Photos: Rafil Kroll-Zaidi ’03, left, and Brian DeLeeuw ’03 prepare to settle an affair of honor. Duels take place at noon, and on occasion at midnight, but never at dawn since it is the rare student who can rise with the sun. (Frank Wojciechowski)

February 26, 2003: On the Campus

’Pon my honour!
Settling disputes the old-fashioned way . . .
with paint

By Kristin Roper ’03

Nearly 200 years after Aaron Burr ’72 (Class of SEVENTEEN-seventy-two, that is) mortally wounded Alexander Hamilton in Weehawken, New Jersey, Ari Samsky ’03 and Rafil Kroll-Zaidi ’03 cofounded the Princeton Dueling Society. The two self-described fops had multiple motivations for starting the club, not the least of which was that they both delight in the ceremonial formality of a duel. They insist on semiformal or formal wear for the occasion, because, as Samsky says, “Defending your honor means you’re willing to put on your best dress-up clothes and get paint on them.”

As outlined in the Princeton Dueling Society’s mission statement, each duel is a forum for settling disputes in a civilized manner. If a society member feels that his honor has been challenged, he visits the Dueling Society Web site and peruses a simple checklist to define the offense. Is it a matter of personal honor? Perhaps it is an issue of public slander? The honor of a lady? Family honor? Blood feud? The Dueling Society informs the challenged student about his obligation to participate in the duel, and the matter is settled with paintball pistols.

At high noon on a Wednesday afternoon in December, approximately 40 students gathered on the snow-covered front lawn of Terrace Club to watch the spectacle that Kroll-Zaidi described as “an ideological battle.” Owen Conroy ’05, “Democrat and, by extension, representative of all downtrodden and swarthy peoples” faced off against Republican Pete Hegseth ’03, “a representative of the Princeton Tory newspaper, and by extension, our captains of industry and war hawks.”

Conroy and Hegseth, wearing dress clothes and ties according to the Dueling Society’s explicit requirements, dueled in the Russian style. They began by standing back-to-back, walked five paces in opposite directions, turned, and fired their futuristic silver paintball pistols. Hegseth’s shot hit his target, but the paintball failed to explode. Kroll-Zaidi, the judge, declared the hit nonmortal. The participants began again, pacing out five steps. This time, Hegseth, an R.O.T.C. member with a decent shot, hit the bull’s eye, so to speak, soiling the front of his competitor’s pants.

“If that’s not mortal, I don’t know what is,” Kroll-Zaidi announced.

Then, roommates Bryan McArdle ’03 and Andrew Wang ’03 faced off. According to the flyer advertising the event, “This duel will attest to the vigour and marksmanship of either the besotted Irish or the industrious Chinese.” But McArdle, who is Scottish by lineage, claims to have challenged Wang to the duel for entirely different reasons. “It was just the accumulation of tension in our room. Wang has no respect for me, and he insists on taping the soap opera Passions everyday.” McArdle continued, “Oh yeah, and the honor of a lady.” When asked to elaborate on the problems between them, Wang vigorously denied watching Passions.

The roommates settled their dispute in the French style. McArdle and Wang converged from an initial distance of 30 paces, with guns raised. Wang owned the day, taking the first shot and nailing McArdle squarely on the head with an orange paint splat.

When asked if the duel had resolved their issues, McArdle said, “I was worried he was going to hit me in the head. I’ve got a welt.”

Samsky and Kroll-Zaidi are both thrilled by the response to their brainchild. Enthusiastic students joined the Dueling Society for a membership fee of $20, generating enough money to purchase the paintball pistols, supply the ammunition, and sponsor social functions in the future. With so many people looking to participate, the club has been forced to limit itself to the current membership of 60.

The faculty is likewise amused by this artfully contrived extracurricular activity. “There are a few professors who’ve been tremendously good-humored about this. They’ve helped us research other examples of collegiate dueling — in Germany, for example,” said Kroll-Zaidi. One of the faculty will become even more integrally involved when, later this winter, Matthew Goldberg ’04 duels his adviser, Assistant Professor of Near Eastern Studies Michael Doran *97. Goldberg challenged Professor Doran because of “ongoing outrages” to his honor during class hours, and Professor Doran’s "appalling lack of facial hair".

Kristin Roper is an art and archaeology major from Alpine, New Jersey. You can reach her at



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