Sunday, February 28, 2010

Remember the Great Awakening?

In the midst of our recent and prolonged slump, there has been one phrase frequently uttered by our cleanup man, Daniele, "Remember the Great Awakening?" It is a question that harkens back to brighter days on the Bowl Movement scene, days when the sun shone, flowers bloomed, lions played with lambs, and a majority vote actually meant something in the United States Senate. Actually, it wasn't that long ago. It refers to Daniele's bowling from December 7 through January 18, although it seems like it an eternity has passed.

Our cleanup man has a habit of naming things. For example, his two children have had endless names, such as Tater Man and Van Migliac. He is similar to Dubya this way, I guess. When he speaks of the "Great Awakening," he speaks of this:

That graph with a squiggly line doesn't look like much, but it speaks to a string of seven consecutive brilliant outings on the hardwood. Over these seven weeks, his low series was a 494; his high was a 566. He averaged 532 pins per night, or just over 177 pins per game with six 500+ series. He had five 200 games, including his high game of all time, a 222. He also had two 199's. On top of all that, he had the first and only 1st ball average exceeding 9.0 for a Bowl Movement on the 21st of December. The Great Awakening was a special time for JD.

Something happened. Over that magical seven week period, he struck 42% of his frames. For the rest of this season, his strike percentage has been around 29%. Now, I am one to usually attribute such changes to chance, but in this case, the difference is clear and absolutely real. Something was different during the Great Awakening. He was playing pocket pinball like a man with too much time on his hands, and by that, I mean he was absolutely blistering the pocket every night.

It is worth noting that JD has strikes in his genes. Earlier this season, his dad JD, Sr., rolled a perfect game in Erie, PA. Thus, you could probably infer that our cleanup man has an X chromosome, maybe even two. So, his head doesn't swell to the size of a watermelon, I should note that two weeks after the end of the Great Awakening, he bowled his worst series of the BIA, a 337.

So, yes, absolutely I remember the Great Awakening. Hopefully this week, our team can use it as inspiration to finally end this Rip Van Winkle impersonation and have an awakening of our own.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Bowling Puzzler V: The Perfect Velocity

Ok, for all of you who are algebraically inclined, this one shouldn't be too difficult, but for those of you who aren't, good luck. You might be able to get in the right ballpark, but the exact answer will be elusive.

Most modern bowling alleys have some way of gauging the speed of a ball. I typically throw anywhere between 12 and 18 mph depending upon the shot. If you release your bowling ball directly at the foul line and it rolls to strike the center of the headpin, it will have traveled a distance of about 60 feet. If you throw your ball at a snail's pace of 1 mph, it will take approximately 40.9 seconds to cover this distance. If you throw the heater at 20 mph, it will cover the same distance in just over 2 seconds. Here's the bowling puzzler of the week:


At what velocity in the units miles per hour (mph) must you throw the ball for its speed to be exactly equal to the time in seconds that it takes for the ball to travel 60 feet?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Bowling Mustaches: The Movement2

Heretofore, we have limited our reviews of bowling equipment to that of professionals, but there are other realms of bowling from which technical tips can be garnered. Today's bowling mustache is the Movement2, which burst onto the bowling scene on Monday in the City Championships of Laramie, Wyoming. Here are its specs:

Style: Movement2
Color: Dark Brown
Thickness: Thin
Length:Width Ratio: 5.43
Earnings: -$1,242
Titles: 0

The Movement2, often confused with the "Peach Fuzz" stache adorning the lips of junior bowlers, is ideal for those interested in worshiping false idols and in maintaining a minor bowling slump. It is proven to give its wearer false confidence. An expedient endeavor, the Movement2 can be grown in about seven days and is best recognized by weak "wrap around the lip" appearance. If you decide to attempt a Movement2, it is unwise to be seen in public without a stick, otherwise you will find it difficult to beat off the ladies who flock in from all corners of the bowling alley to request assistance in various sexual activities.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Sit Shandwich

In the immortal words of Freddie Mercury, "We are not the champions, my friend. And we'll keep on sucking till the end. We are not the champions. We are not the champions. Plenty of time for losers 'cause we are not the champions of the world."

About halfway through the second game last night, somebody, probably Johnebob, said, "This is a real shit sandwich". Yum. That pretty much describes our bowling last night. I wouldn't be surprised if our scratch series is last in the entire field. Oh, well. There's always next week. I'm starting to sound like EB.

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Odds

Tonight, we bowl in the Laramie City Championships. The most likely outcome is that we donate $84 to Cody Caldwell, Brett Baker, Adam Whathisname, and the rest of the Gem City's best. In fact, our chances of placing are fairly low, but not impossible. Our top ten finish in the handicapped division last year was impressive and our not bottom finish in the scratch division was also well earned.

So, here's how I see it. I have no idea how many pins took the handicapped division last year. According to what I wrote about midway through the competition last year, the top performance was a 2,916. We came in at 2,859. This year's tournament uses an 80% of 240 handicap. This gives us a 287 handicap, or a total of 861 free pins. If we assume that 3,000 pins will win it for sure, we would need to roll 2,139 scratch to guarantee victory. That means we need 713 pins per game, or an average of 178.25 per bowler per game.

Allow me to put this into perspective. Over the entire course of the BIA, I have a total of 133 team games in the database. Of these, two are greater than 713. So, we do this about once in every 66 games. We need to do it three times in a row tonight to guarantee victory. Our highest scratch series ever as a team was a 1,978, rolled on January 4 of this year. We need 161 pins on top of that. Given our performance this year, I would estimate our chances of getting 2,130 at 0.0005, or 1 in 2,000. If we lower our goal to 2,100 pins, it goes down to 575 to 1. If we want to place, I can't see it happening without 2,000 pins. The odds of that are about 42 to 1. Now, that's doable.

How do you get 2,000 pins? Well, we need to average a 500 series as a team. While the Ging man has been in that neighborhood lately, I think it's safer to assume that he'll come in around 400. That means John, Joe, and I need 533 a piece. We can do that. If there was ever a night for somebody to break 600 (Johnebob, I'm talking to you), tonight is the night.

Finally, I should note that if we put up a blistering 2,000 series, we will finish with only two pins more than last year. That should tell you two things. 1) We bowled our asses off last year; 2) We have gotten better, a lot better.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Bad bet, Pinnius

Pinnius, God of Bowling, why must you smite me? Have I not followed your ten commandments of bowling, such as Number 7: Cultivate thine mustache on thy fertile field of thine upper lip? What more must I do? Provide you offerings of burnt flesh, like hot dogs on a rotary heat lamp cooker? Come on, buddy. Can't you lend a brother a hand? And what are you doing in Vegas? I had no idea you could bet on the Laramie Bowling City Championships there. Looks like our odds are about right. You're going to bet on Prairie Rose, aren't you? You bastard! I thought we were your chosen sons. Why don't you just go back to that bowling alley in Valhalla, get drunk and eat nachos. We'll do this one on our own.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

White House mum on bowling scores

Despite the campaign pledge to air his bowling games on C-Span, President Obama has remained quiet since August about his bowling. It's been six months since we heard that he bowled a 144 on his birthday. In the meantime, Sarah Palin and Mitt Romney have dominated the political bowling scene. It seems that there is a good chance that the 2012 presidential campaign will be waged on the hardwood.

As a taxpayer of this great nation, I am disheartened by the lack of transparency in government, and I beg the press to dig deeply into the President's bowling activities. Come on Helen Thomas! Help me out here. How about you, Jake Tapper? Chuck Todd? Savannah Guthrie? Bill Plante? Do me a favor. At the next White House press conference, just ask this question, "How's the President's bowling game coming along? Has he improved on his 144?" I need some data to update my Presidential Bowling Time Series, and the citizens of the United States of America deserve to know.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Dick Evans made my day

To be perfectly honest, I don't read a lot stuff written about bowling. I like to keep my perspective relatively independent. I had never heard of Dick Evans, even though he is a former president of the Bowling Writers Association of America. Anyway, I came across something he wrote back in November, and it made me happy that there are voices of reason in the world of bowling.

Streakers, chaotics, and hypocrites

In the previous post, I examined the relationship between pickup percentage, (percentage of spare chances converted) to strike percentage (the percent of strike opportunities converted) to see if improvement in bowling comes with improvement in both facets of the game. Afterward, I thought it might be interesting to look at these data as time series, or to examine how pickup % and strike % have changed over time for the Movements. I found some unexpected things.

For this analysis, I used a 10 week moving average, one of my favorite tools for gauging change in skill in bowling. Let's start with the data for our cleanup man, JD. Below on the left are Joe's time series for strike and pickup %. Notice that he has been slowly improving in both aspects of his game over the course of the season with a few hiccups, like the one he is currently experiencing. He peaked back on the 11th of January, and based on last week, he may be heading back in the right direction. If you take the dots that make up each of these curves and compare them directly, you find that there is a strong positive relationship. This means that when Joe is feeling it, he is feeling it in all aspects of his game. When he is getting a lot of strikes, he is also picking up his spares. Also, when the strike game is not there, the second ball is absent as well. I should note that he has made HUGE strides in both aspects of his game this season, perhaps due to his ball change.

In comparison, Johnebob and the Rookie show a second type of pattern. In both cases, there is no relationship between pickup and strike %. This means that they operate independently, or that some nights the strikes are there, sometimes not. Some nights the spare game is there, sometimes not. But there is no relationship whatsoever between the two.

For a third type of pattern, you have to look at my trend below. The curves seem to symmetrically oppose one another. If am improving in strikes, I am getting worse at spares. If my spare game is coming around, my strike game is slipping. In fact, when you compare the two directly (below right), that is exactly what's going on. It suggests that over the last year or so, I have always been improving at one aspect of my game while getting worse at another. I've been going nowhere fast.

So here you have three different types of bowlers. I'll call the first the "streaker" because they are streaky. When the strike game is on, so is the spare game. When one is off, so is the other. This will result in dramatic and streaky changes in game scores from week to week. Johnebob and Gingy could be called "chaotics" because there is nothing predictable about the relationship between their ability to throw the first ball and second. As for me, I should be called a "hypocrite" for constantly contradicting different aspects of my game and making little progress as a consequence.

Does ontogeny recapitulate phylogeny?


Ontogeny refers to the the growth and development of an organism from embryo to adulthood. Phylogeny refers to the biological evolution of an organism over time. The phrase "ontogeny recapitulates phlyogeny" is the largely abandoned concept in biology that the course of evolution of a species can be reconstructed through the stages of its development. So I don't have a bunch of creationists using this post as evidence that evolution is some kind of scientific conspiracy, I suggest that you if you are really interested in evolution, spend some time studying the fossil record, genetics, and taxonomy; then get back to me.

While this concept does not work so well in evolutionary biology, does it apply to bowling? In other words, can we look at the stages of development of a series of bowlers of different levels of experience and reconstruct our own evolution as bowlers? In short, I have no idea, but my best guess is that the answer is a qualified "yes". Unfortunately, there isn't much of a fossil record of bowling.

What inspired this question was another question. Is there a correlation between the ability to get strikes and pick up spares? In other words, as you improve as a bowler, do you improve in both aspects of your marking game? If it is simply a question of accuracy, then the answer should be yes. To this end, I compared strike percentage to pickup percentage for this year for five BM bowlers including the four core bowlers and K-terk our sub. I also added in last year's stats for Gee-off, the Canuck, who left for greener pastures at the end of last season. Here's what I found:


Notice how all of the early stage bowlers, those I have labeled "Rookies" fall within a fairly tight cluster. Invariably, they strike 15-20% of their frames and pick up 34-38% of their spares. Joe, John, and I (labeled "veterans") form our own cluster, although it is more dispersed. Without exception, we pick up more than 40% of our spares and strike more than 25% of our frames, although we each have our own strengths and weakness.

If I had data from our first seasons in the Memorial League of Bernaski, would we plot down there with the rookies? I don't know. I think the answer again is "yes" but the grouping would probably be more dispersed. All three of those guys have an average in the high 120's. Our first season averages were: JD: 118, JL: 128, TS: 135. I was really proud of that 135. Wow, things have changed.

Here is what I do know for sure. I think that graph nicely speaks to the second question. Yes, there is a relationship between the ability to get strikes and spares. As you get better at one, you will improve at the other, but we will all take our own path. Some folks have a better spare game. Others have a better strike game. Also notice in that graph that no single bowler is the best at both aspects of the game, nor the worst at both. We all have strengths and weaknesses.

Also, I think it is likely that we all have different starting points based on prior experience bowling and general athletic ability. So while we can generally look at a series of bowlers with different levels of experience and reconstruct a general trend of evolution, the exact path taken will be unique to each bowler.

p.s. I was hoping to add some PBA players to that graph, but the PBA provides such lousy statistics that I was unable to do so.

An update: After collecting some data on PBA bowlers by watching ESPN, I was able to do this. Here is how we compare to pro's. Only a massive gap to cross before we join the tour!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Month of the Rook

As of late, I've been a bit focused on myself, my woes, and my facial hair, but there are other things astir in the Movements. For example, two weeks ago, Johnebob landed a 512 series and a dozen X's. This week, the Italian Scallion knocked down 510 pins. But simmering beneath the glory of the veteran 500's have been two remarkable performances by the Rookie.

I keep waiting for the Rook to join the 88 club or to form his own club even lower, but he has been keeping a good distance from that number. Check out his series over the last month or so:


The first four series in that group are pretty much what's expected for a freshman season, but the last two are above and beyond the call of duty. Consider that he came into our February 8 league night with a 127 average. That is equivalent to a 381 series. On that day, however, he put up a 450 series. Then, this week, he went even higher, coming home with a 470. It makes you wonder if he has a 500 in his near future. I should note that the highest series on record for a rookie Bowl Movement was put up by the Canadian on December 22, 2008 when he recorded a 478 for three games, but the 920 pins put up by Gingy, this season's rookie, over the last two weeks are easily a record.

It is also worth pointing out that this upward swing is not sustainable. He has been adding an average of 28 pins a week to his series. If he could continue doing so, he'd easily be over 500 in 2 weeks. By the end of the season, he'd be brushing up against a 900 series. Yeah, that ain't gonna happen. He hasn't even recorded double digit strikes once over the last two weeks. On Feb. 8 he had nine X's. This week, he had seven.

So what's going on with the Rook lately? Obviously it's about spares. For two weeks in a row, he has picked up more than 50% of his spares. This week, he led the team in pickup%, getting 66.7% of his leaves, or 16 for 24. This is easily a record for a rookie in the BIA. The 2nd closest performance was his own from the previous week when he got 54.2%. He also did the same back on September 21.


Keep it up Rook. Keep doing what you're doing. If we're ever going to get some wins, we're going to need it.

Bowling Mustaches: The Smallwood

As a continuation of our effort to review top of the line bowling equipment, our second featured bowling mustache is the Smallwood, developed and successfully implemented by PBA World Champion Tom Smallwood. Although a fairly nascent development in the bowling world, the early success of the Smallwood suggests that it may soon become commonplace in the sport. The Smallwood's specifications are:

Style: The Smallwood
Color: Light Brown
Thickness: Thin
Length:Width Ratio: 6.30
Earnings: $84,087.50
Titles: 1

The Smallwood is not recommended for beginning bowlers. Its smoothly tapered margins may prove too technically challenging for most novices to master, but doing so is likely to pay dividends. If you choose to attempt a Smallwood, it is important to thin it just beneath the septum. Also, it is most effective when paired with a subtle soul patch.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Boy, do I feel stupid

So here I am in the midst of a minor slump. For the the last five weeks, I am stuck around a 150 average. I have been endlessly tinkering with my game to no avail. I am even cultivating a tight mustache with the hopes that it will help. Yesterday, I decided to go for a long ski with a lot of uphill to clear my mind. This morning, it was time to figure some things out on the lanes. I bowled eight games. I averaged 181.5. That is huge for me. I went in with a few ideas:

1) Simplify this game. I have been trying to throw a straight ball to pick up spares and have had limited success. My pickup percentage has been slipping. I decided to abandon it. Why not just have a single shot and a single release?

2) Hit my target- If I can throw the same shot and hit my target regularly, I should be able to pickup anything.

3) Know your target- I have had all kinds of targets from the near triangle marks to the pins themselves to things in between. On the strike ball, I always aim for the near targets. This was the big one for me today... I decided to come up with a simple chart that translates target to pin struck for spare balls. Let's call it a spare chart.

Let me explain exactly what I did because it made a HUGE difference in my spare game. Ok, about 15 feet from the foul line are seven aiming marks arranged in a wedge. You know what I'm talking about. They look like this:

For every spare shot, I recorded at which board the ball crossed the target marks and which pin it hit. I have two different starting positions for spare shots. For spares on the right side, I begin with the center of my right foot on board 30. For pins on the left side, I put the center of right foot on board 10. So, for each starting position and each spare shot, I recorded something like this: Board 15: 3/6 pins. This means that the ball rolled across the 15 board and hit the pins between the 3 and 6 . I recorded this information regardless of the board I was trying to hit. After repeating this process about 40 times, I was able to build a spare chart for my game. It looks like this:


The vertical lines represent where the ball struck the pins. The target board is where the ball crosses the targets. The starting position is where I begin my approach. By the end of the day, I had picked up exactly 2/3 of my spares. This is a MAJOR improvement for me, and many of those I failed to pick up were splits. In fact, after the first game, in which I went 1 for 4, my pickup percentage was always over 66.7%. It felt absolutely amazing.

So... here are a few things to keep in mind. I assume that all good bowlers already have some system like this, whether it is formal or not. I feel like an idiot for taking so long to collect this basic information about my game. But keep in mind that this is for my game. I would recommend to anybody that they do the same thing for their game. I doubt my system will work for everybody. The only downside is that you have to look like a dork collecting a bunch of data while you bowl. I look like this all the time, so I'm used it.

Also, I have no idea if I will be able to repeat today's performance on a regular basis. But I have now boiled my game down to something very simple. Throw one type of shot and hit my target. That's all I have to do. It remains to be seen whether I can hit my target, but at least now I know what it is.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Bowling Puzzler IV: 200 on the Scoreboard

For bowlers of lesser skill, 200 is the magic number. It is the difference between a good game and a great game. For our team, the fate of the 200 game almost invariably comes down to the 10th frame. It goes something like this... You are sitting on a 166 and two strikes in the 9th. To get to the deuce, you need to strike your first ball and get at least 7 on the 2nd. Because we suck at bowling, scores of 200 or above are always a late game affair. Here's my question. If we were better at bowling, say with 200+ averages, would we see scores greater than 200 appear on the scoreboard earlier in games? Well, yes, of course we would. But the real question is:

What is the minimum number of frames you have to bowl to see a score of at least 200 on the scoreboard? What about 250?

Monday, February 15, 2010

Time for some hardcore slump busting

I am a believer in science. I am a believer in probabilities. Nonetheless, I also know when enough is enough. Tonight was another losing night for the Movements. Damn you, Little Caesars! After the last game, Nathan said, "That was our best game ever!" No shit, Sherlock. We bring that out of everybody. Sure, the Rookie had his best night ever, and Daniele went 500. Still, we could only muster one stupid win.

It is time to move into the realm of the supernatural. Here's my plan. Next week are the City Championships. Our chances of placing are about as good as the chances of Bryan Shuster voting for Barack Obama in the next election. The plan is three pronged:

1) Bring back the Rockies towel. The towel was our kryptonite. According to the great Chinese philosopher of war, Sun Tzu, "If you know your enemies and know yourself, you can win a hundred battles without a single loss." The original towel was probably transported to Albuquerque by a Union Pacific locomotive, but I've got two more in the storehouse.

2) I will not shave until next Monday when I will shave the hairs of my face into a mustache. I'm thinking a Smallwood, soon to be reviewed. Mustaches obviously enhance skill and confidence in bowling. When the bowling residents of our fair city see my fine stache, they will crumble in the shadow of my intimidation.

3) On Sunday night, I will give Pinnius, the god of bowling, a thorough thrashing. This technique brought many wins last season. Coincidentally, the first time this method was employed was the week prior to the City Championships. What week is it? That's right, it's the same week.

City of Laramie, let's see how your bowling can stand up to my magic! If I could just get a few more Movements on board, we would be unstoppable. Who among us is willing to don a nice bowling stache? I will not remove the stache until I go sub-500. Chances are, that will be Monday night, but what the hell? Nothing else is working.

Not in shape? Not a problem

Almost a year ago, I wrote a long rant about the lower status of bowling in the world of sport. An anonymous commenter chimed in with, "For the sake of tv, it would help if bowlers had more hair (on their heads) and less gut. You know, looked a little more like athletes." It has certainly been my impression in observing both avocational and professional bowlers that fitness is not a major concern for many bowlers. This is not to say that all bowlers are on the portly side, but many are. Fitness, both aerobic and muscular, should be an asset in bowling, but is it?

One way to answer this question would be to compare a series of measurements of fitness in bowlers to their performance, and in fact, such a study has been performed. In June of 2000, Benedict Tan and colleagues published a paper titled "Correlations Between Physiological Parameters and Performance in Elite Ten-pin Bowlers" in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport (pp. 176-185). For a group of 42 highly skilled bowlers in Singapore, Tan et al. compared bowling performance to age, height, weight, Aerobic Power Index, grip strength, leg strength, and flexibility. They also examined the relative performance of three different types of bowlers "heavy ball strokers, heavy ball crankers, and light ball spinners" (p. 177).

Here are their results:

Allow me to translate this table for you if you are unaccustomed to looking at such data. Tan et al. compare physiological measures (on the top) to bowling score for males and females (left). They are using a method called correlation. Correlation measures the degree to which two variables are related to one another. The correlation coefficient, in the table listed as "Pearson Correlation" measures the strength of the relationship. This value can vary between -1 and 1. A high positive value (close to 1) means a very strong positive relationship. For example, a strong positive correlation between height and score would mean that you could predict average bowling score based on height, and that taller bowlers generally got higher scores. A strong negative correlation (close to -1) between these variables would imply that shorter bowlers are better. A value close to zero means a weak to nonexistent correlation. In the analysis of height vs. score for males, the correlation coefficient is -0.14 meaning a weak negative correlation... or that shorter bowlers appear to bowl better.

Equally important, however, is the next row on the table, the one labeled "Significance". This row tells us the probability that the observed relationship can be explained by chance. In other words, if you compare height and score for 42 bowlers, there will always be some degree of correlation even if none exists in the real world. Simply by chance, for example, the shorter bowlers in your sample might be a little bit better than the taller ones. In science, we do not consider any correlation to be meaningful unless the significance value is less than 0.05, which means specifically that there is a less than 5% probability that the observed correlation could be explained by chance. If you examine that table, you will see that there is only one meaningful result, the one I have circled in red. There is a positive correlation between aerobic fitness and bowling scores in females. None of the other variables showed any relationship to bowling average.

In other words, with the possible exception of aerobic fitness in women, in bowling, it does not matter if you are tall, short, fat, skinny, aerobically fit, strong, or weak. In fact, it doesn't even matter if you are young or old. They also found that it does not matter whether you are a stroker, cranker, or spinner. So what does matter?

The paper concludes that "other factors like mental skills and technique have a greater contribution to bowling success at that [elite] level." Here's the take home message. If you want to be good at bowling, spending a lot of time at the gym probably won't do much for you. You can do just as much good sitting on the couch and eating junk food. If I had to guess, like almost every activity, the secret to being good at bowling is really just practice. Now, get off your ass and go to the gym anyway!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Do you think that's air you're breathing?

One of my favorite themes in bowling is causality and perception. We see changes in our bowling performance from day to day and week to week. We want to believe that we are responsible. When we bowl really well, we feel a sense of pride. When we bowl poorly, we feel like we had a temporary lapse of ability and have let our team down. It's like the hitter in baseball who goes hitless for 10 straight games. They are in a slump. Something isn't working. There is a hitch in the swing. Slumps feel real, painfully real, but are they? One of the major conclusions of those who study sports statistics and performance is that streaks and slumps are an expected outcome of the operation of chance, and only very rarely can they be demonstrated to differ from what we would expect given the operation of the rules of probability.

Here's a nice description of the problem. This is from a paper titled "Twenty years of “hot hand” research: Review and critique" by Michael Bar-Eli, Simcha Avugos, and Markus Raab, published in the journal Psychology of Sport and Exercise (2006, Vol. 7, p. 536):

"No one doubts that streaks do occur in sports. Obviously, every now and then a professional basketball player may hit a string of nine or ten shots. The key issue in the debate, however, is whether the observed superior (or inferior) performance really deviates from what could occur by chance. Clearly, even random processes such as coin flipping could occasionally result in long streaks of heads or tails. So, an ‘‘unusual’’ performance by an athlete or a team may represent pure statistical probability, or it could be related to a real ‘‘streakiness’’ mood. Supporters of the hot hand strongly believe that even if one accepts the notion that in the world things are often random, there are still some moments in time when athletes act well above or below their norm (i.e., their base rate)."

What brings this to mind is my own recent performance. I started this bowling season on a tear. Consider this. Over the entire course of the prior season, a total of 36 weeks, I had in sum three 500 series, including the first of my bowling career. This season, I had 10 during the first 16 weeks. I was bowling like somebody who was starting to understand what the hell he was doing. Yet, over the last month, I feel like I can't get even close to 500. That's my perception, anyway. In reality, my last four series have been in a narrow range, from 442 to 460. The point is that my perception is that my bowling ability has eroded, but has it really? If you have read any of my prior statements on similar topics, you should be able to anticipate the answer.

There are some simple statistical methods that can be used to determine if there is some trend underlying a time series. A time series represents the collection of data over a period of time, such as hourly measurements of temperatures, daily stock values, or weekly measurements of bowling ability. If there is some underlying trend, like I am getting progressively worse at bowling, then I should be able to predict next week's performance based on this week's performance. In fact, I might be able to predict to some extent how I will bowl three weeks from now. If there is no underlying trend, prediction falls apart, and the data tell us that either no trend exists, or that it exists over much longer time scales.

One simple way of examining this problem is a technique called "serial correlation". It's pretty simple. Put all of your bowling series in a list in one column sorted by date. Put the same data in the next column over, but shift the values down by one row, as shown in the picture to the left. Now, make a scatter plot of those data. What we're doing is comparing last week's score to this week's score. If there is some underlying trend, we should see some kind of relationship between the two. If not, there is no trend. Here are two hypothetical examples:

On the left, the bowling series show a smooth rise and then a gradual drop. If we compare the previous to the subsequent week's bowling scores, there is a clear correlation. What this means in the simplest sense is that if I bowled well last week, I will also bowl well this week. If I bowled poorly last week, I will also bowl poorly this week. In other words, the system is to some degree predictable, and we can use past performance to predict future performance. For the time series on the right, scores seem to fluctuate wildly. When we do the serial correlation, there is no relationship between scores from week to week. This means that the system is totally unpredictable and that there is no underlying trend. Something else is driving these ups and downs, something like chance. I should note that you can shift the values down again to see how well your performance from two weeks ago predicted this week's performance. The more you shift the values down, the greater the time depth of prediction you are examining.

How does the real world compare? Here are the time series and serial correlations for four Bowl Movements for this season (Sorry K-Terk, I don't have enough data for you):
In brief, this system appears to be totally unpredictable at this time scale. Various degrees of correlation are present with the greatest being that for JD, but none of these correlations are greater than would be expected by chance. Interestingly, most of the correlations are negative. This means that if you bowl well one week, you are actually more likely to bowl poorly the next and vice versa, but we should not read too much into that as these are not meaningful patterns.

So... going back to my recent slump, it does not appear to be real. It feels real. It feels like I can't get more than 10 strikes in a series anymore. It feels like picking up spares is much more difficult than it used to be, but these ups and downs are simply to be expected. If I was bowling in the Matrix with Morpheus right now, he would be asking me, "Do you think those are bowling shoes you're wearing right now?"

Friday, February 12, 2010

Bowling Crime: Alley losing money? Just set fire to your competitor

Steven Smink, a retired Philadelphia police officer, is the owner of Pike Lanes in Bridgeton, New Jersey. Apparently, Mr. Smink, like myself, was not much of a businessman. According to the website Daily Finance, Pike Lanes "was a dump with out-of-date equipment." With bankruptcy looming, what did Mr. Smink do? Allegedly, he hired two young men to torch his competitor, Loyle Lanes in Vineyard, NJ. Before he was charged with two counts of aggravated arson and conspiracy to commit arson, he was quoted as saying, "These things happen. You have wires all over the place and no sprinkler systems. You just pray that nothing shorts out and that no people are in the building if a fire breaks out."

Apparently, he left out the part about praying that nobody is in the building when two delinquents he paid pour gasoline all over the place and light it on fire. Charles Loyle, who built Loyle Lanes with his brothers, was quoted by NBC Philadelphia, "We got comments that he would put us out of business in two years, but it took him a little over two years but to take us out of business they had to burn us down." The moral of the story is this. To all of you bowling alley owners who wonder why your business is failing, you can: a) blame the president for a crappy economy; b) set fire to your competitor; c) invest a little money to spruce the place up. Please think before you answer that question.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Bowling Puzzler III: Syzygy

Anybody who bowls on a team is familiar with the following. Most weeks, somebody has a really good night. Someone else usually has a bad night. From time to time two bowlers on your team will bowl really well. Even more rarely, three bowlers have good nights. For some reason, though, it seems like it is very rare that all four bowlers bowl really well on the same night. It's like the alignment of the planets. It's not that uncommon for a few planets to align in orbit, but to get a true syzygy of all eight (nine?) is a rare thing.

So, here's the puzzle. Assume there is a bowling team that bowls once a week with four members. On any given night, a person can bowl above average or below average. Let's say the chance of doing either is 50%.

How often would you expect all four bowlers to be above average? What about a five person team? How often should all five bowlers exceed their averages?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Don't sweat the single pins

Single pin spares are annoying. If you knocked down nine pins, chances are you threw a pretty decent first ball. All that stands between you and a mark is one stupid pin. It shouldn't be that hard to get it, but for some reason, on some nights, it seems like a major chore. I watch the PBA with amazement at the ease with which professional bowlers can take out any single pin. Professional bowlers are all well above 90% in their single pin conversion rates. As for me, this season I have converted 92 out of 132 tries, or just about 70%. I'm actually pretty happy with that number for this stage of my bowling career. As for the rest of the Movements, Johnebob is at 65%, JD is a 50% single pin guy, and the Rookie is at 49%.

In this post, I want to explain why it shouldn't be a very difficult thing to do, especially for a pin that's not the 7 or 10. The most satisfying single pin conversion occurs when the ball strikes the center of the pin, sending it cleanly straight back into the pit, but you can miss by quite a bit and still get that lone duck. Shown below is the situation drawn to scale. A standard bowling pin has a diameter of 4.766". From where this odd measurement is derived, I do not know. The diameters of legal bowling balls range from 8.5 to 8.595". Let's assume that all bowling balls come in at the top of that range. What is the total width of the area in which you have to throw the ball to pick up a single pin? Well, it's twice the diameter of a bowling ball plus the diameter of a pin. It comes in at just under 22 inches.


A ball that just brushes against a single pin often will not knock it down, so let's deduct 1/8" from each side. So, to collect a single pin spare (not the 7 or 10 pin), you have to deliver the ball somewhere within an area that is about 21 5/8" in width. That's a fairly large area. In fact, it's more than half the width of the entire lane!

Now ask yourself this. If I asked you to throw a shot where the entire ball exited the lane on the right side between the midline and gutter, could you do it? What about the left? Of course you could. That's all you have to do to pick up a single pin spare. You just have to shift that lane "half" to the appropriate position.

Now, what about those pesky corner pins? To be honest, both of them put me a little on edge. I pretty much hate 'em. Well, the center of the 7 and 10 pins stand 2 3/4" from the edge of the gutter, so there's only about 1/3 of an inch between the edge of the pin and the gutter. By the same process, we can figure out how much room you have to play with over there. It comes out to an area with a width of about 13.6", or just about 1/3 of the lane. Can you deliver the ball to a a given third of the lane. Sure, you can. So stop worrying about it.

Advice for bad bowlers: How to throw a hook

On Monday night, the Rookie expressed some interest in throwing a hook after reading an article in the most recent US Bowler. I am no expert; that's for sure. Nor, am I a coach. So you should take everything you are about to read with a grain of salt. I am writing this for him and for anybody else thinking about coming out of the straight bowling closet. Three of the Movements throw a hook. Johnebob and Daniele do not use a conventional throw. They use a thumb out technique and have had plenty of success doing so. I note this because there is more than one way to skin a cat. In any sport or physical activity, there is the "classic" or widely accepted way of doing something. Then, there are the other ways. If something works, even if it is not widely used, why change it? Anyway, my shot is closer to the classic, and that is what I am going to describe.

Another motivation is that I tried to learn a hook on my own by two methods, trial and error, and watching other people throw one. What I discovered was that you can develop all kinds of bad habits doing this. I made it an overly complicated shot. It's actually a very simple motion. Still, for the first 500 or so shots you take, it feels awkward as hell, but you have to give it time. You have to hone it. You have to learn how to throw it consistently. I am still learning. Again, I am no coach, so don't put too much weight on anything that follows.

Ok... stand up. Now, let you arm fall to the side and relax. Now, rotate your palm, so it is facing forward. Look at how your wrist is positioned, it extends straight out from your forearm. That is how you release the ball when you are a straight bowler. Now, do the same thing, but cock your wrist, so your palm is facing upward. That's how you throw a hook. That's it. That's all there is to it.

Ok, that's not entirely true, but it's close to the truth. I know you are wondering how that could cause the ball to spin. Assume that position again with the wrist cocked upward. Now move just move your thumb upward, so it's opposite your middle and ring fingers, the position it would be in if it were in the bowling ball. Now imagine a 15 lbs bowling ball in your hand. Which way does your hand want to rotate? Inward, right? If you release the ball this way, you will get spin whether you like it or not.

The other secret to throwing a hook is to get that thumb out of the ball first. If you have been throwing straight your whole life, this is a bit scary. You are used to the ball coming off of all of the fingers at the same time. When you throw a hook with that cocked wrist, the thumb comes out, the hand rotates with the fingers still in the ball, and the spin is generated. The middle and ring fingers should only be inserted to the first knuckle. This is why it's important to have a custom drilled ball. The spacing on that house ball you've been using might be too close.

I have two more things to share on the matter. You shouldn't put too much thought on trying to get the ball to spin because if you release it with that cocked wrist, it will. Once, you get the basic motion down, you can start working on getting a higher rate of rotation. If you get too "handy" with it, you will get rotation that is perpendicular to the long axis of the lane, or even a little bit of back spin because you will let the hand migrate to the side of the ball or even to its front. The ideal spin rotates at a 45 degree angle to the lane axis. This will give you the most break. Strangely the best way to do this is to keep your hand behind the ball. If I start getting funky spins, I always think about keeping my thumb behind the ball and directly above my fingers. Here's a nice slo-mo vid of a hook shot release:



Finally, if you haven't done this before, you may find that it's not easy to hold a 15 lbs bowling ball with a cocked wrist. You just don't have the strength. If that's the case, just practice and the strength will come along quickly. Don't be discouraged at first. It will feel strange. You might feel like you can't control it. With time, it will become easier, and your bowling will improve.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Damned if you do, damned if you do

We were coming off of our worst two week consecutive performance of the BIA. We were facing the Wolfpack, the newbies in the league for the first time. If we could just turn our bowling around, things were looking up. We were tied for second to last in the league. We needed some wins. We didn't really get them. We only managed to win one of four.

Pinnius, the god of bowling, has been frowning upon us lately. A few weeks back, we had one of our best weeks ever against Little Caesars and only won one game. This week, we bowled 81 pins over average and only took a single game. We even bowled 260 pins better than last week. Yet, we still got our ass kicked. Two words describe our situation: "Shit luck".

It was a strange night. It's strangeness was capped by watching a guy messing with the pins in Lane 13 getting beaned in the ankle by a 20 mph house ball. Ouch. On the positive side, both Johnebob and the Rook had good nights. John had a 500 series, 512 to be exact, and the Rook, a 459. The Rookie was 78 pins over average and picked up 54.2% of his spares, a remarkable accomplishment for somebody in his first season. Johnebob led the team in strikes with a dozen and first ball average with 8.4.

So, over the last three weeks, we have gone 1-11. Ouch. Last night, our last game was killer, a 958 handicapped. Maybe we've turned the corner on the bowling part. Now, if we could just flip luck to the other side of the coin, we'd start climbing back up the standings.

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery

Being a teacher, I read a lot of student papers. Since the dawn of the age of the internet, plagiarism has run rampant. The internet made available an abundance of text that can be acquired with a simple copy-paste routine. The temptation to plagiarize is great. What students don't seem to understand is that plagiarism is really easy to detect. Although we all use the same language (in my classes, anyway) and attempt to follow the same grammatical rules, everyone has their own distinctive writing style. Changes in style stick out like a sore thumb. When you read something that has been plagiarized using the old copy-paste trick, it is obvious.

There are other forms of plagiarism, such as using another's work or ideas without attribution. Whenever I quote something on this blog (if somebody really said it) or am inspired by somebody else, I always make a point of providing citation or link. It is common courtesy, the honest thing to do, and standard accepted practice. Why do I bring this up?

Well, last week, I posted a little something about entry angle, which was inspired by something EB of the Thumbhole Chronicles shared with us from Bowlspot.com. This Bowlspot tip of the month, was inspired by a USBC study. (See, that's four citations in two sentences.) I was somewhat surprised when I was directed to this month's Bowlspot tip of the month, which is in substance essentially exactly what I had written, although the BM Report received no citation. Now, perhaps this is a coincidence. I don't know. You could see this a couple of ways.

For example, maybe somebody wrote to Charley Wilson of Bowlspot asking him to explain what exactly does a 6 degree entry angle mean. Or maybe, this question came to him independently. Or maybe, just maybe, Charley saw my post, read it, and used it as inspiration for his. I am going to be fair and assume it was a case of "Great minds think alike", but if it wasn't, a citation of the BM Report would only be the right thing to do.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Bowling Mustaches: The Bohn

Chief among the equipment needs of a bowler are three key items: 1) A custom drilled ball; 2) A pair of comfortable shoes; 3) A well groomed mustache. The mustache in bowling serves many purposes beyond its normal uses in real life, signaling a Selleck-like panache and permitting the wearing of "Mustache Rides, $0.50" tees. According to USBC Exercise and Strength Conditioning Specialist Nick Bohanan, "There are two primary reasons why many male professional bowlers wear mustaches. For one the sheer mass of the stache provides an important counterweight for the ball during the back swing. For another, it provides a natural filter for inhaled gases, which at bowling alleys often contain many impurities that can be quite distasteful, not to mention unhealthy. For both reasons, I have often recommended that female bowlers wear a fake mustache in competition."

Today's featured mustache is the Bohn, invented by PBA bowler Parker Bohn III. Here are its specifications.

Style: The Bohn
Color: Dark Brown
Thickness: Medium
Length:Width Ratio: 7.71
Earnings: $2,650,584.00
Titles: 32

The Bohn stache is recommend for left handed bowlers with intermediate speed and revs. People incapable of developing a natural Bohn due to age or gender can purchase a glue on version at the USBC Sport Store. For blondes, Just for Men Gel can be applied, but keep in mind that over application can affect balance. Oops, we're out of time.

Bowling in Moving Pictures: Meet the new recruit

Being the most important bowling team in the universe, the Bowl Movements always have our eyes open for new talent. As the Rookie is only expected to be with us for one more year, we frequently discuss who can be brought in to fill the three hole in the lineup. Our current sub, K-Terk, is an obvious choice, especially if he moves back to the Gem City, but we are currently in negotiations with the bowler in the video below. We expect a letter of intent any day now.


Saturday, February 6, 2010

Bowling Alley Mural Reviews: The Shell Game

Today we review the kegel mural, the Shell Game by anonymous. In the center of the piece is a hirsute nude blonde who stands askew upon a half shell of Tridacna. Carefully placed hands and hair hide many of her delicates from view. On the left half of the mural, two bird people create a strong wind of breath to prevent a second woman on the right from draping a table cloth upon the contessa of clams. The piece speaks to the conflict between nudism and prudishness waged daily upon our city streets. While normally a generous reviewer, in the case of this piece, I have few positive words to share.

The mural, painted in oils, has a quality of amateurness that is difficult to overlook, perhaps best exemplified by the askant stance of the disrobed dame, who is apparently capable of defying the force of gravitation. Furthermore, it is obvious if not unnecessary to note that bird people do not exist, having suffered extinction in 17th century Bucharest, and thus should not be rendered. The artist of this unfortunate mural will no doubt fade into obscurity as a one hit wonder, if this piece can even be considered a "hit", and whose fame will never extend beyond the lanes which don upon their masking units this tacky and forgettable object d'art. Bivalves world over should rise in protest over this demeaning rendering in which they are depicted as lowly invertebrates to be trod upon.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Don't piss off The Briefcase

If there is one thing I have not learned, it is that words have consequences. Sure, the pen can be mightier than the sword, but I thought that was only true if the pen was duct taped to a Kalashnikov. I wondered how the Lazers, and in particular, The Briefcase, would respond to my heckling. After all, they are the only people in the Memorial League of Bernaski that actually read my nonsense. The answer? Well, it did not come to fisticuffs, but a right jab to the upper lip would have been preferable to the bowling beat down we received.

In truth, The Briefcase, aka Troy Baker, was humble and maybe a bit embarrassed. I think he would prefer not to be in the spotlight. This did not, however, stop him from going 600 on us. He did not do this alone. The younger Briefcase, also known as Brett Baker, but more commonly referred to as the attaché , did the same. Brett walked into the Lanes of Laramie, sought me out, stared me in the eyes, and said, "My name is Inigo Montoya. You wronged my father. Prepare to experience bowling death." Inigo did not fail to deliver on that promise.

So, after last week's crushing defeat, we followed it up this week with another. In fairness, I can't blame the Lazers entirely. For some reason, the Movements have returned to 2007 form. It has been an ugly thing to watch. We all are to blame, except for the Rookie who has been steady as a rock, hitting that 128 average week after week.

I have to give Troy credit. In fact, if I could, I would give him more than that. If the USBC gives awards for service, he is deserving of one. In addition to giving us a thorough ass whooping on the lanes tonight, he was actually somewhat apologetic for the situation I previously described, but there was no need for him to be. The bizarre schedule to which we have been subjected has resulted from one team leaving the league early in the season, and another joining recently. It's all by the book, and I knew that when I wrote that post. Daniele described it best when he said, "It's like we're in the American League East, and we're the the Orioles." It's just a bit of bad luck.

But here's the thing about Troy and our league. Like most bowling leagues (not that I've ever experienced another), the Memorial League of Bernaski is filled with a bunch of guys who just want to get out on Monday night and play with their balls. Did that come out right? They want to get out of their houses. They want to compete. They want to have a beer or two. Bowling is a way to forget about all of those other responsibilities in life, and a way to have a good time with good company. But a bowling league cannot exist, persist, or be successful without somebody running the show. Someone has to organize it. Someone has to have responsibilities exceeding the rolling of three games a night.

Troy has been doing this for years, no not since the Eisenhower administration as he corrected me. He actually started in the second year of the Fillmore administration. He never complains about it. He never asks for anything. I think it was last year at the end of the league when he accepted with a red face something like a $1 raise per week. Without Troy, Bernaski would not exist. The league runs smoothly and without incident. I suspect most people never think about all of the things he does behind the scenes. On top of that, I learned tonight, that he is also the Divisional Secretary. That means that he has to report a ton of info to the USBC every week.

So, Briefcase, thanks for being a good sport about my needling. Thanks for making sure the trains run on time. Bernaski would be a different animal without you, probably one stumbling around in circles on three legs. And if you don't mind me asking, how much would it cost to have you add 50 pins to each of our games every week?