Regular Bowling Not Frustrating Enough? Try This!
July 19, 2007 7:43 AM   Subscribe

The Dreaded Half Worcester warning: music is just one of the possible vexing configurations players encounter in candlepin bowling, a regional variation on traditional bowling that's unique to northern New England and maritime Canada. Developed in Worcester, MA, around 1880 (warning: more music), the game is played in gorgeous antique alleys dotted around New England and Nova Scotia, and features a 4 1/2" wooden or rubber ball, three rolls per frame or "box," and 15 and 3/4" narrow, cylinder-shaped pins that are the devil to knock down -- even though you can use the dead wood to knock other pins down, a score over 200 is extremely rare. Find some lanes and play or just take the quiz - like so many regional quirks, this one's undergoing a bit of a revival.
posted by Miko (54 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
that's unique to northern New England

...and to southern New England. The only bowling I knew as a kid in Northwestern Connecticut was candlepin.
posted by ericb at 7:52 AM on July 19, 2007

Make mine Duckpin!
posted by tittergrrl at 8:00 AM on July 19, 2007

There is also duckpin bowling which also relies on small balls and short pins.
"The origin of the sport is a subject of some debate. According to popular legend, Duckpin bowling began in Baltimore, Maryland around 1900, at a bowling alley owned by future baseball Hall of Famers John McGraw and Wilbert Robinson. However, according to a 2005 baseball book by Howard W. Rosenberg (Cap Anson 3: Muggsy John McGraw and the Tricksters: Baseball's Fun Age of Rule Bending), an article from May 1894 in the Lowell (Mass.) Sun confirms the existence of duckpins as of 1894. Rosenberg traced the story of crediting the origins of duckpins to McGraw and Robinson as far back as Shirley Povich of the Washington Post in the late 1930s. In any event, the name supposedly comes from a remark by McGraw during the first game played with pins cut down from old standard pins. McGraw, an avid duck hunter, said that the flying pins looked like ‘a flock of flying ducks’; a sportswriter turned the remark into the word ‘duckpins,’ and the name stuck.

In 1985, an obscure 130-plus page publication called Duckpins: The Tenth Frame cited related Lowell, Mass., coverage of duckpin bowling back in May 1894. Writing in that publication, Bob Tkacz, of Newington, Conn., noted having found articles showing that a duckpin tournament was being held in Lowell at that time. The 1985 publication is not readily available in any U.S. library, which explains why Tkacz's finding was easy to miss as the earliest known ‘in print’ rebuttal of the Baltimore origin myth. Articles can be found in the Globe earlier than May 1894 showing the existence of the sport around Boston. According to Rosenberg, the earliest Globe reference to duckpins was apparently on January 2, 1893. Robinson, by virtue of having been born in Massachusetts, is plausibly the person responsible for introducing the sport to Baltimore; Rosenberg's book methodically accounted for Baltimore newspaper reporting in late 1899 and early 1900, when the sport seemingly was first played in Baltimore (at the McGraw-Robinson alleys, of course). Baltimore Sun next-day reporting seems to credit those alleys for introducing the sport to Baltimore the night before. Consistent with that, unpublished research by Tkacz in the 1980s unearthed the following gem from a 1909 Baltimore publication called Bowlers Guide: ‘The game of duckpins was first introduced in Baltimore about twelve years ago.’

On December 11, 2005, The New York Times, apparently for the first time in its reporting history, pointed to the apparent New England roots of the sport; The Times had previously reflexively recited the canard about the sport having originated in Baltimore. The article, by C. J. Hughes, was titled, ‘CONNECTICUT AT ITS BEST; Down at Memory Lanes, It's Duckpin Season.’"*
posted by ericb at 8:00 AM on July 19, 2007

Jinx. tittergrrl, you owe me a Coke!
posted by ericb at 8:01 AM on July 19, 2007

Knowing nothing of duckpin, I left that topic to others!

I also left out New Brunswick, PEI, and Ohio's one candlepin alley. I couldn't find a listing for any in Southern New England. I never came across it when I lived in CT, and was introduced to it about five years ago while vacationing in Maine (where I now live). I do recall my grandparents talking about it as an activity they did in the 40s around Providence, RI.
posted by Miko at 8:04 AM on July 19, 2007

wormtown also brought the smiley face pin and the first ever perfect game (baseball) into the world. and the birth control pill, just over the town line in shrewsbury.
posted by vrakatar at 8:08 AM on July 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

I grew up with candlepin bowling, and was shocked to see how the rest of the world bowled. Having portly little pins suspended by string felt like cheating to me.
posted by fish tick at 8:11 AM on July 19, 2007

Sadly, one of the best duckpin alleys here in Balto just closed a couple of months ago. Regardless, I'd put duck up against candles any day. And fuck a bunch of that "it comes from NE crap." I don't care what the FACTS are, the TRUTH is that duckpin bowling comes from Charm City.
posted by OmieWise at 8:13 AM on July 19, 2007

Regarding the terminology "candlepin" and "duckpin" it appears that they might have been interchangeable, but with evolving standards and differences in ball diameter, rules, etc. they seem to have diverged.

This is from Miko's link to The website:
"...John J. 'Jack' Monsey took this idea, and with extremes in energy and vision, promoted this new game of Candlepins. He was able to convince other Worcester proprietors that making the game standard was necessary for it to proliferate. He is credited with standardizing the ball size to 4 1/2 inches, the same size in play today. He also standardized the required playing of deadwood, which up until this time could be played or removed at the bowler's discretion. Now the game was standard in Worcester. It wasn't until 1905 that Monsey helped form the The National Duckpin and Candlepin Congress, that Candlepin bowling became standard throughout. To become standard was the Boston pin, the 4 1/2 inch ball, the playing of deadwood and the bowling of 2 boxes at a time. In Worcester 5 boxes was standard, in Boston it was 2 boxes. From this point on, it became possible to have state and "world" championship competition."
posted by ericb at 8:13 AM on July 19, 2007

Sacco's Bowl Haven in Somerville was one of the things that made graduate school just barely bearable. I miss it.
posted by googly at 8:13 AM on July 19, 2007

Hmmm, I was raised to believe The Dreaded Half Worcester was everything east of Main St.
posted by paxton at 8:20 AM on July 19, 2007 [5 favorites]

The big difference between duckpin and candlepin seems to be the pins. Duckpins look like dwarf bowling pins (shorter, fatter at the bottom), while candlepins are more cylindrical.

I've been duckpinning but not candlepinning. I wonder why candlepins 'are the devil to knock down'. They don't look very stable.
posted by MtDewd at 8:26 AM on July 19, 2007

A FPP about both Worcester AND candlepin bowling?!?

Awesome post, Miko.

Also a good call from vrakatar on our other firsts. Here's some linkage: Harvey Ball and his smiley face (and don't forget Oct. 5th is World Smile Day!), the birth contol pill and in-vitro fertilization (both co-invented by this guy), and the first perfect game in baseball (which was played right in my neighborhood). For Red Sox fans, Ted Williams also had his first at bat in Worcester in an exhibition game against Holy Cross College.

Some other Central MA firsts and unique facts.
posted by rollbiz at 8:32 AM on July 19, 2007

I spent the first 30 years of my life in New England. I now live in Georgia and realized just how regional candlepin bowling was upon mentioning it to a group of friends down here. They thought I made it up. I went bowling just this past weekend and after returning home with a sore shoulder and fingers I long for the day I could pick up a ball that fit in the palm of my admittedly small hand.

I also remember my uncle competing on a local candlepin bowling program shown on, I believe, WBZ. Anyone remember what that was called?
posted by Constant Reader at 8:37 AM on July 19, 2007

Awesome post Miko. Growing up in the western USA, born to immigrant parents, and not interested in bowling, I never heard of this.
posted by Eekacat at 8:38 AM on July 19, 2007

And fuck a bunch of that "it comes from NE crap."

Someone in Baltimore has crabs.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 8:41 AM on July 19, 2007

Candlepins for Cash
posted by Kirth Gerson at 8:42 AM on July 19, 2007

One of my grandfathers used to bowl in a candlepin league in New Bedford, and I remember him taking us to bowl at Lincoln Park in Dartmouth. Candle- or duckpins, I can't remember, it was that long ago. I remember three balls per frame wasn't enough to knock everything over, though.

There is or was a private club in Erie, PA that also had candle/duckpins. I have no clue if the lanes are still extant, and can't remember what the club was called.
posted by ardgedee at 8:42 AM on July 19, 2007

That's it. Thanks Kirth

I believe my uncle was in the 1st run as I remember quite poor production values.
posted by Constant Reader at 8:46 AM on July 19, 2007

Baltimore has crabs.

posted by OmieWise at 8:50 AM on July 19, 2007

God, I love candlepin.

I grew up in Massachusetts, playing candlepin bowling at a middling sized bowling alley ("bowladrome", even) in a children's league. I was never great; I think at best, I averaged maybe 85-90. But goddamn was it fun.

Over the years, my interest in bowling has waxed and waned, but always, I seem to come back to candlepin. Even when outfits like King's come in and put in upscale tenpin lanes in Boston, I still feel like I'd rather go to the dumpy old 20 lane candlepin place on the street behind Red Bone's over in Davis Square. (What is the name of that place, even? We just call it "ghetto bowl")

Don't get me wrong; tenpin ("big ball" to us massholes) is fun, especially since the frustration factor is lower. Especially in large groups, people tend to be happier with the easier game. Still, I just think there's something magical about this peculiarly New England game.
posted by tocts at 8:53 AM on July 19, 2007

There are many things odd and puzzling and disturbing about Massachusetts, the fact that my mother's from there not the least among them ... but candlepin bowling as always left me with my head cocked.

And this post made me have an even odder thought:

If there is candlepin bowling in New England, then there is, potentially the candlepin equivalent of the Dude Lebowski, Walter Sobchak, and no doubt, Jesus Quintana out there.
posted by Relay at 8:56 AM on July 19, 2007

Sacco's is great.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 8:59 AM on July 19, 2007

tocts Ghetto Bowl!! I know it and love it.
It's Sacco Bowl Haven as referenced by googly earlier in the thread.

Side note: Since moving to GA a year ago I've begun training myself to say "tenpin" and not "big ball"...give me away as a Yank.
posted by Constant Reader at 9:00 AM on July 19, 2007

I once had the great honor of meeting the niece of Stasia Czernicki. And you don't know nuttin 'bout bowling if you don't know Stacia Czernicki. She was considered the Babe Ruth of bowling..or would that be Babe Didrickson?
posted by Gungho at 9:00 AM on July 19, 2007

Tocts, you're talking about Sacco's, which googly noted earlier. That's a classic, with all-wood ball returns and (allegedly) former mob ties.

Boutwell's was my hometown bowl-o-rama. I can close my eyes and hear the pins going down and the shouts of "GET OVAH!!"
posted by schoolgirl report at 9:02 AM on July 19, 2007

One of my grandfathers used to bowl in a candlepin league in New Bedford, and I remember him taking us to bowl at Lincoln Park in Dartmouth.

My grandfather used to manage the arcade at Lincoln Park so we used to go bowling there all the time. The manager of the bowling alley was called Slim. Ah, memories!
posted by lazywhinerkid at 9:04 AM on July 19, 2007

I wonder why candlepins 'are the devil to knock down'. They don't look very stable.

They're surprisingly stable for such skinny cylinders, but that doesn't seem to be what really makes this hard - it's a combination of the spacing of the pins and their shape, as I experience it. Traditional bowling pins have that tubby-belly shape, so that when you knock one over, it skids around and spins for a while, often taking out several other pins as it winds down. These candlepins just topple down and kind of stay. Sometimes they roll in one direction, but they come to a stop pretty fast, so there's not enough collateral damage to be of real help. The other issue is that the pins are kind of far apart, also due to their skinniness. Even a well aimed ball won't get you a strike every time - somehow the ball passes through like a little ghost without hitting any pins.
posted by Miko at 9:05 AM on July 19, 2007

Some of the YouTube videos in the "candlepin bowling" link show the pin characteristics pretty well. The first minute or so of this one offers a good example.
posted by Miko at 9:10 AM on July 19, 2007

Stacia Czernicki. She was considered the Babe Ruth of bowling...or would that be Babe Didrickson?

Or how about the Bambino himself?
"Ruth was also drawn to duckpin bowling, a sport born in his hometown of Baltimore."
Picture of him bowling here.
posted by ericb at 9:11 AM on July 19, 2007

Sacco's is a great, great place. I am pretty surprised they have a website; the whole thing about that place is that it looks like 1955 in there.
posted by ibmcginty at 9:12 AM on July 19, 2007

And now I have the song from that show on Channel 5 stuck in my head.
posted by ibmcginty at 9:14 AM on July 19, 2007

I grew up on candlepin, in central New Hampshire. I sort of knew that other, big ball kind of bowling existed, but didn't think much of it. Candlepin was where it was at, whether I was sending a wobbly ball oh-so-slowly down the lane to knock over, maybe, one pin if I was lucky, or sitting with my grandparents with TV trays in front of us and candlepin on the tube as we ate Sunday dinner.

I'm now the proud inheritor of my grandfather's black-and-red candlepin balls.

A year or so ago, I bowled big ball for the first time ever. My goodness! It's so easy! I got a spare and a strike in one string; I have never gotten a strike in candlepin, and I think I've maybe had one spare in my life. Not that I'm much of a sportswoman, but still. All you non-New-Englanders don't know how good you have it.

Still, though, I have a deep affection for the ornery sport of my youth. May it never die out, along with apple pie with cheddar cheese and getting a different answer from every person you ask for directions from Point A to Point B.
posted by hilatron at 9:16 AM on July 19, 2007

Or how about the Bambino himself?

More bowling and Worcester, MA lore? Don't mind if I do: Moynagh's Tavern has tables and bartops made out of an old alley which was supposedly used by the Babe.
posted by rollbiz at 9:18 AM on July 19, 2007

After reading the OP I asked my boss, who is also from New England, if he was familiar with Candlepin. His response, "Yeah, regular bowling right?"
posted by Constant Reader at 10:05 AM on July 19, 2007

Wow, something new every day. Looking up the wiki for duckpin, I noted how similar it was in many ways to 5-pin, and upon reading that entry, found:

Five-pin bowling is a bowling variant which is only played in Canada, where many bowling alleys offer it, either alone or in combination with ten-pin bowling.

No idea it was just in Canada.
posted by dreamsign at 10:07 AM on July 19, 2007

a regional variation on traditional bowling that's unique to northern New England and maritime Canada

My great-grandfather was a candlepin bowling champ and lived his entire life in Indiana. He also played duck-pin and considered big ball, big pin bowling to be lesser, though he also was good at that and had quite a few 300's in his day.
posted by Pollomacho at 10:09 AM on July 19, 2007

and no doubt, Jesus Quintana out there.

He'd be a french canadian. Named Jésus Levesque or something.

"You ready to be fucked, dere you? I see you roll your way into da sem-MEEs. Mon Dieu, bud! Liam and me, we're going to fuck you up, you know?"
posted by Mayor Curley at 10:14 AM on July 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

One of the appeals of candlepin is that small children can do it a lot more easily than ten-pin. My six-year-old loves candlepin bowling, and on school vacations and holidays the local lanes are PACKED with kids. I'm actually a little surprised it never caught on outside of New England just for that reason.
posted by briank at 10:15 AM on July 19, 2007

You have a point brianK. I always liked it as a child specifically because I could use gutter balls to hit downed pins back onto the alley.
posted by Constant Reader at 10:18 AM on July 19, 2007

This whole thread is crazy!

Folks, hello? Candlepin bowling caught on outside of New England.

Synopsis of thread:

New Englander: Candlepin is only in New England.

Non-New Englander: Candlepin is found in Ohio.

Yahoo: I can't believe people outside New England have no idea what candlepin is.

Redneck: We play candlepin all the time.

Chowderhead: Candlepin is wicked awesome, too bad no one outside of New England has ever heard of it!

Cornshucker: I love candlepin too!
posted by Pollomacho at 10:22 AM on July 19, 2007

Couldn't find a Rhode Island CPBA, or a Connecticut one.

Here's one in Maine.

Indiana? Nope.

Ohio? "The [Wyoming, OH] Civic Center houses the only Candlepin Bowling lanes in the midwest. This form of bowling, originating on the east coast, has been a tradition with residents for over 70 years."

Maybe "caught on" is a little overstated.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 10:36 AM on July 19, 2007

"Barely exists" would have been fair, though.
posted by ibmcginty at 10:52 AM on July 19, 2007

Mayor Curley, you made me spit coffee..

Like schoolgirl report (to whom I am related), I grew up going to boutwells.

I have a very fond memory of his mom describing a new video game they had there that involved defending your bases from these invaders who were apparently from space. To this day I can't really enjoy a stand up arcade unless there's bowling and crappy nacho's in close proximity.

I also had a friend in high school who interned for the local tv station. He ended up working camera for candlepins for cash and would regularly duct tape the tripod to the wall and go bowl a few frames with me and his boss. Good times.
posted by lumpenprole at 11:06 AM on July 19, 2007

I miss duckpin. Last time I played it was in the late 80s early 90s in a little alley in Bowie, Maryland.

God damn, that was fun. Of course, I was an obnoxious teenager untethered by parents, so I could have been doing just about anything and had a good time, but duckpin was awesome in that it let me have fun without getting into too much trouble.
posted by quin at 11:10 AM on July 19, 2007

Living in Baltimore as a kid, I watched "Duckpins for Dollars" pretty regularly. Then, years later after we all moved to Georgia, my brother went and married a woman whose mother was a champion on the show! Small duckin' world.
posted by bovious at 11:31 AM on July 19, 2007

Just today I was playing a crappy bowling game on my phone while I waited for my food and, Masshole that I am, wondering why there aren't any Candlepin video games. Come on, surely someone here could whip one up? Please?
posted by dirtdirt at 11:47 AM on July 19, 2007

Just today I was playing a crappy bowling game on my phone while I waited for my food and, Masshole that I am, wondering why there aren't any Candlepin video games.

I think SkidderSoft of Sabbatus, Maine is working on one. Set for release after "Legend of Duane: AMC Eagle of Time".
posted by Mayor Curley at 12:11 PM on July 19, 2007

I also grew up small-ball bowling in rural BC, Canada. I'm surprised at how everyone else lugs these monster balls around with *gasp* holes in them.
posted by Kickstart70 at 5:02 PM on July 19, 2007

Duck-pin was the birth-day activity of choice when I was nine, in Quebec.

Sweet post.
posted by From Bklyn at 12:36 AM on July 20, 2007

Growing up in Maine and Massachusetts, I never knew anything but candlepin bowling. This means today I usually refer to 'regular' bowling as "big ball bowling" or (better) "big boy bowling."
posted by inoculatedcities at 7:28 AM on July 20, 2007

Oh and the alley in Fitchburg referred to in the Telegram & Gazette article is worth visiting, though it's hardly "gorgeous." One of the only pleasant things about that area though. Sadly, alleys have been rapidly disappearing from Boston itself. (There's the one downtown, Milky Way in JP, and the one in Davis Square. Can't think of any others.)
posted by inoculatedcities at 7:34 AM on July 20, 2007

It's true they're not all gorgeous - that was probably misleading. But if you like vintage interiors, most are fun to look at since most are not all that new.
posted by Miko at 7:36 AM on July 20, 2007

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