The Heart of a Bowling Ball
June 16, 2021 7:08 AM   Subscribe

If you think of a bowling ball as just a big, heavy ball, know that it isn't. Brendan I. Koerner, writing for Wired, disabuses us of the notion:

"Unlike baseballs and golf balls, which are built around spherical cores, bowling balls contain cores that defy easy description: They can bear vague resemblance to gas masks, hand grenades, guitar bodies, Easter Island statues, Rorschach ink blots.

"When I looked into the scientific reasons these cores are so strangely shaped, the name Mo Pinel kept popping up. He was widely credited as the designer who’d sparked the proliferation of funky cores in the early to mid-1990s, and at the age of 78 he was still espousing his theories as the technology director for Radical Bowling, a ball manufacturer that prides itself on catering to 'geeks, physicists, and performance junkies.' "
posted by bryon (31 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
 
I find the best core is still the haunted skull of my deceased superhero father whose ghost seeks revenge on his killer.
posted by suetanvil at 7:16 AM on June 16 [55 favorites]


Pretty much my first thought, too, suetanvil
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:22 AM on June 16 [6 favorites]


... and guess what I came here to write.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 7:24 AM on June 16 [7 favorites]


Skull? Pfft. Real pros know you get the best roll from the freshly-taken head of your enemy.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:27 AM on June 16 [3 favorites]


For the folks riffing on bowling with the deceased, make sure you’ve read to the end of the article.
posted by zamboni at 7:33 AM on June 16 [13 favorites]


In the display case in the entry-way/vestibule to Highland Lanes in Austin, Texas, there is a transparent bowling-ball in the middle of which is embedded a (presumably) plastic skull. I thought it just looked bad-ass but now I know there might well have been another motive behind it...
posted by From Bklyn at 7:48 AM on June 16


ugh, the absolute worst thing is when you're at the bowling alley, just having a good time, and you pick up a ball from the hopper and get ready to finish off this spare and catch up to Bob who's only 3 points ahead, and then some guy comes stomping up in a huff screeching "THAT'S *MY* BALL" and you're like "dude, it's just a bowling ball, use another one", and he starts going on about how it's the haunted skull of his deceased superhero father whose ghost seeks revenge on his killer and you're like "okay cool story bro, tell your dad he better bowl me a spare" and then the guy starts crying and it's all awkward and Bob is like "dude just give the guy his ball" so now you can't back down because it's kind of a rivalry thing with Bob, so you shoulder-check dead superhero father guy out of the way and bowl the skull ball but the balance is kind of shit and you're distracted by the sobbing weirdo behind you so of course you throw a gutter ball and fucking Bob starts doing a victory dance and now the manager has heard the commotion and is walking over with a look that says "some motherfuckers are getting banned from the bowling alley today"

...happened to me again this week.
posted by allegedly at 8:02 AM on June 16 [18 favorites]


It's weird that no governing body made a rule mandating round cores. And it's weird that new techniques are apparently making asymmetrical cores obsolete. It's sort of implies that asymmetrical cores were bullshit all along -- at least as far as high-level play is concerned.
posted by paper chromatographologist at 8:29 AM on June 16 [2 favorites]


Today I learned about the two-handed bowling technique. It’s apparently catching on, despite the indignity of it. I mean only a few brave souls dare to shoot underhand free throws even though the percentages are demonstrably better. There are no points for style in either game but everything has its limits.
posted by sjswitzer at 8:30 AM on June 16 [5 favorites]


This is what the mercilessness of the pandemic has abruptly robbed from us: tens of thousands of men and women whose rare and hard-won knowledge can never be replicated. This is how artisanal skills are forgotten, how dialects vanish, how the stories meant to sustain us ebb away from our collective memory. And it’s all happening at a pace far faster than we can grieve.

This hits hard, and reminds me of recent efforts to save the Cherokee language.

A consequence of the shift in my lifetime to forcing as many kids as possible to go to college is that there is now a shortage of people in the trades. It’s harder to pass trade knowledge down when we don’t have younger folks taking up the mantle at sufficient rates. Some of that knowledge can’t be read in a book, it comes from hours of practice and honing a craft at the guidance of a senior tradesman.
posted by jet_pack_in_a_can at 8:36 AM on June 16 [3 favorites]


For the folks riffing on bowling with the deceased, make sure you’ve read to the end of the article.

For those hoping: There's no indication that Mo Pinel's ashes (or skull) have been put into a bowling ball.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 8:42 AM on June 16 [5 favorites]


the proliferation of funky cores in the early to mid-1990s

The only place I bowl is at the local Elks and as far as I know, they haven't bought new balls since the mid-sixties so I guess I've never used one of these.
posted by octothorpe at 8:44 AM on June 16 [3 favorites]


If you think of a bowling ball as just a big, heavy ball, know that it isn't.

Being shamed for having superficial knowledge of bowling balls was not on my card today but, OK.
posted by thelonius at 9:12 AM on June 16 [13 favorites]


Today I learned about the two-handed bowling technique. It’s apparently catching on, despite the indignity of it.

I don't bowl often but when I do I roll/throw backhand, palm down. And I don't care if it looks ridiculous because I've managed to roll more than a few turkeys and 290+ games just using the alley's beat up old bowling balls. It just makes sense to me and I have no idea why more people don't throw this way.

I feel like I get a lot more control, it's easier to throw spin on the ball and the release and ground contact part of the throw is way smoother than trying to get my fingers to release from the ball cleanly doing the traditional palm-up throw.

Pretty much every time I've been out for a casual/fun social bowling thing I get a bunch of comments and smack talk from the group about how I'm doing it wrong or heckles about it being my first time bowling for the first few frames and then it stops after they see that I'm getting consistent flares and strikes and it's working better than they think it would.

As near as I can reckon the palm up throw is a vestige from when bowling balls didn't have fingerholes and the games like skittles and candlestick bowling and you necessarily had to hold/cup the ball from underneath to roll it.


Also this story is fascinating. A number of years ago I went on one of my curiosity deep dives into bowling ball tech and was totally blown away by all the options for bowling ball cores, shapes, sizes and skins. Not to mention the price of pro grade balls. People take bowling really seriously.
posted by loquacious at 9:25 AM on June 16 [7 favorites]


I want to see the most asymmetrical ball. Maybe it could be 90% fiberglass with a big slug of tungsten somewhere right up against the edge. How would that look going down the lane?
posted by paper chromatographologist at 9:33 AM on June 16


This is a fascinating rabbit hole to fall down. 12 new bowling balls released every month?
posted by umbú at 9:49 AM on June 16 [1 favorite]


I thought the big question was are you coming in from the Jersey side or the Brooklyn side.

Last time I watched a bowling match was in the 90s on Wide World of Sports and Dick Weber was the man. Interestingly enough, last night, I saw an interview with Jeff Bridges with him talking about The Dude! Those are some great bowling scenes. I doubt they were thinking about different cores.

I did bowl about a decade ago. The beer frame was my favorite.

This article is actually really interesting. Pinel dedicated his life to making the better (best) bowling ball. He was AMF'd at AMF before amf meant adios motherf*cker of adios mi amigo. The ball technology is fascinating, but I wish they talked more about lane oil technology and patterns. I would also like to know more about the advancements in bowling attire. Bowling shirts are almost as cool as the Bass Fishing shirts I collect.
posted by AugustWest at 10:06 AM on June 16


A consequence of the shift in my lifetime to forcing as many kids as possible to go to college is that there is now a shortage of people in the trades.

I don't think anything about this is true?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 10:17 AM on June 16


Skilled trade labour shortage in BC.
posted by Mitheral at 10:23 AM on June 16


Which has nothing to do with college. FTA: "It’s not that some young people aren’t keen on carpentry. The demand for carpentry programs at the BC Institute of Technology (BCIT) reports a long wait list for its carpentry framing and forming foundation program."
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 10:28 AM on June 16 [1 favorite]


If you think of a bowling ball as just a big, heavy ball, know that it isn't.

Being shamed for having superficial knowledge of bowling balls was not on my card today but, OK.


FWIW, it was news to me, too.
posted by bryon at 10:43 AM on June 16 [1 favorite]




but I wish they talked more about lane oil technology and patterns.

I went down this rabbit hole once as well. It started with a How It's Made segment about lane conditioners and they only briefly touched on the fact that the weird little one way Roomba robot lane conditioner thing had a computer that was *programmable* and something about patterns and immediately I'm wondering why the hell a bowling lane conditioner needed a programmable computer.

Oh, ok. Wow. Apparently there's like a thousand different ways to prep and oil the lane surface in different patterns to make the lane faster or slower in zones and stripes for different styles of play, flare control and so on.

I might be misremembering this specifics of this part but I gathered there's even intentionally easier/slower lane conditioning for stuff like kid's birthdays. Or blacklight bowling nights where everyone is probably toasted. Or casual league nights. Or pro tournaments. Etc.

So weird and cool.

I would also like to know more about the advancements in bowling attire.

That reminds me of the time around high school or undergrad age when I found some clown-fugly rental shoes at a flea market in my size and I thought they'd be fun to wear around and go to Ska shows and raves and whatnot just to be a dork.

It was a horrible mistake. Not only are they totally ugly clown shoes they're dangerously slippery and aren't meant for walking around outside at all. So many blisters and sore feet. I might as well walk around with swim fins on.
posted by loquacious at 1:02 PM on June 16 [5 favorites]


That reminds me of the time around high school or undergrad age when I found some clown-fugly rental shoes at a flea market in my size and I thought they'd be fun to wear around and go to Ska shows and raves and whatnot just to be a dork.

I found such a pair for sale at Paragon Sports in NYC back in the 1990s, complete with the size number stitched onto the heel counter (11). My goal was basically the same as yours.

The soles on mine simply came off with through stitching not designed for abrasive urban surfaces. They were fun while they lasted.
posted by Insert Clever Name Here at 1:33 PM on June 16


The physics of bowling will not be fully explored until a ball is made using the demon core .
posted by TedW at 1:50 PM on June 16 [6 favorites]


The Heart of a Bowling Ball is my favorite Bonnie Bedelia movie.
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 3:55 PM on June 16


.
posted by JoeXIII007 at 4:18 PM on June 16


Unlike baseballs and golf balls, which are built around spherical cores

Ah, but what if they weren't?
posted by ctmf at 7:12 PM on June 16


Nice article but how about some fucking illustrations and/or animations to illustrate all these interesting notions? I mean, they found PRECIOUS COLUMN SPACE for a pic of a BOWLING TROPHY fFs

Anyways I love seeing how technology changes sport. Tennis gets revolutionized by racquet materials, then even more so by strings, for example.
posted by Caxton1476 at 8:40 PM on June 16 [2 favorites]


Ah, but what if they weren't?

May I introduce you to Wiffle ball?
posted by sjswitzer at 7:27 PM on June 17


by creating cores that were asymmetric—that is, which move the center of mass closer to a ball’s surface—he would nudge up the ratio between a ball’s maximum and minimum RG
I'm entirely lost. I absolutely believe it works. I'm not convinced anyone involved in this article understands why it works. Homebrew stuff is awesome and often yields surprises. . . but, surely, someone is interested in actually studying this quantitatively. None the less, a fun post.
posted by eotvos at 10:12 AM on June 20


« Older "A trans anthem, right now, is for a trans person...   |   The second-most-disappointing New Mutants of the... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments