Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Briefcase Conspiracy

I want to begin with a question. Can you trust your league secretary? Yeah, I know. You have your doubts. Our league secretary, known in these parts as "The Briefcase", shows up every Monday with a pleasant demeanor, a smile on his face, and a briefcase in his right hand. He's been doing the job since the Eisenhower administration. Everybody loves The Briefcase. He's a good guy. Over the course of a season, the league trusts him with more than $12,000 in cash, which he faithfully distributes to the appropriate parties in the appropriate sums.

By the way, I can't help but think that this system for the redistribution of resources is in essence a highly regressive form of taxation. You take money from the bowling poor (the Bowl Movements) and give it to the bowling rich. But hey, it's a hell of a lot of fun for $12 a week.

Being a league Secretary is a thankless job. If you check out the USBC Rulebook, you will find that of all of the league officers, the Secretary has to do the most. In fact, he or she pretty much has to do everything. The President hardly does anything, except walk around like they're the king of the lanes. That's right, I'm talking to you, Schuster. Anyway, for all of these reasons, it pains me greatly to expose the greatest scandal to hit Laramie Lanes since the keg of Bud Light ran out on a Tuesday morning at 11:00 AM.

You see, The Briefcase bowls for the team of rolling assassins known as "Lazer Wash". The Lazers are a brutal show of bowling prowess, with a team average probably hovering around 2 and change. The Lazers have won the league at least twice since we started bowling. They are good. In fact, you could call them the "Bizarro Bowl Movements". They are our opposites. Because we use a 90% handicapping system, we are at our greatest disadvantage when we bowl against them.

We bowled against the bruisers only two weeks ago, and we were happy to come out of it 2-2. Thankfully, in a league with nine teams, we won't have to face them again for another six weeks, right? Wrong. We bowl against them again next week. Well, you might say, wasn't another team just added to the league? Didn't that screw up the scheduling? Yes, that's true. Thanks a lot, Wolfpack. Thanks for coming into the league and screwing us over. Why don't you just go back to your stupid bowling den. But there's more to this sordid tale of intrigue. You see, we have now bowled for 20 weeks in Bernaski, and we have already faced the Lazers four times. This will be our 5th match against the Car Washers in 21 weeks! Do the math. We roll against these guys like once a month.

Now, let's do a little comparison. There is one team in our league that is actually worse than us, if you can believe it. It's the team known as "Little Caesars". (No offense intended, Caesars. Please keep bringing pizza.) When we bowl against them, we actually have an advantage. How many times have we faced them? Twice. Something smells fishy here, and it's not a double anchovy pizza pizza.

So, Briefcase, what do you have to say for yourself? I would threaten to rise up against you in a bloodless secretarial coup d'etat, but that would mean that I would have to be the league secretary. NO WAY. That's way too much stuff to do. Plus, you're really good at it.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Bowling Puzzler II: The Regulation Lane

A regulation bowling lane is something very familiar to everyone who bowls. Its dimensions are right there in front of you. For most of us, however, it is only viewed from one perspective, very obliquely from the side of the foul line. This gives the lane a foreshortened appearance. The dimensions of a lane are easy to look up, and I mentioned them just yesterday. I'll give you one. It is 60 feet in length from the foul line to the center of the mark for the 1 pin. As far as I know, we never have the benefit of seeing a lane from directly above. Bowling alleys are almost invariably indoor affairs, and they have very low ceilings. So... if you saw a bowling lane from above, could you recognize it? Could you pick it out of a lineup? Here's the question. It's a multiple choice, so don't fret.

The image below shows three bowling lanes. One of these is drawn to scale, so the length and width of the lane, gutters, pin deck, and pit have the correct dimensions relative to one another. Two are not drawn to scale. Which one is the regulation lane?

[Note: if you click on the image, it loses its proportionality, so make your guess based on the image in the post.]


Relatedly, I was hoping to be able find a high quality Google Earth image of an outdoor bowling facility since they must exist. Anybody up for the challenge?

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Bowling Puzzler: How can you get the benefits of hooking the ball as a straight bowler?

A few weeks ago, the Tormented Texan, E.B. of the Thumbhole Chronicles, shared a link to BowlSpot.com discussing a USBC study examining the effect of board of entry and entry angle on strike percentage. I wasn't able to find the actual USBC study, but I didn't really spend much time looking. Here's his link to the synopsis.

It's funny that the USBC is able to do some really interesting research but seems to be absolutely incapable of making a graph that is actually understandable. Instead, they seem to be fans of the default chart settings on Microsoft Excel, a big pet peeve of mine. Here is one of the graphs.

It is attempting to show the relationship of entry angle and board to the likelihood of picking up a strike. I could critique this graphic all day long, but let me point out the most obvious problem. BOARDS ARE NOT LABELED ON THE X-AXIS. There appear to be two positions (one broadly defined and one narrowly) that maximize the likelihood of a strike. According to the article, the best entry position is board 17.5. I am going to presume that lies in the center of the big peak, but who knows. What do the vertical grid lines represent? Based on clues in the article, I'm guessing the units are 1/5 of a board, but again, there is no way to tell from the figure alone.

One of the main findings of the study is that an entry angle of 6 degrees maximizes the likelihood of a strike. So, what exactly does a six degree entry angle mean? Here's Part I of our puzzler:

If you threw a straight ball from the right or left corner (where the foul line meets the gutter) to the center of the head pin (board 20), what entry angle would it have?

This is a not a difficult problem if you know your basic trigonometry. Given my experience with the clientele of Laramie Lanes, I am going to assume that you don't know any trigonometry, so just give it a good guess because the answer is forthcoming in the next few sentences. Well, a bowling lane is 60 feet in length from the foul line to the center of the headpin. In width, it is 41.5 inches. So, the distance from the gutter to the center of headpin is 20 3/4 inches. The question, then, is what is smallest angle of a right triangle of 60' in length and 20 3/4" in width? The answer is... 1.65 degrees. [Hey kids, next time you whine to your math teacher about "Why do I need to know this crap?", you can just shut your stupid pie holes.]

If you were to instead enter at the optimal location, board 17.5, the angle would be slightly less. What does this mean? Well, if you want to achieve an entry angle of 6 degrees, you need to throw a hook, and you need quite a bit of hook. You need to more than triple this angle, which brings us to Part II of the puzzler:

Can a straight ball thrower achieve an entry angle of 6 degrees?

On the surface, it might seem impossible, but in fact, it can be done. It is simply a matter of beginning your shot from outside of the lane. For a righty, you would have to release the ball 58 inches, or 4.83 feet to the right of the right edge of the lane. Yep, there's a gutter in the way, so there's a lob involved.

So, for all you straight on bowlers who want to maximize your chances of getting a strike, take your approach from the next lane over, aim for the pocket at board 17.5. Release your shot at the foul line 4 feet 10 inches from the edge of your lane and lob that baby to clear the gutter. Now you can stop fretting about learning that pesky hook shot. You're welcome. It was my pleasure.

What's that? Is this legal? Well, I don't know. Read the rule book. As far as I know, it's only a foul if you cross the foul line.

And for my grand finale... I leave this one for you to solve.... how far do you have to lob it to clear the gutter?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Problem with Communism

I try to avoid Walmart. Something about the place just rubs me the wrong way. I could get into the nitty gritty of labor relations, support of cheap and inhumane Chinese labor, etc., but that's not really the problem. I don't know what it is. Despite my disdain for Wally World, in Laramie, Walmart just sucks you in. It's like a huge black hole sitting on the eastern edge of town. It sucks in everything and everybody. At any given point in time, it seems like half the town is there. We don't have many places in our fair "city" where we can part with our hard earned cash for crap we don't need, and Walmart often has what you don't really need at a really cheap price. That's their shtick, I know. I don't really want to write about Walmart, except it is a good point of departure for where I want to go.

Most of time when I go out to buy something, I want to be left alone. I don't want to be harassed by "helpful" store employees, even the Helpful Hardware Man. There are times, however, when you must throw in the towel and ask for assistance. Everybody who works at Walmart is easy to identify by those blue smock/vests with that saying "How may I help you?" plastered across their back. Yet, for some reason, whenever you need some help, you can't find anybody to actually help you. When you do find somebody, you see this stupid saying on their back as they're walking AWAY from you! It's very ironic.

There are other times when you need help, too. Let's say you go to Ace Hardware. You want to buy a bunch of some product that is heavy and bulky... let's say concrete mix. Yes, I need twenty 80 lbs bags of Quikrete. I need somebody to help me load it into my truck. The gal at the register rings me up and then gets on the mic and announces to the store, "I need someone to help this pansy load a ton of concrete into his truck." No, she didn't really say pansy, but allow me some poetic license. I go outside, and pull my truck around to the concrete. I start loading it myself, waiting for one of the five young guys in red vest/smocks to come help. At bag 16, I realize nobody is coming. Why did nobody come?

It's pretty simple, really. When something is everybody's responsibility, it is nobody's responsibility (think of the office refrigerator). When some undesirable task needs to be done, and it is assigned to one of you people out there, it is easier to assume or hope that somebody else will do it. In fact, there is no punishment for not doing it. Those five guys are all thinking the same thing, "It's cold out there. That concrete is heavy. She didn't say my name. I'll let somebody else handle this." Or maybe one or two of those guys are thinking, "Why do I always have to do this shit? It's Marc's turn. He never does anything." This, my friends, is the problem with collectivism. When it is really easy not to do your part, then many people will choose not to. When you can do nothing and get the same reward as somebody who does something (or get no punishment), why not do nothing? It is easy to cheat. Given enough time, cheating will overwhelm the system, and it will collapse.

By paragraph four, you should be asking yourself, "What the hell does this have to do with bowling?" Nothing really. Instead, it's about that donate button on the top of the page. Let me very briefly explain its genesis. This whole blog grew out of my spreadsheet. I started tracking stats and reporting them to the team. My spreadsheet is a useful tool, so I made it available for free to the whole world. Then, people started asking for changes... more stats, different configurations, etc. I spent a huge amount of time completely revamping it into its current form. One guy who made a request suggested I add the donate button. I did. [He never donated.]

Here were my thoughts on the matter. The spreadsheet is a useful thing. A lot of people like it. A lot of people use it. It is the product of my hard work. I have a product for which I control the supply, and there is demand for it. I should get something back for it. BUT... there are already plenty of bowling stats things out there already, some for free and some for sale. I don't feel like getting into competitive entrepreneurship. Instead, I'll just give it away for free and reap the benefits of the good will of the people. Holy cow, am I a naive idealist! That spreadsheet has been downloaded HUNDREDS of times, maybe more. I don't really track it very often. It accounts for something like 20% of the traffic to this blog. That's something like 1,500 hits. How many donations have been made? One donation. All of my hard work has yielded $10 (before PayPal took out their cut).

Why don't people donate? It's just like the kids at the hardware store. Everybody thinks to themselves, "I'll let somebody else do it." Plus, they have no idea how much money I've made. Perhaps they think, "He's probably made a grand on that spreadsheet. That's plenty." So... yeah, I feel a little cheated, but that's ok. I never expected to make much money on it.

Which brings me to my final point. I could, if I really wanted to, stop giving it away for free. Keep in mind that there are hundreds of copies of it out there already, if not more. I intend to keep updating it and improving it, so yeah, the old versions are out there, but the new ones won't be. I could make people pay a small amount for it, say 100 pennies. If I do this, I think they'll just go elsewhere. Instead, I think I'll just remove the button. I gotta say, though, it makes me feel a bit like people just keep bending me over and having their way.

It gives me relatively little incentive to make it better. My good will has its limits, I guess. In the end, this also speaks to the problem with capitalism, which ironically is also the problem with bowling. I SUCK AT IT.

Why is your bowling so inconsistent?

This post was inspired by a comment by one of our readers, MaddysDaddy, who wrote, "If I may be so bold, how about something on improving consistency or why we can be so inconsistent? I go from throwing 213 one game to 127 the next. I leave the alley ready to quit then can't wait to bowl again when I get home."

How many people can relate to this? You put up a 195 in one game only to follow it with a 135. What happened? How did you seemingly go from being a pretty good bowler to a lousy one in no time? Did something change mentally? Physically? Did you cross the magical threshold between buzzed and drunk? If you average over 200, you are accustomed to even larger changes in your game scores. For example, you might go from 260 to 170 in consecutive games. What is the cause of such violent ups and downs in bowling scores?

Well, when we see something change, we assume that it must have changed for a reason. Bowling scores are proxies for skill. When we see a bad bowling score follow a good one, we assume that there was a change in ability. Right? Well, probably not. In the great majority of cases involving massive differences in game score, there was absolutely no change in skill. In fact, nothing really changed except luck.

This is where the incredulity sets in, where you call "bullshit" on me, but listen brothers and sisters, I speak the truth. We see cause and effect all the time where there is absolutely none. For instance, this lady thinks God helped her win the lottery. Nope, she just got lucky. Here's another example. We fish for trout. We might cast out 50 times and get absolutely no action. But then, we might catch two fish in the next three casts. Our perception tells us that the fish are starting to hit, that conditions are improving, but in fact this sequence of events in very easily explained by chance. Again, nothing changed, although for some reason our primate brains are strongly wired to believe that something did change.

Your next argument is this... Well, maybe that's true in fishing or lottery, but bowling just isn't that way. In bowling, you are pretty much control of the entire system. You can't control a lottery number picker or the appetite of a trout, but you can control almost all aspects of your own bowling game. Well, this is true, sort of.

Let me start with something you will probably accept as true. Let's say you bowl a 175 and follow this up with a 172. Can we all agree that you pretty much bowled the same game? There was no appreciable change in skill, right? What if you bowled a 175 and then a 165? Still the same, right? Maybe you converted one less spare, but did your skill level change? You get some spares. You miss others. A difference of one spare isn't a huge deal.

At some difference, though, you will start to believe that something did change. For example, if you follow a 175 with a 120, you probably think that something happened. It is simply too great of a change to explain by chance, you might say, but nope, that's not the case. I don't know if I could really convince anybody of this without a bowling robot, but I'll use the next best thing, my bowling simulator.

Again, for those of you unfamiliar with it, I use it to simulate bowling games. It can simulate any bowler, and it produces very realistic scores. It is based on two sets of probabilities: 1) the probability of any given 1st ball score; 2) the likelihood of picking up a spare given a certain first ball score. For this post, I'll simulate my own bowling based on the 108 games I have for myself in our database. Here is my simulated distribution of game scores, which is remarkably similar to my actual bowling.
Notice that a large range of scores are represented. Of those scores, 95% fall between 211 and 116. Keep in mind that in the simulation, nothing was changed. My bowling "skill", represented by those probabilities, remained absolutely constant, and yet more than 100 pins of variation in scores can be expected to result. The only thing that changed was chance. If by chance, my simulated self got a lot of strikes, I scored high. If I got very few marks, I scored low.

How are scores expected to change from game to game?In the simulation, changes in consecutive game scores look like this:

Again, from game to game there was no change in skill,yet a difference in score of 50 pins is not an unusual outcome. In fact, a change of 100 pins or more is expected to occur once in every 100 games. It could be an awesome experience, or a humiliating one, but what is clear from the simulation is that it is a rare but expected outcome attributable to chance in bowling.

To this, you might respond that simulation is not real life. So what if your computer says that this can happen. How do you know that is how the real world works? Well, my actual changes in game scores are remarkably similar. Last night, I rolled 139, 179, 124. I promise you that there was nothing magical about Game 2.

So how does chance operate? Well, every time you roll the ball, you have an intended result. Consider the strike throw. You are trying to hit the pocket. Sometimes you do. Sometimes, you don't. Sometimes you get a strike. Sometimes you don't. When you are really skilled, you are frequently painting the pocket. When you aren't, that ball is over the place. Still, nobody gets a strike all the time. Sometimes, a bad throw is rewarded. Sometimes, a good throw is punished. As we get better, the likelihood of getting a strike grows, but it never becomes a certainty. There is always some element of chance. With increases in skill, the role of luck is reduced, but it is never eliminated. It will always be there. It will always cause game and series scores to change wildly over short time scales.

Bowling is a messy and noisy system. If you want to gauge how you are doing, try not to obsess over the game to game variation. Real changes in skill become evident over periods of months and years.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Endless Winter of Bowling

An interesting fact about blogs from caslon.com: "Several studies indicate that most blogs are abandoned soon after creation (with 60% to 80% abandoned within one month, depending on whose figures you choose to believe) and that few are regularly updated."

I have now maintained this beast for 420 days. I am proud of that accomplishment. This is the 176th post. Many of these posts are meaty, not simple affairs. It has required constant maintenance, upkeep, data entry, and analysis. This blog is far from the average blog. I benefit from certain circumstances many folks of my age do not have. I am childless, so I have a lot of free time. I am a professor, so I have limited responsibilities for three months of the year. For the last nine months and the next seven, I have been on sabbatical, which means I have an incredible opportunity to do what I want when I want... i.e., very few employment responsibilities.

Many people have noted that the key to successful blogging is to write about what you love. I guess that's what has happened here, except I can't say that I truly love bowling nor that this endeavor has been a resounding success. I have an obsessive personality, although my obsessions are not long lived. I went through a golf phase a few years back where I went from essentially never having golfed to shooting in the 80's in a matter of 16 months. Then, my attention turned to bowling and fishing.

Like golf, to become a good bowler requires practice and repetition. The best bowlers in our league have been at it for a long time. There are many young guys (in their 20's and 30's) who average over 200 in our league. They have been competing since they were kids. They have more than 10 if not 20 years of experience. I have what amounts to about three. Progress is present, but slow and barely perceptible. It waxes and wanes.

The core of our team, John, Joe D., and I have all had our moments. In the first season, I carried the team. The next season is kind of a blur to me because I missed much of it with a ruptured ACL, and when I bowled, I did not bowl well. In the 1st half of the next season, Joe was the king of our team, and in the 2nd half, he was awful. Then, John stepped up and carried us. The first half this season belonged to me, and lately, Daniele has made a strong push as my bowling has gone south.

It's a strange bird, this game. Yes, you get better with time, but superimposed on that slow upward creep are big oscillations of bowling well and bowling like shit. It is easy to keep your interest and your drive when you are on the upswing. When things aren't going so well, it's a lot harder. Lately I have found my focus shifting elsewhere. I have no intent of ending the BM Report anytime soon, although I have been very close to doing just that on many occasions. Something just keeps bringing me back.

In Laramie, it has been cold. Yes, it has been cold everywhere, I know. It has been an exceptionally frigid winter as Arctic air has been deflected south all winter long (unless you happen to live in the arctic). But our cold is not like your cold. We live almost a mile and a half above sea level. The air is thin. We have ice and snow on the ground that is two months old. Cold here is like 20 below. I don't have much sympathy for you people in Atlanta whining about subfreezing temperatures. Try living that way for seven months of the year.

This is the context in which we bowl up here in the Rocky Mountains. The Bernaski season stretches from September to May. For most people that means late summer to early summer. For us, it is the endless winter of bowling. If you bowl well, the slippery drive home with the guys on icy streets is really fun. If not, you just long for the warm days when you can get up to the lakes near 11,000 feet and catch some brookies, bows, or cutthroats. Those days are still some five or six months away.

So, where am I going with all this? I don't really know. I guess I feel a responsibility to keep writing about bowling because there are a small number of people out there who look forward to what I have to say, usually as a distraction from work. My pace has slowed. My updates and analysis have been less frequent. So, I thought I'd let it be known what's on my mind. That's all.

Here's a brief synopsis of the last two weeks. Last week, we bowled Lazer Wash. We went 2-2. There are only five possible outcomes of any week of bowling 0-4, 1-3, 2-2, 3-1, 4-0. Strangely, this was the first week all season in which we went 2-2. It was a decent outing against the league's elite rollers.

Last night, we suffered a demoralizing and crushing defeat. Laramie Lanes Lounge absolutely killed us. They bowled brilliantly, and we had what was probably our worst night of the season. I led the team with a 442 series, not exactly a strong effort.

That's the endless winter of bowling.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Bowling Haiku IX

Lane ball on the rack
Rental shoes gathering dust
As sub sits alone

Monday, January 18, 2010

What's wrong with Brooklyn?

When I started bowling a few years back, I found it odd when somebody seemed apologetic about brooklyn strikes. When a good bowler records a "brookie", they will often turn around and shrug their shoulders as if to say, "My fault." In those days, if I got a strike, I was happy about it. I didn't really care how it happened. Today, I can relate a bit better to the "mea culpa brooklyners".

Getting a brooklyn strike feels like a gift. It means you badly missed your target, but things worked out for you anyway. It's a bit like passing the ball into the arms of a defending safety, having it deflect upward, and into the hands of your receiver in the end zone. You didn't deserve that TD pass, but it worked out in the end.

I would guess that nowadays, about 25-30% of my strikes are brooklyns. I just don't have pinpoint control of the 1st ball. What is interesting, though, is that it is my impression that if I hit the 1-2 pocket, I have a better chance of getting a strike than if I hit the 1-3 (I am right-handed). Still, I always aim for the 1-3 because that's what you're "supposed to do". Conventional wisdom is a funny thing. There are many forms of knowledge derived from many places, but conventional wisdom grows from consensus. If a large majority of people believe something to be true, many other people will simply accept it as truth without much thought. The conventional wisdom in bowling is that for right-handed folk, it is better to hit the 1-3 pocket than the 1-2. Is this true? I have no idea. The data might be available to test that proposition already (see this link from E.B. for example). I think I'll start my own study of the problem tonight.

I was hoping to figure out exactly what happens during a brooklyn strike to complement my prior classic strike post, but I was unable to find a decent video to confirm my preconceptions. What follows is my best guess.

The brooklyn could be seen as symmetrical to the classic strike, but I'm fairly certain that it is not. Also, I think there are probably multiple variants of the brooklyn. Regardless, here is one way it could happen. If the ball strikes the 1 pin on the diagonal formed by the 1-3-6-10, all of those pins will be removed by the domino effect. The ball should deflect to the left into 2 pin, which would take out the 5 and 9. Next, it strikes the four which collides with the 8. Finally, the ball will remove the 7. It is a similar shot to the 1-2-4-7 leave when the ball strikes all four pins.

That's how I see it, but if anybody can find a video to demonstrate exactly what happens, I'd really appreciate it. I'm fairly certain that in some cases, the ball carries through the pins. I could see the 5 kicking back to take out the 8. Since I couldn't find a vid, here's another Brooklyn motion picture for you. As you watch it, ask yourself whether there is truly anything wrong with the brooklyn strike.



Saturday, January 16, 2010

Between bloodshed and trenching, try a game of "Dutch Tenpins"

An occasional hobby of mine when surfing the tubes is checking out what was going on in years gone by. Due to the nature of my employment, I have access to all kinds of cool resources, such as historical issues of the New York Times. This morning, I came across an article dating to October 30, 1864. It is a piece about the Civil War. "So what?" you ask. Well, yeah, it has something to do with bowling. Yep, it's true, people bowled even back then. If you do a little research, you will find that most people trace the origins of bowling to ancient Egypt where the archaeologist Sir Flinders Petrie recovered a ball and pins from the grave of a child. Being an archaeologist myself, I have always wanted to fact check this tale so firmly ingrained in narratives bowling history. That is a task on the to do list. Today, however, we look at bowling in the civil war. Well, sort of.

This is the headline. It's about the latest activities of the Army of the Potomac, who were camped at Weldon Railroad, just south of Petersburg, Virginia. A couple of months prior, they had defeated the Confederates at the Battle of Globe Tavern, in which they took control of a couple of miles of critical railroad, effectively cutting off a major Confederate supply line.

Before we get on to the bowling part, I can't help but comment on the section of the article titled "Among the Darkeys". Yes, that's what it says. It is about African American soldiers in the Union Army. Keep in mind that this is a Union newspaper reporting on the Union army, which is in part fighting to end slavery. The tone of the section is strange and contradictory. It is clear that the correspondent is torn between a deep seated racism and the need to justify the war. For example, early in this section, the unnamed reporter writes, "Apart from the problem of their fitness for soldiers, one cannot witness their actions without interest and attention" [emphasis mine]. He later writes, "They make willing, serviceable and reliable troops." In other words, according to his own article, there really wasn't a "problem of fitness" with regard to African American troops, but there was an inherent assumption that there should have been. Here you have people fighting for the army of the country which condoned for some 80 years their abduction in west Africa, brutal transport across the Atlantic, and legal enslavement. Yet, these troops are shown relatively little respect even by a northern newspaper. No wonder it took another 100 years to end segregation in this fine land.

No matter the color of your skin, camp life in the Civil War was comprised of a lot of down time. Put a few thousand guys in tents in the middle of nowhere and they will find ways to entertain themselves... often by throwing rocks at things. One game played in Civil War camps was a variant of bowling called "Dutch Tenpins," and its invention is even attributed to General Ulysses S. Grant. Here's the description of the game given by the Times:

After reading this, I couldn't help but wonder what a typical score would be. It seems to me that it would be considerably more difficult than standard bowling. Can you imagine trying to pick up single pin spares by hitting the pin on the back swing? I would guess that anything over 80 was very good. What if you forgot to remove the powder? In that case, it was called "Death Tenpins", but strikes were much more common. I hope I haven't started a new fad among dorky Civil War reenacters.

Friday, January 15, 2010

La caca del toro

Monday night was a sweet and sour affair. I'll start with the sweet candy center. We faced Prairie Rose and took 3 of 4 games. We bowled fairly well, except in the 2nd. We had a 200 game for the fourth week in a row. We did not reach the great heights of the week before, but I can't complain about a 3-1 night. I am not used to the first number being bigger than the second. It just hasn't been my style of late.

Speaking of 200 games, well, they have become the norm rather than the exception. The graph below shows the high game score of the night for the 39 weeks of the BIA. Last season, we hit the deuce five times in 22 weeks, or 22.7% of the time. This season, we have done it 10 times in 18 weeks, or 55.6% of the time. Not only that, we have had multiple 200 games in a single night on at least three occasions during the current season. Improvement is real thing, believe it or not.
The only other news from the night involved the Rook. Fresh off of the "I can roll a 200 game" declaration, in Game 2, he found himself in an uncomfortable but familiar position. He sat in the 9th frame with a 78 on the verge of joining "the club". The club refers to the record BM low game score of 88. The club currently has two members. If the Rook didn't mark the 10th, he actually would not have joined the club but formed a new club. Because we were getting our ass kicked in this game, it added some much needed drama to the 10th frame. Gingy stepped up to bowl with a jittery right hand, but in spite of his nerves, he knocked 'em all down. Johnebob proposed that anytime somebody joins the club or forms a new one, we have to go out for club sandwiches. The motion was approved unanimously. Here's the Rook's tight 97:


Now for the sour candy shell to the night. The Briefcase showed me the standings for the start of the 2nd half. I scrolled down the column to find "Bowl Movements". To the right of our team name, there stood a 1 and to its right, a 3. What the f*&k?!?!? We are 1-3????? How is this possible?

We had our best night of bowling EVER! How could we only have won one game? Apparently, Little Caesars not only had their best night ever, but it was even better than ours. Our luck this year has been in the toilet. That's complete caca del toro.

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Rookie Syndrome

Everyone who has bowled in league has had a rookie season, and it was usually something very forgettable. It is my impression that there is remarkably little variation in rookie averages. For example, both Gingy and K-Terk are rookies this year. K-terk may have been in a league once before, and Ging subbed for us a couple of times last year. Neither has really bowled regularly. Remarkably, though, their averages are pretty much identical... 128 and 127. Last year, our fourth man was Gee-off, the Canadian. What did he average? 127 on the dot. What about the rest of us? Well, Johnebob was a 128. Of the nine people for whom I have rookie averages, four of them averaged either 127 or 128 pins per game. That is remarkably consistent.

To be fair, the range of averages for rookie BM bowlers is considerably greater. The worst BM rookie of all time? Timmy B., who bowled nine games for us, averaged a nice 84 pins per game. The best? Woody. He rolled 24 games and averaged a 139. Here's a bar graph of Movement rookie averages ranked from lowest to highest:

Low rookie averages obviously speak to one thing. Rookies suck. Bowling is not something you can just step into and dominate. It takes practice. It takes repetition. On the surface, it's a really simple game. As you are immersed in it, you become aware of its many subtle complexities. Getting better is about learning what you need to do, but more importantly learning how to do it regularly. The only way to do so is to roll a bowling ball over and over and over and over and over again.

I think the rookie average speaks to a couple of things... general athletic ability and prior bowling experience. Having some coordination is a good thing, but practice makes perfect. Being a rookie means leaving most of your frames open, averaging 1-3 strikes a game, and picking up about 1/3 of your spares. It's not a pretty thing, but everybody's gotta start somewhere. If you can deal with the humiliation of being the worst guy in league (maybe even for a couple of years), you will slowly improve.

Nonetheless, rookies have their moments. There are games when things seem to come together. The marks form long strings on the scoreboard, and triple digits (the rookie relief point) are reached by the 6th frame. Every bowler, good, bad, or indifferent, has unusually good and bad games. What brought this to mind was our current Rook's claim that he could bowl 200. i have no doubt that one day he will, especially if he continues to bowl beyond this season. But will he do it this season? Before I go on, I should note that of the nine bowlers in that graph up there, other than the core movements, none regularly bowled longer than one season, and none rolled a 200 game in their first year.

So, what are the Rook's chances of rolling 200? Without getting bogged down in the details, I took his stats, and I simulated 5000 of his games. Of those 5000 games, 9 were 200 or above. In brief, his chances of getting to the deuce on any given game are currently about 0.2%, or getting there once in every 500 games. For comparison, I checked his chance of breaking our low game record of 88. He has about a 1.8% of doing this every game he bowls. Here's the simulated score distribution:

Now for the interesting part. In league, we bowl a total of 96 games. He has already missed three of those and probably will miss another three. That gives him 90 chances to break 200 at a 0.2% chance per game. What are his chances of getting there during league? They are better than I thought. It comes to about a 15% chance of having a 200 game this season. He also has an 80% chance of rolling 88 or below. That's life in the big leagues, Rookie. Now, buy me another pitcher.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Triple Dipping

On January 5 of the year AD 2009, the Movements had their best night of bowling ever. The Canadian was in the tropics, and Becker came down from Casper to valiantly sub for the team. On that night, we recorded 1,938 pins as a team. That record sat on the books for more than one revolution around the sun, but last night, it finally fell.

Clearly, we needed some time off. We hadn't bowled as a team for some 18 days. We missed last Monday's festivities due to the absence of two BM's. So as not to forfeit, we made our way down to the Lanes of Laramie on a valuable Friday night to make up our missed session. Apparently the timing was right.

Our team series was a 1,978, or an average of just about 165 per bowler. We barely missed averaging a 500 series as a team. It was a good night for triple dipping. The triple dip includes: 1) THREE 200 games; 2) THREE 500 series; 3) THREE 900 games handicapped. All of this added up to a really nice night of bowling and should equate to a good start to the 2nd half of the season.

A few more odds and ends. Johnebob took the majority of the leaderboard including a 61% pickup percentage and going 7/8 on single pin chances. Daniele has now hit 200 and 500 three weeks in a row, even though he struggled to get there early in the season. I went six for eight on spares in Game 1, but then went 0 for 10 the rest of the night. Still, I pulled out the 500. So, he doesn't feel left out, at the end of the night, the Rookie proclaimed that he feels he can roll a 200 game. [He went 1 for 7 on single pin tries.] I told him I would crunch the numbers to figure out his chances.


With our three 200 games last night, our total as a team stands at 18, at least since I've been keeping track. Before the start of the BIA, Daniele had one, and Johnny had at least three. During the BIA, the core movements stand perfectly even with six apiece. We have truly come a long way from where we were four years ago. When someone used to roll a 200, it felt like we had won the lottery. Nowadays, it's more like a nice birthday present.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Classic Strike

There are many ways to get a strike in bowling. Most people are familiar with two, the 1-2 pocket shot and the Brooklyn. There are variants on each of these. Think of pocket strikes when the pins seem to explode vs. the strike that requires a messenger pin to fly across the lane to pick up the final pin standing. There are other ways to get a strike. For example, a couple of years ago, I recorded a strike by bringing the ball in between the 3 and 6 pins. I haven't seen it happen since. All I remember of that day was turning around to see our opponents shaking their heads in disbelief (disgust?).

Anyway, I want to briefly describe what happens in a classic strike throw for a right handed bowler. Pin action is so fast, so hectic, and viewed from such a poor perspective that it is really isn't clear what exactly is going on down there 60 ft away. I assume many people already know what follows, but I did not. Most of what I write is about things that I am learning in the hope that somebody else out there can learn along with me.

Besides, it is a useful thing to know. If you know what should happen when you hit the pocket, but it isn't happening, you should have greater insight into what exactly is going on. My most common problem is hitting the pocket but leaving a 10 pin. If this is happening, then one of two things must be going on: 1) Pinnius hates me; 2) I didn't really hit the pocket. I'll leave the stuck 10 for another day because I'm not sure I understand it yet, but here's what happens when you get a classic strike for a right-handed bowler:

The ball should first strike the 1 pin. You want to strike it in line with the diagonal formed by the 2, 4, and 7 pins. The 1 will strike the 2 which strikes the 4 which strikes the 7. Essentially, they fall like dominoes. The ball is deflected to the right into the 3 pin. The 3, 6, and 10 will domino down in order. After the ball strikes the 3, it is deflected left to take out the 5. The 5 will kick back and take out the 8. The ball will deflect back to the right to clean up the 9.

Now that you know what should have happened with that perfect pocket shot, you should have slightly better insight into why it didn't happen. I'll try to diagnose some of those problems in the future. In the meantime, here's a slo-mo video of a classic strike with a great mural to boot:

Sunday, January 3, 2010

I'll send an S.O.S. to the world

In each of Frames 1 through 9, there are three possible outcomes: strike, spare, or open. That's it. As you know, in Frame 10, things are a little different, but for my purpose, it is of no consequence. The relative desirability of each outcome is ranked as I have listed them in that sentence. Any bowler (at least a bowler who knows how to score) would like more strikes than spares and more spares than opens and for obvious reasons.

The graph below shows our average scores depending upon the outcome of that frame. For open frames, we average almost eight pins. For spares, we average 17 and for strikes, 21. For better bowlers, these differentials would be even greater, particularly that for strikes and spares.

A simple way to gauge a bowler's skill is the relative frequency with which each of these outcomes occur. I will call it your S.O.S. profile, which stands for Strike, Open, Spare. In actuality, the order is strike, spare, open, but acronyms that start with "S.S." just creep me out. So I'll call it S.O.S. This acronym, normally a plea for help, describes a simple bar graph that you can use to gauge your skill. If you suck at bowling, like we do, it also serves as a useful double entendre. Here's the framework:

For beginning bowlers, open frames will be most common followed by spares and then strikes. The S.O.S profile will slant up to the right. As you improve, they will equalize in frequency, each accounting for roughly 1/3 of your frames. If you reach this stage, you will average in the 150's to 160's. As you improve further, strikes will be most common followed by spares and then opens, giving your profile a downward to the right slant.

To give you an idea of what these profiles mean in terms of average, here is how our team shakes out for the current season:

Notice how the slope formed by the top of the bar is a nice indicator of average. The Sub and the Rookie (top row), with the lowest averages, slope strongly up to the right. The veterans (bottom row) are leveling off, have leveled off, or maybe just maybe, are starting to reverse that trend. The key is to get your strike percentage above 33.3% If you can do that, you are well on your way.

Bowling Palindrome II


Need an X, Nadeen

This old classic was spoken by Gladys Larue in the Buffalo women's city championships in 1959. The Buffalo Gals were trailing the Queen Pins by 23 going into the 10th frame with the anchor, Nadeen McEntyre, preparing to bowl.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Bowling Haiku VIII


Firm eyes gaze forward
but peripheral vision
locked on guy to right