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A different twist on a game we’re all familiar with makes for an interesting evening…

August 30, 2009, 11:25 AM

On Saturday, Matthew Tilley and I went duckpin bowling in College Park. You may recall that we have bowled together before, having played three games of ten-pin bowling (i.e. what most consider bowling) in July.

This was exciting, because neither one of us had done duckpin before, and the rules and the equipment are slightly different. First of all, the pins are shorter and squatter than ten-pin. Secondly, the ball is smaller and lighter, and without any finger holes. The play is different as well, as you roll three balls per frame, and the scoring is slightly different. It’s the same as ten-pin, with the exception of knocking down all ten pins on the third roll. If you knock down all the pins on the third roll, no bonus is awarded.

And one thing that neither one of us was used to was that this was a very low-tech operation. This was a totally manual game. There was no automatic scoring equipment, and you pressed buttons to operate the pinsetter. There were two buttons – one was to reset the pins, and another just to clear the pins that had been knocked down (“deadwood”). This was one of those do-your-best moments. On Matthew’s first frame, we didn’t realize that there was a “deadwood” button, and so we bowled that frame in something of candlepin style, not clearing the pins between shots. On my first frame, I figured that there had to be something to clear the downed pins, and so I wondered if the reset button would do that. So I rolled one shot, knocked down a few pins, and then pressed reset. That killed all the pins, and laid out a fresh set. Oops. Good thing I didn’t do too well on that roll, since I essentially forced a do-over. That’s when we discovered the “deadwood” button, and we were good to go. Now we knew what we were doing.

Scoring, being manual, was interesting. I’ve never manually scored bowling myself, and had not been in a facility that didn’t have automatic scoring since 1989. But I figured it out. I just took a headcount of the pins remaining, and then subtracted to get the number of pins knocked down. The big rule: don’t press any buttons until the pins are counted. Meanwhile, scoring was the big “if” of the evening. I told Matthew that we were more than likely playing the game correctly, but we might be scoring it incorrectly. And as it turned out, though, we scored it mostly correctly. I figured that if we were going to screw it up, it would be in not giving enough bonus points for strikes, but much to my surprise, it was that we were giving too many for spares made on the third roll. Thus while I had assumed our scores might improve when correctly figured, it looks like they will probably go down a few points.

And of course, we had our fair share of bloopers. The lane essentially “ate” one of the balls that we were using, and wouldn’t give it back. Then another time, the pins wouldn’t reset. We hit the button, the light came on, and nothing happened. I said, jokingly, “Uh oh, I broke the bowling alley.” To fix it, they just reset the entire lane. That caused the lane to burp up that missing ball, too. And then the most amusing blooper was during the third game, on one of my frames. I threw the first ball, counted it and scored it, hit the deadwood button, and then without even thinking, rolled another ball while the pinsetter was still clearing downed pins! I realized what I did, and was like, oh, crap as I watched the ball head towards the equipment still doing its work. While it did strike the clearing arm, it was flexible, and flexed enough to allow the ball to pass. Meanwhile, the game was unaffected by that errant throw, since the pins were raised up and out of the way. I ended up laughing in that I-can’t-believe-I-just-did-that kind of way, and it took me a few minutes to regain my composure. I was also annoyed that I wasted what I considered a perfect roll for what I had remaining, but thankfully, the following roll was just as good.

So all in all, we had fun. Here’s a photo of me holding one of the duckpin bowling balls.

Note the smaller ball size, and the same ugly bowling shoes.

Note the smaller ball size, and the same ugly bowling shoes.

Additionally, as we were finishing up our third game, they started going over to “Cosmic Bowling”. For that, they turn up the music, turn down the lights, and use blacklights and other special effects to make for an interesting experience. Thus:

Cosmic Bowling lighting

Leaving the bowling alley, it was raining – hard. So we kind of sprinted back to my car and got in. Then we hit up Plato’s Diner for dinner, which is in a converted Howard Johnson’s building, seen here in this 2005 file photo:

Plato's Diner, seen here in 2005

All in all, Plato’s isn’t bad, but it’s not wow-I’m-going-out-of-my-way-to-go-there-again kind of awesome. But it worked, and the service was excellent. And they’re open 24 hours on the weekends. That works.

And then I dropped Matthew off at College Park Metro, and I headed home. Not a bad evening, and we found out that duckpin is pretty fun! More fun than ten-pin, if I do say so myself. Plus with no automatic scoring, it keeps the mind engaged. There’s MATH involved here!

Web site: Video of the 2004 AMF National Invitational Tournament, held in College Park. This is the place where we played, though we were nowhere as good as these folks.

Song: Video of duckpin bowling at White Oak, the other duckpin facility around here that I know of. This is actually closer to where I live, but I don't know quite where this is, and so we went to College Park since I knew exactly where it was already.

Quote: "...and we only broke the pinsetter once!" - Me afterwards regarding the pinsetter not resetting.