A Sport of Soldiers and Kings
The sport was referenced in writing for the first time when the English King Edward the III banned his troops from lawn bowling in order to prevent their being distracted from archery practice. While the game is now considered to be largely blue collar, Henry VIII is said to have been a fan of the game and used cannon balls in sport.
Evolution of An American Classic
Meanwhile, Germans continued playing a traditional outdoor version of the sport known as skittles, which used heavy balls to knock down small pins called skittles. This game served as the inspiration for the more popular modern forms of bowling, starting with ninepin, which was introduced in America in the colonial era. Unfortunately, the sport began being associated with gambling, workplace truancy, and crime, leading to its illegalization in many cities.
In 1841, the entire state of Connecticut banned ninepin bowling, which some claim led to the invention of tenpin bowling by people who were circumventing the law. Others claim the game started earlier though and that it only gained popularity in the area due to the outlawing of the more common ninepin game. It is said that the wooden version of the modern bowling ball was invented on December 29, 1862, but it’s difficult to find more information on this claim than the date. Regardless, the first standardized rules for tenpin were undoubtedly established in New York City in September 9, 1895.
In 1914, Brunswick improved the game switching out wooden balls with hard rubber balls. In 1936, bowling became a lot quicker and less expensive because the pinboys were replaced with semi-automatic pinsetters. In 1946, AMF created the first completely automatic pinsetter, which was soon replaced by a 1955 Brunswick model. The later versions of this machine are in operation in the majority of alleys today.
The game’s popularity exploded in the U.S. in the 1970s after automatic scorer became commonplace in bowling alleys across the country. Because the scoring for bowling is somewhat complicated, bowlers before this invention came out had to have a somewhat detailed understanding of the game. Nowadays, casual bowlers, professionals and kids can all share the same lanes and not have to worry about the difficulties of keeping score.
Scoring Is Harder Than It Sounds
I’m sure most of you know that in bowling, when you knock down a pin, you get a point for that pin. The confusion about scoring comes into play when the bowler gets a strike or a spare. When you get a strike, you get 10 points, plus the points for the next two balls thrown. When you get a spare, you get 10 points and the points for the next ball thrown. So, if you got a strike and then you get four pins and then six pins (a spare) and on your next frame you get one gutter ball and then one pin, you would get 20 points (10+4+6) for the strike, 10 points (4+6+0) for the spare and then 1 point for the open frame, for a total of 31 points for all three frames. In the last frame, if you get a strike, you get more balls.
One reason the experts will still count their games by hand sometimes is that the pinsetter will occasionally knock down a pin that moved positions during play. The automatic scorer will often count these pins, but according to the official rules of the game, only pins that fall over on their own are supposed to be counted.
If you happen to make strikes the entire game, you get 300 points for the twelve roll game. This is known as a perfect game.
While you may have laughed at the pathetic professionals in the movie King Pin, bowling celebrities, particularly in the 60’s were actually a big deal. In fact, the first athlete of any kind to receive a million dollar endorsement deal wasn’t a basketball or football player, but instead a bowler. Don Carter received this extraordinary deal in 1964 when he signed a multi-year deal with Ebonite International.
In more modern times, there are still some notable celebrities in the sport, like Jeremy Sonnenfeld, who, in 1997, became the first person to ever roll three perfect games in a row in a three-game series. Also impressive was 2006’s 10 year-old star Chaz Dennis who was the youngest person in history to bowl a perfect game.
With 1024 possible outcomes in a game of bowling, it is easy to see just how hard it is to achieve the perfect game. Still, a number of bowling purists claim that technology has been making this feat increasingly easy to accomplish. Changing materials in balls, synthetic lane materials, oiling machines that lay out the oiling patterns in ways that make it easier to hit the pins, have all made bowling increasingly easy. Reports of perfect scores have increased by several thousand percentage points between the 80s and today. As a result, these dedicated bowlers have developed a specific set of rules for what they call “sport bowling,” that makes the game more challenging, as it was in the 1970s.
Like all sports, bowling has its own jargon that can be difficult for non-bowlers to understand. In case you want to hold a conversation with some league players, here’s a few terms you may want to know (note the number of food-related terms, should bowling replace American football as the national Thanksgiving Day sport?):
–Bedposts: A 7-10 split
–Dutch 200: A game where the player consistently alternates between strikes and spares, resulting in a score of exactly 200
–Goal posts: A 7-10 split
–Golden turkey: Nine strikes in a row
–Ham bone: Four strikes in a row
–Six pack: Six strikes in a row
–Thanksgiving turkey: A perfect game
–Turkey: Three strikes in a row
–Turkey sandwich: When someone gets a spare and then a turkey, followed by another spare
–Wild turkey: Six strikes in a row
The Healthy Side of Bowling
While most people have a less-than-athletic image of bowlers, the sport can actually be a good form of exercise and may help improve social relationships. Studies have shown it helps burn calories, regulates blood pressure and prevents osteoporosis and works muscle groups that are not normally exercised.