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 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?


  1. Oh my- I'm getting a tingly feeling just thinking about throwing a lob from the next lane.

    It takes me back to my days in the mountains of Colorado, where a young man threw horseshoes that came dangerously close to rattling some high-tension power lines as he delivered crushing blows to an unfortunate PBR can in games of BeerShoes. There is one Movement that I think is capable of delivering such a shot... enter the Laughlonian.

  2. Nice. You are right. Johnebob could deliver and master this shot. Speaking of Shoes, Walter Ray Williams, a well mustachioed PBA superstar is also a master of the horse shoe.

  3. "The Tormented Texan." You should get royalties when Fox options the made-for-tv screenplay.

  4. The math intrigued me but, 40 years after high school trig, I've forgotten about sines, cosines, and all that other stuff (nor can I find my slide rule). Luckily, internet math solving is available. It looks to me that in order to enter at a 6 degree angle, you'd have to release the ball about 76 inches right of center of the lane and lob it about 44 feet to clear the gutter.

    Don't quit blogging yet, this is great stuff.

  5. See what you've done to the team doctor, Todd? Now he's going to niggle over every board and missed pin. Bet he finds that slide rule and shows up to practice with it.

    The world was so simpler back in the day...

  6. EB, keep that guy around, slide rule or not. He's the best.

  7. Doc,

    Wow. I'm impressed. You not only caught my error but pretty much got the right answer. [See kids, that's why you should always check your work.] To hit the pocket at board 17.5, I think you have to stand 4'10" right of the gutter, or 6'4" right of lane center, precisely as you say. to clear the gutter, you need to lob the ball 46' 2.5". That's quite a toss. I calculated this as:

    Lob distance = 4.83/Sin(6 deg)

    You are the person most willing to humor me and for that, I am grateful.

  8. We ALL humor you, Homer. Willingly or not. ;)

  9. Like now, for example. I have no idea what "Lob distance = 4.83/Sin(6 deg)" means, so I just nod my head and smile. (Sort of like my wife does to me.)

  10. It means that you are an English teacher.


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