The lane is built to help you.
July 22, 2017 6:46 AM   Subscribe

Take 7 1/2 minutes to improve your bowling game with The hidden oil patterns on bowling lanes. Also, you should go bowling because it's fun.
posted by hippybear (49 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
 
I don't apologize at all for any perceived editorial slant in this post.
posted by hippybear at 6:46 AM on July 22 [9 favorites]


Short story: Someone once showed me how to throw the ball straight (hold it like a six pack, and not like you see in movies), and it raised my average from 100ish to about 150. I only bowl about once a year now, but with my straight toss I can still consistently be in the 150 range. That was a life changing moment.

Long story: When I was in high school some friends and I joined a "casual" bowling league. We named our team the "smoke a bowlers". Everyone hated us. Finally one day this woman and her daughter took pity on us and explained bowling etiquette and basic form. We smoked a lot of pot together and I became a half decent bowler. Good times.

Huh, looks like the long story isn't any longer than the short one. Go figure.
posted by Literaryhero at 7:11 AM on July 22 [14 favorites]


I bowled a 225 during a church outing back in middle school.

I didn't break 100 again until I was nearly 40.

That's okay because bowling is just the excuse to hang out with friends most of the time.
posted by hippybear at 7:14 AM on July 22 [2 favorites]


I took two semesters of bowling in college and spent a couple of years as a certified curling instructor. It wasn't until just now that I realized bowling and curling are basically the exact same sport, but one has oil on wood and the other has sweepers on ice. Cool!
posted by zebra at 7:17 AM on July 22 [3 favorites]


Curling is what happens if chess and bowling had a baby together.
posted by hippybear at 7:19 AM on July 22 [7 favorites]


Also, curling is so much fucking more difficult than watching the Olympics makes it appear!
posted by hippybear at 7:20 AM on July 22 [4 favorites]


It might depend what order you're in for the curling/bowling comparison to hold up. I threw lead in my rink, which is much more different from bowling than if you're third or skip. It was more like I was setting the pins from 100 feet away, and my main focus was getting the rock to stop in the right place. When I bowl, I bowl hard.
posted by LionIndex at 7:30 AM on July 22


The best part of bowling is that the Elk's Club where we bowl sells bottles of Dogfish for $2.25 each.
posted by octothorpe at 7:44 AM on July 22 [16 favorites]


I joined a bowling league once, just to have something to do. I've got two "125 Game" tags now. I can't hook a ball for shit. People have spent lots of time trying to teach me the motion involved in imparting spin to the ball on release, and it just ain't happening. But, I can almost reliably hit the pocket with simple straight-line geometry, which is how I can get over 100 with such shit form.

One day, back in High School, some friends and I went out for a night of bowling, because one of the friends had a New Girlfriend who was a Very Serious Bowler (and was also kinda awful as a human). Other friend bowled the entire game granny-style, making caveman grunts about "throwing rock" and "getting X". He beat us all handily. We never saw New Girlfriend again.
posted by Xyanthilous P. Harrierstick at 8:19 AM on July 22 [2 favorites]


Also, curling every sport is so much fucking more difficult than watching the Olympics makes it appear!

how to throw the ball straight (hold it like a six pack,
You mean with the thumb close to your leg, instead of forward?

I really enjoy playing one game. I always have a bad time playing 2 or 3 games.
posted by MtDewd at 8:20 AM on July 22 [2 favorites]


Living in the South my whole life, the first time I visited friends in Boston and tried candlepin bowling was a revelation. I found it so much more fun.

It seems like candlepin is a lot easier to be good at, and much, much harder to be consistently excellent at.
posted by penduluum at 8:35 AM on July 22 [1 favorite]


This is how bad I am at bowling: I'm right handed, but I bowl just as (un)well when throwing with my left hand. Also, obligatory: Take the Skinheads Bowling.
posted by NoMich at 8:35 AM on July 22 [1 favorite]


I mostly only bowl with a group of local furries who have a monthly "breakfast and bowling" meet, because it's awesome to go to a place on a Sunday morning, have breakfast, and bowl with a bunch of friends.

Also, it's different to bowl while wearing my tail than when not.
posted by hippybear at 8:58 AM on July 22 [3 favorites]


Also, on a more serious note (but not really), I had a co-worker for a while who was a TOTALLY SERIOUS BOWLER who talked to me about tournaments which are staged where the oiling is entirely the opposite of what is expected or is entirely lopsided. Basically the point of the tournament is to figure out what the oil pattern is and learning how to play it effectively.

That's a level of bowling that I never even knew existed before I met that person.
posted by hippybear at 9:01 AM on July 22 [12 favorites]


You ever have a moment where you read something like this and say to yourself, "I already know about this," but don't know why? It was buried in a Wikipedia dive a couplefew years ago, but I don't know how or why I got there.

Little known: bowling is the real American pastime. More people bowl than participate (participate) in any other sport!
posted by rhizome at 10:23 AM on July 22 [1 favorite]


Last time I went bowling (at college) the manager of the lanes showed up before I'd finished 3 frames and told me I was throwing the ball too hard to bowl there; I tried to moderate my approach, but it was no good.

I always hated the way my thumb would pop out of the ball like a champagne cork, and thought that couldn't possibly be good for any kind of fine control; I wondered why there wasn't an adjustable pressure relief valve for the thumb hole drilled in at the center of the triangle formed by the three holes.
posted by jamjam at 10:41 AM on July 22


I didn't realize that they oiled the lanes (I always assumed that they were waxed) and I had no idea about the oil patterns. Thanks for the post!
posted by ActingTheGoat at 11:19 AM on July 22 [2 favorites]


Short story: Someone once showed me how to throw the ball straight (hold it like a six pack, and not like you see in movies), and it raised my average from 100ish to about 150. I only bowl about once a year now, but with my straight toss I can still consistently be in the 150 range. That was a life changing moment.

Long story: When I was in high school some friends and I joined a "casual" bowling league. We named our team the "smoke a bowlers". Everyone hated us. Finally one day this woman and her daughter took pity on us and explained bowling etiquette and basic form. We smoked a lot of pot together and I became a half decent bowler. Good times.


These stories are the same length!
posted by kenko at 11:27 AM on July 22 [6 favorites]


This seems like a good time to remind everybody that bowling balls are really weird on the inside.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 12:06 PM on July 22 [6 favorites]


I once bowled a fluky 227 that I've never again gotten close to. Most games are in the 100-140 range, and most of the time it feels like playing a video game with an unplugged controller. There's very little correlation between what I do at this end and what happens at the other end. The key to enjoying it at all is to root for others and not care about my own result.
posted by kurumi at 12:08 PM on July 22 [1 favorite]


More people bowl than participate (participate) in any other sport!

I'm curious if this is still the case. The relevant Wikipedia citation is a decade old census survey of 10,000 households that ranked bowling as the highest participation competitive sport. Exercise walking, exercise with equipment, swimming and camping(?) had higher levels of participation.
posted by zamboni at 12:31 PM on July 22 [1 favorite]


The stat is certainly apocryphal, I'm pretty sure it predates Wikipedia for me, but I'll be danged if exercise and camping are sports. That is, I think "competitive" should be assumed.
posted by rhizome at 12:59 PM on July 22


Curious: had it been possible to apply the oil with this degree of precision prior to the invention of the machine we saw doing it in the video?
posted by Insert Clever Name Here at 1:04 PM on July 22


The video is illuminating. But now I wonder if my trouble is that I have no idea what "hold it like a six pack" means.
posted by Flexagon at 2:08 PM on July 22 [1 favorite]


The way it was taught to me was, "shake hands with the 1 pin."
posted by rhizome at 2:47 PM on July 22


Based on photos I've seen, "hold it like a six pack" means you have your shirt off and you're showing off your abs and usually one hand is hooked in a belt loop and the other hand might be feeling one of your pecs.
posted by hippybear at 2:54 PM on July 22 [9 favorites]


I knew my bowling life was over when I started hitting my left ankle on the approach. Yes I'm right handed. I'm also old and busted.
posted by Splunge at 2:58 PM on July 22 [1 favorite]


P.S. I haven't lofted a ball since I was in the Cub Scouts. So no, video, that guy at the beginning is not 'me'.
posted by Splunge at 3:00 PM on July 22 [1 favorite]


Yeah, we pay for bowling by time and not by the game, and in 2 hours I can do 2 games for certain and then push it with a 3rd game (I have a ruptured L5), but NEVER 4, and really I should never even do 3.
posted by hippybear at 3:01 PM on July 22


Wow, I had literally no idea about this. I'm a very casual, once-every-couple-years bowler, so not really a shocker, but still it's weird that that's just never come up.

Which I can't blame commercial bowling alleys for because it's not their job to teach me about subtleties of the sport or whatever, but I did take a semester of bowling in college to fulfill part of our PE requirements and you would think that that's the kind of thing that would show up on the nominal paper test they gave during finals to prove that we were really getting educated. But that basement alley was six lanes in pretty awful repair, with pin setters that broke down every class, so it's entirely possible that the lanes (a) were never oiled in the first place, on account of (b) no one on the PE faculty actually knowing anything about bowling either. Was definitely one of those "say 'present' during roll call, and then don't bother me" situations.

Always struck me as a shame that at a school with hundreds of engineering students, a small squad never took an interest in adopting the alley and turning it into something rad. But at a distinctly tech-y school the relationship with anything in athletics was always a little weird.
posted by cortex at 3:01 PM on July 22 [3 favorites]


P.P.S But I did release the ball behind me once back in the Cub Scouts. Almost broke a den mother's foot.
posted by Splunge at 3:01 PM on July 22


One of my favorite moments in the film Ordinary People is when Tim Hutton talks about how safe bowling is. You can't break the ball, you can't break the pins, you can't even break the record.

Apparently he never went bowling as a Cub Scout.
posted by hippybear at 3:06 PM on July 22 [1 favorite]


Also, chuckling at cortex calling bowling "athletics".
posted by hippybear at 3:07 PM on July 22 [1 favorite]


Where I went to school, getting up and getting another soda from the fridge yourself instead of installing Linux on an RC car to automate the fetching process qualified as athletics. Our sports teams were not renowned, where they existed at all.
posted by cortex at 3:21 PM on July 22 [4 favorites]


OMG you are such a geek.
posted by hippybear at 3:40 PM on July 22


You've gotta buy a ball & have it drilled to fit your hand. When you get it done for the "fingertip grip," you put the spin on it with the "shaking hands" motion because your thumb comes out first & your fingertips stay in their holes a fraction of a second longer, imparting the spin. Also, follow through! The best bowlers I've watched all have different approaches to how they walk/run up to the line, but the one thing I've noticed in common is that their throwing hand will keep going on up to their shoulder. It's a matter of knowing when to relax your grip just enough for the ball to come loose at the right part of the arm swing.

I have my own ball & was getting to where I'd regularly crack 150, then I hurt my back, & am currently suffering an ankle malady & a lack of money to pay for bowling malady, but for a while there 5 of 6 years ago, I was working at it pretty hard.

& yeah, the wax/oil has a lot to do with how you throw. Dart Bowl waxes their lanes once a day, first thing in the morning, & the balls go straighter earlier in the day, & curve more in the evening as the wax & oil wear off. I got real used to their pattern & even had it explained to me by an employee, but if you bowl too much at one alley it makes it hard to adapt when you go somewhere else & the wax is different. I usually had to burn a whole game figuring out where to aim at different alleys.

Then, there's the High Ball, a joke of a place installed by Alamo Draft house just for looks, and after I threw two frames there, I went up to the counter & asked someone "when do you wax your lanes?" & he said "we don't." I was hooking all my balls clear from one side into the opposite gutter because they weren't sliding at all. It's tough to throw a fingertip-drilled ball without spinning it - I ended up playing the rest of the evening with my palm splayed out flat like I was tossing a horseshoe. That was some bullshit.

I miss bowling & I hope I can find the time & money to take it up again before my body finishes falling apart. There's a meditative aspect to the activity of clearing your mind enough to focus on the motion, & when you get in a groove, it's a really great groove. The best I ever did was 6 strikes in a row, but for that 20 minutes I was on a cloud.
posted by Devils Rancher at 5:50 PM on July 22 [5 favorites]


I don't know if bowling alleys offer bowling by time rather than by game in Austin, but paying for 2 hours of bowling here in the Spokane area is $10 and with a bunch of friends it's basically a party and it's great. Not a huge money investment, but still a lot of fun.
posted by hippybear at 7:37 PM on July 22


Some are by time & some are by game, but way higher than that. I think the by-the-hour place is 20.00 per. I still take the kids now & then. My son is pretty good - usually cracks 120 or so, even though he's not serious about it. It's a good amusement every couple months, but the money thing really, really went to shit this year so I can't justify practicing 2 or 3 times a week, so alas.
posted by Devils Rancher at 7:54 PM on July 22


Has nobody here gone to Midnight Disco Bowling? They had a few places in NYC back in the 1970s. It was essentially a rave. The pins and the balls were fluorescent. The lighting was black light. Everywhere. There was always a bar or two in the building. Waitress service at the lanes. People completely messed up on various chemicals. Bowling in the wrong lanes. Smoking joints, sniffing coke off of... well... every possible surface. Sex in the bathrooms.

We were the best generation.
posted by Splunge at 8:34 PM on July 22 [1 favorite]


I can dig it, but around here, in this day and age, any hours that aren't league play always seem to be space bowling, and I hate it. You finally get a lane and three frames in they turn off all the lights and make everything glow-in-the-dark for teens and 8 year olds and play bad dance music. Makes it hard to aim!

Speaking of 70s bowling, I do miss being able to smoke at the scoring table, though. It's one of those things I might travel to North Carolina or wherever to do again someday.
posted by rhizome at 9:00 PM on July 22 [2 favorites]


Bowling in the middle of the night is a lot of fun, even with the lights on. A friend and I used to go to the local lanes at 3am, after work, hanging out at the all-night restaurant across the street, and some intensive warm ups, playing Pengo and Sub-Roc 3D.

My dad was a successful amateur bowler and tried many times to impart the secrets of the spin to me, but no matter how hard I tried, the ball would only follow an absolutely straight line wherever I was aiming. During those late night bowls, I finally decided that if I couldn't move the ball, maybe I could move the pins more. So my "strategy" became simply finding the heaviest ball I could and winging it down the lane as hard as I could aiming at the one pin. That brute force doctrine resulted in my penultimate game being one with eight strikes (three in the final frame sadly), and much satisfaction as the sound and violence of the pins flying everywhere was deeply enjoyable.

They closed the lane to all night bowling shortly thereafter, leaving my final attempt one at some lanes where a fight broke out and police had to use tear gas to restore order. I knew some people took bowling seriously, but bowling gangs seemed a bit much. So for safety's sake, and lack of further interest, I haven't been back to the game since.
posted by gusottertrout at 9:25 PM on July 22 [1 favorite]


leaving my final attempt one at some lanes where a fight broke out and police had to use tear gas to restore order

I mean, I have myself a good time bowling, but it's never been THAT extreme!
posted by hippybear at 9:41 PM on July 22 [1 favorite]


Here's part of the answer to my question: lanes weren't oiled until the late 1970's when they switched over to urethane finishes for the boards. Balls also got softer, apparently. So it's likely oiling machines we're in use by the mid 1980's. So sometime after that the machines probably got sophisticated enough for programmed oil patterns.
posted by Insert Clever Name Here at 9:54 PM on July 22 [2 favorites]


Hmm...Brunswick says they had an oiling machine, the B90, in the 1960's but I would be surprised if it was capable of laying down the types of patterns talked about in the video.
posted by Insert Clever Name Here at 10:00 PM on July 22 [1 favorite]


My first time bowling was a field trip in kindergarten, and my teacher told me to "Just point your thumb where you want the ball to go." So, after throwing the ball down the lane, I stood with my thumb out, wiggling it toward the lane where I wanted the ball to go, and wondered why it wasn't working.

I'm still not a good bowler.
posted by shortyJBot at 4:48 AM on July 23 [10 favorites]


I seem to be in a strange minority category in this thread. I knew all of this about oil patterns and still can't break 100.
posted by tofu_crouton at 7:04 AM on July 23 [1 favorite]


If you watch The Big Lebowski closely (and why wouldn't you?), you see the bowling lanes being oiled at one point. I think it's at the very end, right before the final scene where the Dude meets the Stranger.

So, assuming the Coens were sticklers for bowling verisimilitude, oiling the lanes was common practice by 1991.
posted by neckro23 at 10:04 AM on July 23


I knew some people took bowling seriously, but bowling gangs seemed a bit much.

'Bowlgaloots'?
posted by jamjam at 8:28 PM on July 23


I knew some people took bowling seriously, but bowling gangs seemed a bit much.

An aside by jonmc in a MeTa led me to the weird world of action bowling, the 1960s NYC subculture featuring bowling, with the added spice of gambling and organized crime!
Many bowling alleys today are places where the martinis cost you at least as much as the bowling and a mirror ball twirls over neon lanes while a D.J. shouts in the booming dark. But those who roamed them between dusk and dawn in 1960s New York City recall places where kids too young to shave made more money in a night than their parents made in a year, con men faked heart attacks to evade the gangsters they swindled, and no one went home before sunrise.
If you really want to go deep, actionbowlers.com seems to be a serious fansite about the phenomenon.
posted by zamboni at 7:44 AM on July 25 [2 favorites]


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