener attached to their keys. Then you must chug, in cold, sickly gulps, the entire bottle of Smirnoff Ice. You have to. Those are the rules.
In 2010, The New York Times called icing "the nation’s biggest viral drinking game," and a decade later, remarkably, that statement still stands. No other drinking challenge has been as pervasive in college culture and beyond. I still occasionally flip past the classic someone-icing-someone Instagram story, and last summer I saw Smirnoff Ice on a menu at a diner and ordered one for a friend who hadn’t shown yet. A colleague of mine attended a 2018 wedding in which the bride had an Ice waiting in her garter for the groom. And when I mentioned this story in a recent staff meeting, a video was pulled up of another colleague being iced in our office within seconds.
Icing lingers like a high school friend you catch up with once every few months. Always nice to see, never top of mind. The Smirnoff Ice itself has the same energy—it’s about as average of a malt beverage as they come. Not at the top of anyone’s would-reach-for-first drink list, but it’s not undrinkable. The challenge began because no one—especially a frat boy who exclusively favors PBR—really wants to down a Smirnoff Ice. The mediocrity (and by pre-woke, "bro" culture standards, femininity) of the drink is what makes forcing one upon your friend fun in the first place.
I don’t remember the first time I witnessed an icing or the first time I was iced myself, and I don’t know how or when I learned what icing was. Like daylight savings time and marriage, icing is the kind of societal custom that simply is because it has always been. But when a recent email about a limited edition, Fourth of July-inspired Smirnoff Ice (which, like most neon blue refreshments, does not give off a distinct "fit for human consumption" vibe) led me down a Google rabbit hole, I learned that The Year of Our Lord 2020 is, among other things, the 10-year anniversary of Smirnoff icing. As hard as it is to believe, the Neanderthals did not ice one another back in the day. Neither did your parents. So in the absence of a frat culture museum, which I pray does not exist but am too frightened to Google in case it does, what follows is a complete and thorough history of the Smirnoff Ice, in honor of its decennial.
A Smirnoff Ice party in 2002.
The exact origin of icing is difficult to determine—according to the Times, icing probably began either in Vermont or at Saint Lawrence University in New York. But its rise to virality is a real Zuckerberg/Winklevoss situation: Fraternity members of Pi Kappa Alpha at the College of Charleston said they were the first to put the rules online, on BroBible.com, in April of 2010. That post was then allegedly taken without permission by a 22-year-old recent college graduate in nearby Columbia, South Carolina, who used it as the foundation for BrosIcingBros.com. What is incontestable is that this bygone time was rampant with unironic domain name use of the term "bro." May heaven forgive us.
An Ice for America.
BrosIcingBros.com no longer exists, but was once, for a few exhilarating springtime months, a beacon of cross-country, user-submitted icing content. It was a site to gain inspiration on creative places to hide Ices for one’s own bros; a glorious internet haven for hungover buds to share a laugh. The creator of the website, who wished to remain anonymous in a 2010 Fortune interview, said that by the end of April of that year, he had more than 100 email submissions per day and needed to enlist friends to help him moderate. The site, may it rest in peace, was shut down before June of 2010, perhaps by Smirnoff itself.
From the outset, Smirnoff and it’s parent company, Diageo, denied any involvement in icing. A publicity campaign that blatantly supported binge drinking would have been ill advised, as would one seemingly predicated on the unpleasant nature of a product. Still, Diageo’s statement at the time, which insisted it was taking measures to "stop this misuse of its Smirnoff Ice brand," also shrugged it off, noting that "some people think it is fun." Despite internet theories of its involvement, the brand maintained that "the icing phenomenon is consumer generated...we never want under-age 'icing' and we always want responsible drinking." Basically, the messaging was: Buy it and chug it all you want, as long as you are of legal age to do so.
Like daylight savings time and marriage, icing is the kind of societal custom that simply is because it has always been.
And a phenomenon it was. The game spread like wildfire in the spring and summer of 2010—icings were reported in prestigious New York offices; Mike Zuckerberg iced Facebook’s director of product; someone created a website with the sole aim of imploring the public to ice Ashton Kutcher; Coolio got iced in the middle of his own concert. College kids would carry Ices clipped onto their belts in order to ward off attacks (according to the original rules, your attacker drinks both bottles if you already have one on you). Smirnoff, it seems, just got lucky. And though the viral videos, celebrity icings, and office sneak attacks tapered off, icing lived on, humming like a refrigerator in the background of college culture in the years that followed.
Four years later, the Washington Post declared that "the game ran its course. 'Icing' is no longer a thing." Now, I was in college in 2014 and can say, at least anecdotally, that this is resoundingly fake news. But in this same article in which the Post set forth to decry the Ice, it reported that Americans purchased over 300 million Smirnoff Ices that year—enough for everyone in the country to get iced once. Per capita consumption was even higher in Costa Rica, New Zealand, Australia, and Canada (where I went to school). Icing may not have made headlines for a while, but it continued to humbly chug along (I’m sorry) at parties everywhere.
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Coolio gets Iced after Gangsta's ParadiseWatch on
But then! Icing made the news again in 2018, when the Washington Post reported that a White House staffer—the deputy director of the Presidential Personnel Office—was iced at a happy hour. According to the Post, the PPO, which is responsible for recruiting and vetting political appointees, under Trump reportedly "became something of a social hub, where young staffers from throughout the administration stopped by to hang out on couches and smoke electronic cigarettes, known as vaping." The White House even confirmed that PPO officials played "the Icing game," explaining that happy hours were a way to network and let off steam. The Hill, Bustle, Business Insider, and Thrillist, among others, all covered the icing on Capitol Hill.
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And finally, nine years after the first reported icing, Smirnoff softened. With icing settling comfortably into respected cultural custom, perhaps it figured it was safe to assume no one would be starting a blog documenting icings in 2019, hence encouraging underage drinking. During the 2019 holiday season, the company fully leaned in marketing-wise, creating generic-looking gift boxes that advertised lame gifts—either a hand-mixer, a wooden clothes hanger, or an ironing board—but in actuality contained a singular Smirnoff Ice. The boxes were branded with the name Cremisiffino, which is an anagram for Smirnoff Ice. Clever! The company explained that it was turning "a boring gifting moment into delicious, unforgettable fun, and the gift giver into the party legend." Sadly, these boxes are now sold out, but I’ll let you in on a little secret: You can make one yourself at home with literally any box in the world.
Not many viral trends stick around in such a way. You don’t see anyone doing the Ice Bucket challenge in the White House these days. No one's planking anymore. Remember neknominations? A (dangerous) one summer wonder. But icing is the Bhad Bhabie of drinking trends. There’s something about it that society—from the grimiest of frat parties to the highest office in the nation—just can’t seem to shake. Why? It’s good, classic prankery. You get to be creative with the hiding location, you get to witness your target’s reaction, and then you get to watch them suffer. And while icing's tenth year has been a rough one, it's worth noting that icing is compliant with social distancing. You don’t need a large gathering or an indoor space to make it happen. Just a thought.
In the Times’ 2010 deep dive into the matter, interviewee Alex Rospos said that he "thought that their current exuberance [regarding icing] would not last through the summer." Time has proven him wrong. You know what to do.
Assistant Content Strategy Editor
Lauren Kranc is the assistant content strategy editor at Esquire, where she runs the brand’s social media accounts and covers pop culture and television, with entirely too narrow an expertise on true crime shows