It's possible that the phrase "bingo night" conjures up images of a blue-haired old lady juggling 10 cards while puffing on Virginia Slims. Not exactly a hallmark of hip. But frankly, those ladies in blue may have something to teach you. The game is easy -- if you didn't learn it in grade school, you can pick it up within minutes -- and costs almost nothing to play. Yet payoff can be huge: Jackpots go up to $1,000. And in an area that has nights for anyone from recent African immigrants to cross-dressing bon vivants to, yes, super-competitive grannies, the people-watching is hard to beat.

"It's just good, cheap entertainment," says Brookland resident Katie Acuff, 23, who got hooked after dropping into a game at a neighborhood church a few weeks ago. "I know I should be focusing on things like, oh, finding a date. But here I am!"

American Legion Post 139. 3445 N. Washington Blvd., Arlington. 703-524-1396. Classic bingo prevails Tuesday nights at this Clarendon venue. American Legions around the country preserve social events such as pancake breakfasts, fish fries and ice cream socials. Here, bingo night, beginning at 7, proves itself to be another tradition worth keeping, featuring a mostly older crowd. Cards start at $25 for 27 games.

Bingo World. 4901 Belle Grove Rd., Baltimore. 410-636-0311. For true junkies, this blinking, casino-like temple to all things B-I-N-G-O is the ultimate fix. You can play electronic or old-fashioned games. Among the weirdest options are the Friday and Saturday Twilight Zone versions that don't start until 1 a.m. -- in case you get a late-night hankering. Prizes and card prices vary; during the Twilight Zone, nine cards are $4.

Drag Bingo at Club Chaos. 1603 17th St. NW. 202-232-4141. On Tuesday nights, this gay-friendly nightclub hangs tinsel streamers, blares game-show music and morphs into a kitschy bingo hall, hostessed by a few lovely, ahem, ladies. Naughtiness abounds: Hostesses brandish sex toys (one of the prizes) and encourage the audience to recite the house favorite bingo-call combination -- O-69, of course. It's free to play, but tipping and imbibing at the bar are encouraged.

Eritrean Cultural and Civic Center. 600 L St. NW. 202-393-0379. This center is usually members-only, but on Tuesdays and Saturdays from 8 to 10 p.m., the public is invited in for bingo. The crowd is almost exclusively men from Eritrea -- manager Robel Yohannes says that in their culture, the genders don't typically socialize together in public -- but it's friendly to newcomers. Playing costs $4 or less per card, and jackpots go from $100 to $1,000.

Ukrainian Catholic National Shrine. 4250 Harewood Rd. NE. 202-526-3737. Make no mistake, the regular 7:45 p.m. Wednesday games here are serious stuff -- just check out the odd assortment of good-luck charms some players assemble around their cards. The church offers games in smoking and nonsmoking rooms. In the former, you can buy yummy refreshments, such as thick slices of homemade lemon cake. Sheets containing multiple bingo cards start at $9 for 72 games. Prizes range from $25 to $1000.

Emily Heil

Outrageously fun: Next time you say your friends "dragged" you to bingo night, it'll have a whole new meaning.