Saturday, November 10, 2007

To Bowl a 300 or a 292

In the great bowling alley of your mind
I am the pinboy
I am your pinboy

(The Fugs, "Crystal Liason")


Nov 4, 2007: I bowled my second 300 today. It was probably one of the least celebrated 300's in history. Two folks, looking to be father and daughter, ate food and watched. Nearby bowlers and the ball boys didn't notice. Later, Tum, the manager, appeared on the scene. When I quit bowling, I assumed that someone had informed him of my little achievement. That was purely egocentric, however, since he expressed surprise when I strutted into the pro shop like a peacock. I asked about my 100 free games, but he said, "so sorry...that promotion just ended". Could I have one free game? He laughed. I asked if I could have the scoresheet that recorded the 300, but it looks like they just had the secretary type something up. They say they'll put my name on the "Wall of Fame". I'll believe it when I see it.

For those of you looking for clues as to the intangibles that go into a 300, let me tell you what I did before and during the game. I woke up and drank coffee. I listened to the "Skeptics Guide to the Universe" podcast. I had a hot chocolate and a vitamin. I went to the fitness club and burned 1070 calories, at least according to the readout on the stair machine. I didn't have breakfast or lunch. At the bowling alley, I quickly established myself as an asshole, switching lanes because some inexperienced adjacent bowlers violated etiquette in a number of ways. These violations included stepping up to bowl when I was already on the approach, and worst of all, walking through my territory (the seats, the computer) to get to the ball racks!

OK, let me change the sardonic tone for a second, because there were a few take-away lessons today. Most of the preceding games were fairly mediocre...a 124 was included in the mix, and it wasn't for lack of effort. Problem was, the lanes were bloody dry, and the ball was hooking out of control. When teenage Thais ask me about bowling, they never ask how to get a good score. They want to know how to hook the ball. There's really no convincing them that the big, sexy hook can be counterproductive, at least for a beginner. You gain a tad of striking power, but lose virtually all your accuracy when you contort your arm like a damn corkscrew. I had the opposite problem throws were curvaceous and sexy, but I wanted dowdy and frigid.

Given the bad scores, I was just about ready to give up. I considered throwing a house ball, just to retrieve some fun from the experience. For whatever reason, though, I decided to stop cleaning the ball with the towel. I always wipe the ball with the towel! But this attitude of "giving up" had me ready to do something unusual. If you're reading this, and you don't know much about bowling, you should know that dry (un-oily) lanes make the ball curve more. Every time your ball rolls down the lane, you remove even more oil from the lane, and the lane becomes drier. If you don't like this dryness, it makes sense to avoid removing the oil from the ball.

Anyway, the towel decision seems to have been a good one. Normally, I wipe the ball without any conscious thought, out of pure force of habit, so I just tossed that towel far out of reach. I "threw in the towel"! The ball traveled down the lane much more predictably, and none of those 12 strikes could be considered lucky. I got a bit nervous around the 8th frame, but experience came in handy: I know quite well that the first thing that suffers when you're nervous is the "lift" you put on the ball...your fingers might lose their stiffness, the ball rotates more slowly, and you hit the pocket too lightly.

Despite the nervousness, I was also able to retain my nerdiness...I really wanted to know what animation appears on the monitor when you get your 11th strike. Last time I tossed a 300, I got lost in the excitement and didn't notice.

1) Several possibilities, including a smiling, bungee-jumping bowling ball .
2) The ball splits into two and lands a strike on two lanes.
3) A turkey, of course.
4) A baseball field.
5) The Olympic rings.
6) A six pack of beer.
7) Something about angels.
8) A pool table.
9) Something about rollercoasters.
10) I forget.
11) Something about speed boats traversing buoys!!!

Then there's some sort of fireworks animation when you get the 300.

Don't anybody interpret the above as boasting. It's a lot easier to toss a 300 than it used to be, given high-tech balls and lane conditions that are tailored to provide ordinary folks with high scores (it's good for business). At the bowling alley I usually visit, 12 perfect games have been bowled this year. Supposedly, something like 40,000 perfect games are bowled worldwide every year, up from 5,000 per year in the age of rubber balls. Roughly speaking, one might guess that 1,000,000 perfect games have been thrown in the course of history.

In the taxi, I recall thinking about tossing a 300. We now have proof that anticipating a 300 is not an insurmountable curse.

As further evidence of my nerdhood, a score in the 290's wouldn't have bothered me too much. Why? Cuz I've never done that. It would be pleasing to add a 29N to my bag of scores. I've done 28N, 27N, all the way down to 2N. Hell, I threw a 7N a couple years ago with every intention of bowling a 2NN. Even as a child, I probably never threw a 1N or just plain N, but it wouldn't be difficult to hop over to the alley and add those scores to the collection.

In fact, when you consider the historical rarity of certain scores, 292 is certainly the absolute most difficult score in bowling. There's only one way to do bowl 11 strikes and then knock down 2 pins. If you already had 11 strikes in a row, and intended to throw a 291, all you've got to do is knock down the 7 pin or 10 pin. But it's very difficult to intentionally knock down just 2 out of 10 pins. Try it!

There's actually a discussion of this topic here. Apparently, there are some 291's on record. But nobody has heard of a 292.

A 292 would have to be a true act of sacrifice to both the gods of nerddom and the gods of bowling. The nerd gods would be pleased by the rarity of the score. The bowling gods, robed in polyester, would be propitiated because you humbly refrained from seeking perfection, leaving 8 pins as an offering instead. The bowling alley manager would also be pleased, of course, because you probably just tossed a cash reward or a good number of free games right down the toilet.

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