Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The most inappropriate post ever

I can't recall exactly when, but at some point in my life, I learned that there are certain things that should not be discussed among "polite" company. I'm not even sure what that means. My parents did not teach me this. Where I was cultivated from seed to seedling, all subjects were fair game. It may have been in college that I learned that like Carlin's seven words, these topics are considered taboo. They shall not be mentioned except in very safe, known, and well understood circumstances. Those topics include politics, religion, and money.

I find this rule odd and difficult to live by. The strangest thing about this prohibition of speech is that these are three very important things. I think in fact that this could be the list of the most important things to many people, and as such, aren't these the things we should discuss most? If so, let's also add sex to that list.

Here on the internets, you can say whatever you like. Heck, you can do this most places if you are fortunate enough to live in a nation where you are permitted to speak your mind. Still, it is considered inappropriate to be offensive. In fact, we value etiquette over honesty. This principle could be called the "No, honey" or "Of course not" principle. Why? It is a derivation of the "Do these pants make me look fat?" query. So I have occasionally refrained from saying what I really want to say. Sometimes, I want to use a word considered so vulgar that it might turn away a possible cunty reader. That's an unusual and silly example. More often, it is because I am tempted to share my view of some current event or use is it as an analogy or metaphor, but I don't want to someone reading this to think that I am an asshole on the wrong team.

I think we all tend to gravitate toward people who are similar to us with respect to the attributes that we find important, whether consciously or not. To discover that somebody is not who you thought they were politically, religiously, financially, or sexually can be quite a shock. For example, if I discovered that I had been hanging out with a closeted white supremacist, it would totally freak me out, especially if it was somebody who I admired prior to discovering it.

Here is what brings this to mind. On the internets, I think you can easily and unintentionally associate with folks who in real life you would not, except maybe in coerced contexts, such as at a place of employment. In this particular forum, I assume this is happening all the time because what unites us is not one of the taboo topics but instead bowling.

I have always been a political animal. My brother is a politician. My dad ran for office. My mother worked in the United States Congress for nearly 30 years. Politics are in my blood. They are important to me. Yet, I feel like I cannot openly express my feelings here because this forum is reserved for bowling. I feel like if I were to make it known that I am a hardcore right wing gun and god loving patriot or a pinko liberal save the earth and help the poor tree hugger that I would lose some people who seem to enjoy reading what I write about bowling.

In truth, I am neither of those things, but I am much closer to one of them. If you were to go back and read everything I have written on the BM Report, it would be obvious to which party I tend to subscribe. Does it really matter? I hope not. I like to think that I am capable of not being a bigot when it comes to political opinions. If there is one kind of bigotry that we have always considered to be appropriate in this fine land, it is the demonization of those who fall on the other side of the aisle.

It is interesting when people pop onto your blog from out there in the world. You have no idea who they are or how they found you. More than a year ago, I gained my first stranger follower. He could only stand to read my nonsense for about one month. Then I wrote this little ditty, and he vanished as quickly as he appeared. I had breached one of the unbreachable subjects. Oh well. I will probably continue to play by the rules of etiquette and avoid those danger areas. I guess I'll keep it to myself that I am also a filthy rich gay polygamist fascist scientologist who likes to bowl.

BM Report #3920492814920

It is nearly April, and my focus is shifting. It is very suddenly hard to find the motivation to write about bowling. Even the Briefcase seemed a little weary of the league last night. I think we are all ready to hang up the bowling bags for the summer.

Here's a very short synopsis of last night's competition. We bowled unopposed. This is the first time we have done so since the first week of the season. We managed to win three. We choked in Game 3, but what the heck, we picked up a few more wins and a little more cash for hookers and drugs.

The highlight of the night had to be Johnebob's 2nd game. He got a new personal best with a 230 game. Strangely, he did so despite starting the game with a gutter ball - six frame. So, it is preserved for internetual perpetuity, here it is:

Only four more weeks to go. I gotta dig deep. The quest to reach .500 is still intact, but it won't be easy. We are now eight games under at 20-28. With four weeks remaining, we need to average three wins a week to get there. There's a little motivation to keep rolling my balls.

And I have to give EB credit for the pic. Different pic but same genre and mood.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Chapter 2: Who's that lady?

[Continued from Chapter 1]

When I say I have been bowling for four years, it is a half truth. You see, when the Bowl Movements were formed, we entered Bernaski in the 2nd half of the 06-07 season. According to the almighty and infallible archives of the United States Bowling Congress (Bowler ID #2609-911), I only bowled 39 games that season.

As the Fall of 2007 rolled around, we were solicited by the league secretary to bowl the full year, but Joe and John opted to again only bowl the 2nd half. The reason? Bowling on Monday nights interfered with another important activity- watching Monday Night Football. Although my interest in the NFL took a hit a long time ago, I didn't really mind. So, in the 07-08 season, we bowled just half a league, so our first two "years" of bowling really just counted for one.

By the start of my second attempt at league bowling, I felt like I was getting a feel for the environment. I knew a lot of the other bowler's names, although I am fairly certain that nobody on another team knew mine. Having figured out the basic rules of operation of the system, it was time to step things up a notch. It was time to buy my own ball.

Our anchor, Daniele, was using a hand me down 14 lbs Qubica house ball, which he had somehow acquired via genetic connections. I think his uncle had once owned an alley. The "Bica" was not custom drilled for him, but he still had the air of a bowler who brings his own equipment to the lanes rather than searching the racks for three minutes for a suitable "housey". Johnebob went for a 14 lbs Brunswick Axis, which he found for peanuts on eBay, and had drilled at the Lanes of Laramie to perfectly snug his digits.

I had no idea what to look for in a ball. I just wanted to lose the stigma of the jedi who has to borrow a lightsaber before dueling Darth Pinnius. Ok, that was a really dorky thing to write, but you know what I mean. When you are the only dude going for a house ball at the start of league, it's kind of like being picked last in a game of dodgeball. It was definitely time to acquire my own weapon, but what kind? My train of thought on the matter was something like this, "I am one of the worst bowlers in league. A ball really won't change that much, but with time, I'd like to start throwing a hook. I know that some balls hook more than others, but I really don't understand why. I should get a cheap ball... maybe like one step above cheap." By this process, I settled on the Columbia-300 Scout Reactive.

Before buying this ball, I had made the switch from the 11 lbs pink house ball to a 12 lbs green housey, which reminds me of what I used to say about my first bowling love, "I like my bowling balls as I like my women- pink and fast." If you are going to use a pink house ball, you need a joke like this. So anyway, I ordered a green and silver Scout Reactive at a weight of 13 lbs. It was and remains a truly beautiful object. I named her with the first phrase that came to mind, "The Green Lady". I was very excited to drill the Green Lady, or to have her drilled. That sounds a bit voyeuristic, doesn't it?

When I entered the "pro shop" at Laramie Lanes for the first time, I again felt like a stranger in a strange land. First, who knew there was an upstairs to the place? I certainly didn't. The "pro shop" is probably about 120 square feet in area, but seems more like a closet with balls and bags strewn around everywhere. A drill press occupies the position of honor, like Athena in the Parthenon. After being carefully measured and watching the Green Lady getting drilled by some strange bowling alley guy, I started to appreciate for the first time that there was a lot more to bowling than I had realized. I was impressed not only by the process of hand measurement but also by how the holes were placed onto the ball relative to the core, methods of drilling angles, finger diameter measurements, and how hole spacing related to hand morphology . This was a big thing for me. I understood that I was unskilled at rolling bowling balls, but for the first time I truly recognized how little I actually knew about the game.

A new bowling ball can be a cruel mistress, especially when she is your first. You have high expectations, but for some reason, the first time is always awkward. Why should we expect otherwise? Neither of us really have any experience together. Still, you have waited a long time for this moment. You really want it to be great, but my first time with the Green Lady was absolutely terrible.

The problem was the grip. Sure, she fit my hand like a glove, but I was used to wearing mittens. Here's what I mean. When she was getting drilled, Shell asked me, "Do you want to throw a hook?"

I said, "I don't at the moment, but eventually I would like to learn how."

"How does a fingertip grip sound?"

"Great, I think."

So, for 35 years or so, I had been bowling by inserting my fingers deep into those holes, two knuckles deep. In fact, my fingers had always served as guides for the ball on the release, like the inverse of bullets traversing the barrel of three rifles. This fingertip grip did not feel right. Thinking back on it, it felt wrong, just plain wrong. Sure, I arrived to the lanes with a brand new, hyper-glossy, beautiful bowling ball, in a new bag. I would no longer slum around in the land of racked house balls before league. Yet, no matter how turbo charged the Green Lady looked, I could not throw her to save my life. Sadly, that was just the start of the disaster that I know as "The Lost Year".

[continued in Chapter 3]

Friday, March 26, 2010

The Fresh Shot

Occasionally, people ask me,"How much is there really to write about bowling?" I tell them there is one billion. Honestly, there are times when I feel like I am running out of things to say, but then something, like a weird pin fall, sparks a long chain of thought that extends for months. I mention this for a couple of reasons. I have posted 39 things this month. This will be #40, and this month still has plenty of residual utility. It is easily my most prolific month ever with respect to bowling words. Soon, though, I will go into hibernation. When the league ends, the blog largely sleeps, only to awake as the northern hemisphere tilts back away from the star at the center of our existence.

Anyway, I don't have much time night now, but I wanted to share a few thoughts about oil. The Bernaski Memorial League has strange oil conditions. If I understand it correctly, the lanes are oiled prior to the league before ours. Then, 12 games are played on each. Then, it's our turn. By the time we get there, the oil is pretty well broken down. Last week, many of us were having trouble keeping the ball on the right side of the lane. There were a lot of brooklyn hits and splits.

I bowled last sunday on a fresh shot in the Bud Light League. In Game 1, I had a nine strike game. I don't see this as coincidental. A really good bowler about a month about said "anybody should be able to average 230 on a fresh shot". I'm not sure what he meant by "anybody", but I think i am starting to understand the point. The fresh shot seems to be extremely forgiving, truly funneling the ball toward the pocket.

Oil conditions are something of greater relevance as one progresses in ability, and I think I am finally to the point where I am capable of determining conditions quickly and reacting to them (but not as quickly). It is my experience that some people do better with slick lanes while others like 'em dry.

I do not have a set of eight bowling balls from which I can choose to match the oil, so I have to do it by feel, position, and speed. I am not very good at it. It has been an interesting dimension to add to the game.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

How does a bowler know when he or she is old?

I think it was about 12 years ago when I first thought to myself, "I am getting old." Those of you who have many years on me would find it amusing to learn that I am 37 years old today. When you are an adolescent, you can't wait to grow up so you can drive, move out, legally drink bowling juice, etc. Then, at some point, you wish you could be young again. I think it's when your knees start to hurt.

Being an empirical type of guy, I needed some way to determine if I was in fact old, so I developed a simple test. Every year on or near my birthday, I shoot 100 free throws. I will know I am old when my age exceeds my free throw percentage. Because of this exercise and because I don't want to be old, my ability to shoot free throws has improved markedly. At my current rate, I probably have about 30 more years before I am an old fart.

So, thinking about my current obsession, bowling, I was wondering if I could come up with some analogous bowling test for maturity. I have decided that there are two possible measures. It must be either pickup% or single pin spare%. It cannot be strike% because I would already be old. I only strike about 33% of frames. Currently my pickup% sits around 48%. If that stays put, I will be old in eleven years. That seems a bit too soon to me, so I think I'll go with single pin%. I currently collect single pin spares at a 65.7% clip. That gives me nearly 30 years and coincides with traditional retirement age.

I apologize profusely if I have labeled anyone "old" who did not already realize their obvious status. If you are obsessed with the weather report, you should have known where you stand. I am finding the weather to be more interesting every day.

Bowling Puzzler IX: The striker's dilemma

On every leap day and on the third Monday of every fifth month, there is a bizarre competition at Laramie Lanes. Two bowlers face each other in a single game. The first bowler, Brett Striker, is incapable of picking up spares. Brett either strikes a frame or leaves it open. The second bowler, Cody Picksemup, is absolutely incapable of getting a strike, but given the opportunity to convert a spare, he always does so successfully. Under these conditions...

How many strikes does Brett need to guarantee victory?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Does sandbagging regularly occur in bowling?

It is my contention that current methods of USBC league handicapping actually encourage sandbagging. Furthermore, the system punishes bowlers who perform well at the start of a league, while overly rewarding those who start poorly. In short, the cost-benefit structure of USBC rules provide incentives for bowlers to cheat. Why is sandbagging cheating? It is prohibited by USBC regulations. USBC Rule 17a, Part 3 defines "Establishing an average below the player's ability to gain an unfair advantage in handicap or classified competition" as an "Unfair Tactic", which is punishable by loss of games, prize winnings, league removal, suspension, or denial of USBC membership.

Here's a really simple and kind of dumb way to look at the problem:

When someone is considering the choice of whether to cheat or not, to me it really comes down to the perceived cost of cheating. If somebody truly felt like they could be shown without a doubt to have intentionally misrepresented their bowling ability, then the potential costs might outweigh the benefits of sandbagging. In other words you would choose to compete fairly. However, in the real world, those costs are pretty much meaningless because we know that it would be next to impossible to demonstrate the act of sandbagging. It is simply too difficult to distinguish between a bad day of bowling and intentionally bowling poorly.

My point is that although there are legislated costs to sandbagging, in the real world they are meaningless. The net effect is that the only repercussion of cheating by bowling poorly to establish a high handicap is that you are in the position to make a lot of money. If you contrast that to the alternative, to bowl fairly, with honor, and by the rulebook, you will lose money to those who cheat but maybe feel good about yourself in the process.

As an issue of Game Theory (think of John Nash in A Beautiful Mind), it is actually an interesting problem. Here we have two strategies. We could call them: 1) Sandbagger and 2) Rule Follower. The Sandbagger strategy can only be successful if there are also people who follow rules. If everybody sandbagged, the advantage would be eliminated. So, naturally we would expect some mix of Sandbagging and Rule Following to occur in bowling leagues.

In that light, I have added a poll to the margin. It simply asks whether or not you have done this. It is completely anonymous, and I'm looking for honesty. I am curious how common this phenomenon is within the bowling community. Because I don't get a lot of traffic to this site, I'm going to leave it there for a few months to try to get a big sample. I have my doubts about whether any sandbaggers will actually fess up to it, but we'll see.

Finally, I think there are changes that could be made to the rulebook to reduce the incentive to sandbag. I'll save those for another day, but I don't see the solution being on the punishment side of things given the difficulty of conviction and enforcement. Rather, I think it would be better approached by addressing the benefit side of the equation.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Great Hangover Cure

Somehow I am able to track 42 detailed bowling statistics for five bowlers, but I am unable to keep track of our schedule. I thought we would have a bye this week, but no, we faced the men of Prairie Rose. Before I report on last night's match, I would like to note that way back in September, I remarked on the luck of our draw at the beginning of the season. Because we drew the 10-spot, we would frequently bowl unopposed. In the end, our draw turned out to be very unlucky when one team dropped out and another was added. When we finally bowl with a bye next, week, it will only be the second time all season (I think), despite having bowled against some teams now five times.

So, we did not bowl unopposed last night. Instead, we faced the only team against whom we have had any luck this season, Prairie Rose. The men of Rose work at and presumably own the Prairie Rose Cafe. If you click here, you can read a couple of reviews of the Rose, and I think they hit the nail on the head. The first is titled "Great Hangover Cure", and reads, "The prairie rose kicks ass and has become a regular sunday morning ritual of mine thanks to their delicious greasy breakfast food, coffee cups that are always being filled, and a friendly staff." I agree, although I would probably omit the word "greasy". Prairie Rose is easily the best breakfast in town. Strangely, for some reason, bowling against the Rose for us this year has also been a bowling hangover cure, but this has not always been the case.

We did not bowl particularly well. Only John bested his average, and by just ten pins. The rest of us were under average, but only slightly. I would say as a team, we were barely under average. Still, it was enough to take three of four. We did so even though we fell behind nearly 60 pins after losing the first. It has been that kind of season. It seems like it doesn't really matter what we do. Our fate always seems to be determined by the other team. The graph below demonstrates this nicely. Last night, we collected 1,753 pins as a team. This season, that performance has equated to as few as zero to as many as three wins.

So, our record now improves to 17-27 or 10 games under .500. For some reason, at the end of the season, we are always trying to reach or maintain a .500 record. We have five weeks to get there. It won't be easy. If we go 3-1 every week for the next five, we will end up 32-32. According to the schedule, which I triple-checked, we have a bye next week. Let's take advantage of it.

[I have not kept up with posting box scores because it is kind of a pain in the ass to do it the old way. Instead, I'll just post the series summary stats from the spreadsheet here. Just click on it to enlarge.]

Monday, March 22, 2010

Bowling against ourselves

Last week, we bowled against team HCLC A and were humiliated. Our normal Bernaski opponents did not even show up, or they would have done the same. This week, for the first time in the 2nd half (I think), we bowl unopposed.

As I understand the league rule, in order to defeat ourselves on the lanes, we must bowl over our averages minus ten pins per bowler. If that is correct, to win a game, we need to bowl 559 scratch per game or 828 handicapped.

On Sunday, I went into the Bud Light League with the HCLC Doc's words on my mind. He said to focus on making a good shot on this shot. Don't worry about what has happened or what will happen. Focus on the now. The first time I tried this, I got a 255. That may be a coincidence, or it may not, but I think it's good advice, especially on nights like tonight when our fate rests entirely in our own hands.

Please somebody remind me to do this next September

So, I woke up this morning waiting for the government bureaucrats to knock on the door and ask me how I wanted to die. It didn't happen. In fact, today was pretty much like every other day that I can remember. When I opened the front door, I sheepishly looked up expecting to see the sky crashing down on my face. Nope. The sky is still holding strong. So anyway, where was I? Oh yeah...

I bowled my best game ever yesterday, and I came home feeling like shit about it. I bowled a 255. Yes, 255. I have bowled many games that are less than one half of that score. That's two hundred and mutha fuckin' 55 pins, and I'm pissed off.

So, the Rookie calls me on Sunday morning and asks me if I want to roll a few games. This is like asking a dog if he wants to eat steak with cheese and butter on top of it. I pick him up, and we go down to the lanes. In the first game, I throw down a 232. What's gotten into me lately? I don't know. Anyway, we bowl three more. Halfway through game 4, our buddy Dooley shows up and asks if we want to bowl in the Bud Light League.

Again, the dog has been asked "Would you like to eat a sausage pizza with pepperoni, hamburger, extra cheese, and bacon?" I talk Gingy into doing it with me. It is a handicapped league. It costs $12. The handicap is 100%, so we actually had a very good chance to compete. They used our averages from the end of the year. Mine was a 165; the Rook, like a 128. Anyway, by the time this league started, the Rook and I had already polished off a pitcher of bowling juice. We were rolling with strangers in strange conditions on fresh oil, something we never do in Bernaski. If you placed in the top 3 in the Bud Light League, you got paid that day. If you placed in the top 4, you qualified for a tournament at the end of the league, like six weeks from now.

So, Game 1 starts, and I just tear up some damn pins. So does Gingy. Strike after strike after strike. I ended with nine strikes, two spares, and a score of 255. Ging finished with like a 197. I tried to explain to the people around me that I have no idea what just happened. That's my best game ever by 22 pins. They don't believe me until I follow that up with like a 147. I end the day with a 585 series. This is really good for me. In fact, it's probably my 3rd best series ever. For the record, here's the two plus double nickels:

I waited for the standings to be tallied; there were like 35-40 bowlers competing. Here's the short story. The Rookie also went off. In fact, he came in 4th with his near 200 in the first. The Rook qualified for the tourney! I missed qualifying by one stupid pin!!! Now, if I want to return to that league to try to qualify again, I have to bowl with the average I established this week. Do the math. Three games. 585 pins. Yeah, now my average is a 195! WTF? This is exactly what happened to me at the beginning of this season in Bernaski. Once again, I am being punished for bowling really well. Please somebody remind me to sandbag next time I enter a bowling league. This is fucking ridiculous. To equal my performance from this week next week, I would have to bowl a 675 series!!!! Oh well, so much for Bud Light league. It was fun for a day.

And congratulations to the Rookie! He should have had a 200 game in the 1st but choked. Still, he bowled his ass off and qualified for the tourney. At least one of us had luck on our side. And also, here's a congrats to Cody Caldwell, the Kid Wonder, who had a perfect game in the 2nd. Cody, you screwed me over, too, but great game, my friend!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

From awful to one standard deviation below average in bowling. Chapter I : Triple Digits

One of my readers (MaddysDaddy) has prodded me into writing an autobiography of my evolution as a bowler, and this is a first attempt. It is the journey from "awful" to "one standard deviation below average" to quote myself. In other words, I still suck at bowling, but I'm a hell of a lot better than I was. That journey is the subject of this post. I think I'll write it in three or four parts, which I will try to post on successive Sundays. We'll see what comes out.

In late 2006, our anchorman, JD, suggested we join a bowling league, so we did. We were turning the corner on our mid-30's at the time, and it seemed like a nice competitive activity for middle-aged men of leisure. The league, known as the Memorial League of Bernaski, was a scene so unfamiliar that it would take many return visits before it felt like an environment to which I belonged.

I live in a small town. We have less than 30,000 inhabitants in the whole place. It is very difficult to go to the grocery store without seeing somebody you know. Yet, at Laramie Lanes on our first league night, there were nine other lanes with four bowlers on each, and I knew none of them. This was a social group with whom I had not crossed paths. You see our fair city is organized sort of like the town in the movie Breaking Away. There are the university people (my normal cohort), and then there is the rest of the community. Here was the rest of the community, and for the first time, I was interacting with them. I am really happy to have made these new friends because they are far more interesting than a bunch of snooty PhDs sipping wine at a cocktail party. For example, when my wife decided it might be fun to go the Smash-Up Derby (not at all my normal type of activity) at the Albany County Fair Grounds, it seemed like half the bowling league was there, and I mean really there. For example, Bernaski was represented both in the drivers and in the officiating crew.

The other thing that took me off guard about bowling league was the skill level of bowlers. I had never bowled seriously nor competitively. My prior experience with the game was not that different than that of most people. I bowled quite a bit when I was a kid and very occasionally after that. Bowling seemed like a fun, if not funny, thing to do on a Friday or Saturday night once every couple of years. When I visited bowling alleys on this schedule, the bowlers I saw were like me, or even worse. They threw house balls. They threw them straight. If they broke 100, it was a good game. I had no idea how different league bowling actually was.

So back in January of 2007, I was thrust into a situation that was somewhat uncomfortable. Here was an unfamiliar crowd in an unfamiliar environment with a hell of a lot of skill at rolling bowling balls. But the time comes when you must step up to the deck, grab your ball off the rack, and start your approach to the foul line. I have no idea what I bowled in that first frame nor that first game. I wish I had the foresight to track my stats from Day 1, but I did not. I seem to recall that my scores improved every game over my first six, but that's somewhat immaterial to the tale.

In those days and in that stage, there were only a few things to figure out about bowling: 1) Who the hell are these people? 2) Why do they all seem like professional bowlers? 3) How do you know which lane you are supposed to bowl on? That's it in a nutshell.

I was using a pink 11 lbs house ball because I liked the way it fit my hand. I'd probably throw it around 22 mph. I would aim for the pocket on the Brooklyn side. I was happy with any score that was comprised of three numbers, like 108. Over the subsequent 16 weeks, I started cluing in to certain aspects of the game. For example, it takes a while to learn how to pick up certain spares. It is obvious how to attack some leaves, but others are more mysterious, like the 3-9. If you don't throw hook, then there is only one way to reliably collect that bastard, right on the nose of the 3. This knowledge is not innate. You learn it from experience. You have to see leaves over and over again before you figure out how to conquer them.

I left our first season with the best average on the team, a 135. I did that chucking an 11 lbs house ball pretty damn hard. I missed the last night of league. I am not sure where I was, but the rest of the Movements, John, Joe, and Z, discovered that we actually got money back at the end of the season. We had no idea that this would happen. When I returned, I learned that my earnings had been spent at the bar that night and had been allocated toward scotch for our next meeting of the S.A.C. (Scotch Appreciation Club).

[Continued in Chapter 2]

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Clean Game

Last week, our sub K-Terk drove over the mountain from Cheyenne for his sixth attempt at league bowling. He bowls like most rookies- very poorly. Games 1 and 2 were predictable. In the 1st, he finished with a 93, achieved with nine open frames and one strike. In Game 2, he had eight opens and two strikes to finish with a 100 on the dot. In those games, he converted zero spares in 17 tries. Game 3, though, was a different animal. It was clean. He left zero frames open. He finished with a 195 and collected 7 of 7 spares. It was a remarkably weird and discrete change in bowling ability. And it was an awesome thing to watch.

The subject of this post is the clean game. A clean game simply means marking every frame, or leaving none open. There are many ways to achieve this feat from 12 strikes to 10 spares to anything in between. On the surface, it shouldn't be a very difficult thing to achieve, but in practice, clean games are not common, particularly for developing bowlers like ourselves.

For one, if you are not a punisher of the pocket, you are most commonly going to get fewer than five strikes a game. The more spare leaves you leave, the greater the difficulty of bowling cleanly. If you are prone to leaving splits, the task becomes even more difficult.

I decided to check out our stats for clean games with two questions in mind. First, how often have the bowlers of the Movements pulled off the clean game, and second what scores can you expect if you do so. In theory you could score as low as 100 with a clean game (Ten -/'s) or as high as 300 (12 X's), but in practice, what kinds of scores do we get when we bowl cleanly?

The image below shows every clean game in our database. The database includes a total of 576 games, and of those in only six were no frames left open. It's a little depressing, but we have clean games about 1% of the time.

I have the highest and lowest clean game scores (188 and 226). Johnebob also has two to his name, both games well into the 200's, and Joe D. and K-Terk each have one. For these six games, the average score is 209.5. If we could bring up our strike percentage, these scores would be much higher. Still, I think these games give you a good guide for what it means to be a 200+ average bowler. It's not that you have to mark every frame because splits are unavoidable. If I ever want to reach that magical land of a 200 average, which I think I can do in about 5 years, I will need to convert the great majority of my makeable spares. At the moment, I seem to be capable of this about 1% of the time, but if K-Terk can pull it off in Week 6...

Bowling Palindrome III

Ball lab

A room in the basement of a Groom Lake research facility where sequestered federal scientists investigate alien bowling technologies recovered from crashed spacecraft.

Friday, March 19, 2010

The Rules of Bowling: Tax Brackets and Bowling Awards

Is it possible to get a raise and take home less money as a consequence? If this has ever happened to you, you understand why the structure of the federal income tax can be a cruel beast. This can occur if your raise pushed you into the next tax bracket. The term "bracket" in this context refers to discrete categories of income. Here is an example, if you had $33,949 of taxable income in 2009, you were taxed at a rate of 15%, or a total tax of $5,092. If you received a raise of $1,000, so you are now making $34,949. Now, you are taxed at a rate of 20%, or a tax of $6,989. When your salary was $1,000 less, you had a net income that was $897 greater.

Aside from the standard arguments about progressive taxation versus "flat" taxes, I'm not sure why rates of taxation are applied this way. If I had to guess, it is to ease the burden on analytically anxious people who prepare their own taxes. This type of bracketing penalty could easily be avoided if we simply got rid of the categorical treatment of income and instead used a smooth function that relates income to tax rate, but I'm going a little overboard here. The reason why I bring this up is because the structure of awards in USBC bowling is analogous to federal tax bracketing, and moving from one bracket to the next may mean that you are not going to receive an award for a while. It can function as a punishment.

In the 2009-2010 USBC rulebook, there were changes made to the award system. In this post, I want to focus on "Single Game Awards" in adult bowling. Here is how the rulebook reads:

There are a number of changes from the prior edition. For example, awards were granted for single games that were 75 and 100 pins over average. Those have been eliminated. Also, the categories of awards have changed. Awards used to be granted for scores of 80, 100, 120, 140, 160, 180, 200, 250, and 300. It is unclear why these award categories have changed, but from my perspective, the addition of the 225 game category is very welcome because the difference between scores of 200 and 250 is huge, particularly for bowlers with low averages.

The graph below shows the relationship between average and the number of pins above average you have to bowl in order to earn an award.

The first thing to notice is that as your average improves, it becomes "more difficult" to earn awards. For example, if your average is between 100 and 145, you need a game that is 40 to 60 pins above average to get your patch. If you average 180 to 200, you need to exceed your average by 70 to 90 pins. Although you have to exceed your average by a greater number of pins, I'm not sure that you are less likely to merit award when you are a better bowler. Bowlers with higher averages are much more likely to string together strikes which will result in the occasional very high game score. My hunch is that the upward climbing nature of the award structure takes into account this property of skill and scoring.

The other property of this graph of which to take note is its sawtooth quality. This results from the bracketed nature of averages in the award structure. When you enter a new average category, assuming you are improving, your chances of winning an award are minimized. For example, if your average climbs from 160 to 161, the minimum game award for which you are eligible is the is the "250". You remain eligible for the 250 award until your average exceeds 180. I can tell you from personal experience that bowling a 250 game with a 161 average is a herculean feat. It is much easier to do if you average 180, both because you are a better bowler and because you only have to bowl 70 pins over average in comparison to 89.

I am actually not advocating any changes to this system. Unlike my feelings about the federal tax code and rules about youth apparel, I like the USBC awards system as it is, and I like the recent revisions to it. My point is that when you are in the bottom of a bowling "tax bracket", your chances of earning an award are fairly slim. When you approach one of the thresholds in average, you should really take advantage of the opportunity to win an award because that is when your chances are best, and soon you won't even qualify. And just think of all the stuff you could stick to your fridge with that new magnet.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

A lesson from Patti Labelle

I am hyper-competitive. I grew up with a big brother who was only 18 months older. He's a competitive bastard, too, so much so that he became a politician. I had two cousins in the neighborhood of a similar age, and there were a bunch of kids around with whom we would play every sport imaginable. In this context, I learned to compete, and being among the youngest and smallest kids of the group, I learned quickly that to overcome size, you needed skill. So, no matter what it was, whether kicking field goals, hitting a baseball, or driving to the hoop, I would contently spend the time by myself that was needed to improve. For example, I spent countless hours teeing a football up in my shoe and kicking it through the uprights barefoot or practicing a between-the-legs dribble in my mom's driveway.

Later this drive was extended to other endeavors, like bicycle racing, rowing, education, my job, golf, and yes, now bowling. Being competitive is a bit of a mixed blessing. It usually means that you have the patience to work at something much more intensely than others do or care to, but it also means you can be perceived as kind of a dick who can't just relax and have fun. There is probably truth to both of these edges of the sword. It also means you HATE losing.

When we started bowling in Bernaski a few years ago, we did so because we thought it would be fun. We recognized that we were easily the worst bowlers in the league. We had no idea that there was a payout at the end of the season. In fact, I think it took us a month to figure out that the league was handicapped, and whether we had won a game or not. When you have zero expectations of winning, losing does not hurt at all. It is just fun to bowl.

My competitive drive didn't really kick in the next year because of injury, but I'm fairly certain that the year after, it did. For one, John and Joe started to throw a hook, and their averages were climbing nicely. I felt like I was being left behind. By the end of last season, I started tracking my stats, trying to shore up parts of my game that were not good, and bowling more outside of league. This year, I have taken that to an extreme. Nobody really knows how much I practice. I try not to talk about it much, and I'll leave it that way.

You see, that's another part of this story. I rarely ever talk about my own personal accomplishments on this blog, although the perception is probably otherwise. When I talk about myself in a positive light, I almost always temper it with a bad thing... like I got my highest score ever but I sucked at picking up spares. I really should write a post about how I have become a decent bowler over three or four years. Maybe I'll save that for another day, but I don't want to come off as some kind of cocky prick in the process. It should be abundantly clear that I understand where I fall in the larger world of bowling- somewhere between awful and one standard deviation below average.

Competitiveness is ingrained in me. I can't really shake it, and I don't want to do so. I have approached many things in life the same way once I decide that I want to become more than proficient in them, and frankly, I am unapologetic for it. I know it can be a little annoying to my friends, and for that, I am regretful. Still, I refuse to accept or be happy with personal "mediocrity," a word which everyone must define for themselves. I will not be happy until I can average 200 pins for 30 games of bowling, or until I shoot par on an 18 hole course. I feel that way as much about trying to hit the pocket as I do about trying to have the best bowling blog in the world.

This competitive drive can, however, bring unnecessary worry. It can cause friction with friends and malcontent with sub par performance. In the immortal words of the prophet Patti Labelle, "I need a new attitude." I am going to continue my personal quest for improvement, at least as long I find the sport interesting, but I am going to try to worry less about winning and losing. It's just bowling, right? I think it would make for a more peaceful existence. In that light, I am going to try to continue improving my game and accept that we will come in last place in the league. Ok. That feels better. Now, I can just go out there and have fun.

Bowling Puzzler VIII: The Bowling Cube

According to USBC regulations, a legal bowling ball must have a diameter ranging between 8.5 and 8.595 inches. Overlooking the obvious problem that a cubic bowling ball cannot roll:

If the USBC allowed cubic bowling "balls" of equal volume to spherical bowling balls:

1) What would be the maximum permissible length of a side on a cubic bowling ball?

2) Could a cubic bowling ball be squeezed between two adjacent pins in the same row, such as the 9 and 10, without touching either?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Bowling Haiku X

the core of the ball
or the core of the bowler
caused ten pins to fall?

Maintaining Status

When the worst bowling teams in the world compete every year, beginning in 2010, in the WTSBMBC, the rules are clear. The team who wins at least two of three handicapped games is victorious. But one must ask what brings more notoriety, being the "best of the worst bowling teams in the world" or the "worst bowling team in the world". Without additional editorial, I will present our scores:

Game 1: JL:121; TS 171; MK: 93; JD 128 ::: Scratch 513, Hcdp: 271, Total: 784

Game 2: JL: 135; TS: 146; MK: 100; JD: 158 ::: Scratch 539, Hcdp: 271, Total: 810

Game 3: JL: 151; TS: 122; MK: 195; JD: 166 ::: Scratch 634, Hcdp: 271, Total: 905

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Decline of Bowling

If you have never explored the site Google Insights for Search, I would highly recommend you do so. You will find that Google has opened their search database to the world. If you enter a term, you can see how the frequency of searches for that term has changed over time and how they pattern geographically. It gives you glimpse into the minds of the internet browsing world. This can give you "insight" into the rising or fading popularity of anything, and how the popularity of that thing varies geographically.

In that light, I decided to check out how searches for bowling have changed through time. If you simply enter "bowling", you get results that are confounded by other search terms, like "bowling green". So, I decided to use the phrase "bowling ball". I am assuming that people who search using the term "bowling ball" are almost always interested in the sport, and as such, these data can tell us about how many people in the world are thinking about tenpins. If you do this, here is what you will find:

There are two important features of this graph. First, it oscillates with peaks in the northern hemisphere winter and troughs in the summer. This part is easily explainable. When people are cold, they think about bowling balls. Yeah, I know. Bowling is a winter sport. In the summer, people are concerned with other things. The more troubling aspect of this graph is its decline. Since early 2004, searches for "bowling ball" have decreased at an average rate of 9% per year. The popularity of bowling is waning.

For the moment, I don't really have an explanation for what is causing this, but I strongly feel that it is a cultural phenomenon. Explaining such cultural changes is not an easy thing to do. I will note that if this were a stock, I would consider buying it. Bowling cannot decline forever. At some point that trend will reverse, and the sport will have its day. Who knows what will spark that change, but I am confident it will happen in due time.

Announcing the WTSBMBC: The 1st Annual Wyo-Tex Spring Break Mediocrity Bowling Classic

Brought to you by the Seriously Underachieving Cadre of Keglers (S.U.C.K.), to be held over the next two days in Laramie, Wyoming and Arlington, Texas, the 1st Annual Wyo-Tex Spring Break Mediocrity Bowling Classic, known by the easy to remember acronym WTSBMBC, is sure to become a major event in the world of sport. The best of the worst bowling teams in the the world, the fighting HCLC-A'ers, will be entering the bowling battle field versus the men in black (and red) from the Cowboy State, the Bowl Movements.

What's at stake? If the Movements win, EB and any of his fellow bowlers who so choose will don Rockies caps for the opening week of the MLB season. If the Texans are victorious, Movement2 and any members of his team with 15 lbs balls will wear Rangers caps on April 5, 2010. The teams are so evenly matched that this bout will be fought with a minimal handicap difference (HCLA, 274; BM's, 271) over a three game set. Pin total means nothing. Winner of at least two of three takes the title.

America's Cup, you can suck it. You got nothin' on this. Competition to be broadcast on ESPN 8, The Ocho.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Did the ancient Egyptians invent bowling?

In histories of bowling, it is commonly claimed that the origins of the sport can be traced back over 5,000 years to ancient Egypt. It is not difficult to find various accounts like this one from the International Bowling Museum and Hall of Fame:

A British anthropologist, Sir Flinders Petrie, discovered in the 1930's a collection of objects in a child's grave in Egypt that appeared to him to be used for a crude form of bowling. If he was correct, then bowling traces its ancestry to 3200 BC.

Here's a similar account from tenpinbowling.org:

In 1930 the British anthropologist Sir Flinders Petrie and his team of archaeologists discovered all sorts of primitive bowling balls, bowling pins and other materials in the grave of an Egyptian boy from 3200 BC. It appears that the ancient Egyptians played a primitive form of bowling and that bowling is more than 5200 years old.

Being an anthropologist myself, I thought I would look into the validity of these claims, which have become so pervasive as to be treated as settled fact. It did not take me long to find the primary source for the Egyptian bowling story. It is from the monograph Naqada and Ballas 1895 by W. M. Flinders Petrie and J. E. Quibell, published by Bernard Quaritch in 1896. You can read the monograph here if you are interested. There is one obvious falsehood to the standard narrative of bowling's origin. The find did not occur in 1930 nor the 1930's. This book was published in 1896 and concerned fieldwork that took place in 1895. Flinders Petrie did not even work in Egypt in the 1930's; from the mid-1920's onward, he worked in Palestine and Jordan.

In the 1895 field season, Sir Flinders Petrie excavated the cemetery at the site of Naqada, and Quibell worked at the nearby site of Ballas. Between the two sites, they unearthed more than 3,000 graves, a huge number by modern archaeological standards for a single field season. Naqada is on the western bank of the Nile in east central Egypt. The archaeological remains from the site span some 1,400 years dating between ca. 6,400 and 5,000 BP (before present). In Grave No. 100, Petrie did indeed find some interesting objects associated with the remains of a child. Rather than summarizing it myself, I'll let you read his words from p. 35:

And from Plate VII, here is how Petrie envisioned these objects in use:
Well, the first thing to point out is that the balls in this image are marble-sized, which gives very different meanings to the phrases "bowling balls" and "bowling pins". In fact, I was able to find a very low quality image of the actual items, shown to the right. Second, this reconstruction, which very much looks like some form of bowling, is Petrie's best guess for how all of these objects could have been used in a single activity. I should note that they were not discovered in this arrangement, and the board on which they sit was inferred; it was not found. Also, we have no idea if these items were ever intended to be used together. We don't even know if they were gaming pieces. They were also discovered with a chipped stone knife and spear points, which are not included in the reconstruction. Finally, I should note that to my knowledge, no one has ever discovered another set of items like these in one place. In other words, this is a unique find. Even if Petrie was correct about how these items were used, this was not something commonly done in Egypt.

I must admit that I find his reconstruction compelling, but is there some other plausible explanation for what these items represent? Absolutely, we could come up with many. Given their context, an interpretation of child's toys is not unreasonable. For example, the marbles might simply be marbles, which have as many uses as a child can imagine. What about the "pins?" Petrie notes that "they can only stand on their flat ends", but if they are spinning, they can stand on their pointed ends. Could they be tops? Their basic geometry is very reminiscent of wooden tops, like the one shown to the left.

Have spinning tops been recovered from other contexts in Egyptian archaeology? I was surprised to not only discover that they are not uncommon, but also that one was in the tomb of the pharaoh Tutankhamen. On the right is a picture of King Tut's spinning top made of ebony with inlay of faience and ivory.

So, where does this leave us? Well, the story that has commonly been told about the origins of bowling is not entirely false. Flinders Petrie did discover items in a child's grave in Egypt, which he reconstructed to have been used in a game that could be construed as crude form of bowling, although he related these items to the game of skittles, best played with a sack of sweet chewy "fruit" flavored candies. One obviously incorrect part of the story is the year of discovery, which was 1895, not the 1930's.

But Petrie's interpretation is highly speculative and should not be treated as fact. In that light, I very much like the wording on the website from the International Bowling museum, which begins with "If he was correct...", though they need to change the date of discovery to reflect the facts.

Finally, I should note that Petrie's skittle/bowling hypothesis is testable. These artifacts are curated at the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford University (not to be confused with the Assholian Museum at Cambridge). If Petrie was correct about the function of the objects, it would be expected that the "pins" should show clear pitting from the impact of the marbles and other "pins," just as actual bowling pins do. If they are tops, as I have suggested, they should show very different patterns of wear (circumferential scratches). Of course, we must also keep in mind that these items could have served some entirely different purpose or purposes. This sounds like a marvelous study for an undergraduate in archaeology at Oxford to undertake. We could finally get to the bottom of this Egyptian "bowling" business.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Bowl Movement Status Report for March 13

Just to keep everyone updated on the current team stats, I thought I'd put our junks out there in the open. Sorry about exposing your private parts to the world...

Strikes Per Game

When I started keeping track of my bowling stats about 16 months ago, I did so because I felt it would help me better understand my tendencies. I would also be able to track my trends to figure out which parts of my game were improving, and which parts were slipping. Also, I think that knowledge is a good thing even when there is no obvious immediate value to it. It didn't take me long to figure out what now seems so obvious. If I ever wanted to bowl a 200 game, I would have to figure out how to hit the pocket and how to do it regularly. I can't do this quite yet, but I'm getting better.

The value of strikes in bowling is simple. With the exception of the 2nd and 3rd ball in the 10th frame, the next two balls you throw count toward the strike frame. Land a turkey, and the frame with the first strike is worth 30 pins. Keep that chain of X's going, and you add 30 pins to your score every time all the pins fall.

This is not to take anything away from spares. Spares are a good thing, too, and to become a master, you need a great spare game. But with a spare in every frame, your score ceiling is 190 (or 191 if strike your last ball). It seems mildly ironic to me that there are approximately 280 different spare combinations you can face as a bowler, many of which require different and very precise shots, but spares count for less. Picking up spares, especially the ugly ones like splits and the 3-9, is considerably more difficult than getting a strike. Trying to convert spares all night long is draining. You have to work harder to do it, but the reward is less.

Anyway, there are various ways to measure your striking ability as a bowler. I often use strike%, or the percentage of strike opportunities converted. In this post, I want to look at strikes per game. When you are at the lanes, I think it's a bit more intuitive to see things this way. This statistic can vary between 0 and 12. At this stage of my bowling development, I am usually happy if I average 4.0 strikes per game over a three game set, but this season, I have averaged 3.5.

For the 189 series I have on record, which are spread among seven bowlers, the relationship between strikes per game and series score is very strong. It is shown in the graph below and on the left. The general relationship is clear, and it allows you to set some simple targets. If you are shooting for a 400 series, you should be aiming for around 2 strikes per game. If your goal is 500, you will need around 4 strikes per game. If you your are shooting for the magical land of 600, a good target is 6 X's per 10 frames, and it only gets more difficult from there. I'm not saying you absolutely need 6 strikes per game to get to 600 or that if you do this you are guaranteed to get there. In fact, you can in theory do it with as few as 2.0 per game, but you leave yourself a lot more to do in terms of picking up spares. You can also fail to reach 600 with as many as 10 strikes per game, but this would be a very unusual outcome.

Notice in contrast that the number of spares converted is much more weakly correlated with series score. Spare conversion is important. I would have had my first 600 series last week if my spare game was on, but spares are much less meaningful in determining the scoring outcome of a game. Notice that two of our highest series of all time have come with fewer than two spares per game. The reason is simple. If you are getting a lot of strikes, there are fewer opportunities to pick up spares, so a paucity of spares does not necessarily equate to a lot of spare leaves left unconverted

I will also note that if you view the game this way, goals seem less difficult to attain. I average 3.5 X's per game for the season. Next season, I'd like to get that to 4.0. If I did, I would be averaging a 500 series rather than seeing that as a really good night. To get from 3.5 to 4.0, I need to get on average one to two more strikes over a three game series. When viewed this way, it seems like a goal that is very reachable.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Bowling in Moving Pictures: Conservation of Energy

In the following film, you will see a physics teacher demonstrating the value of faith in the laws of science in an adaptation of the age old game of Dutch Tenpins. It is also a highly effective and proven way for dorks to impress girls with their retired bowling balls. Just set up this apparatus in your garage. Then, use your superior skills in the scientific method figure out a way to actually get a girl into your garage.

Bowling Alley Mural Reviews: Triangulation

An overt response to the mid-20th century quadrilateral movement in kegel art, the bowling alley mural Triangulation by Anonymous brings a sarcastic approach to the geometric earth tone polygonal genre in masking units. Freed from the constraints of squares, rectangles, trapezoids, and parallelograms, Anonymous is irreverent in her demonstration that despite the four-sided shackles imposed by lane end geometry, no self-respecting muralist must be confined to angular sums of 360 degrees. Thus, the artist makes the centerpiece of her work an inverted pink triangle overlying fields of beige to brown. Oblique and horizontal black bars bring depth to what would be otherwise a rendition of fragmented construction paper overlapping on a featureless plane. One must not search deeply for meaning in this sure to be classic of bowling art. Regrettably, I feel compelled to borrow a quotation from the renowned bowling art critic, Pierre Bordeaux who wrote of Triangulation (roughly translated from the original Basque), "The meaning could not be more clear. From time immemorial, the inverted triangle has symbolized the female organ, in all of its vulvacious glory, and what better a medium for expressing it than a target at which we propel our balls." What more remains to be said? Nothing.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Dear Brunswick Bowling,

I am writing concerning an urgent matter in the world of bowling. If left unresolved, the sport we all know and love is in jeopardy. In my search for a hero to come to the rescue of keglers around the world, to whom else would I turn (other than Pelican canoes and Dick's Sporting Goods)? In the spirit of the great turn of the century founder of your company, John Moses, I appeal to your better nature. For we rollers of the world depend upon your deeds.

You see, our bowling team is need of sponsorship. If we continue to the end of the season sans sponsorship, we will have $20+ dollars extracted from our already paltry winnings, and if this happens for the 4th consecutive year, the entire sport will be threatened. How you ask? It is a simple matter of the fungibile nature of currency. Those $20+ out of pocket will not be spent on bowling, bowling balls, bowling shoes, bowling bags, bowling tape, bowling accessories, or bowling juice. Those funds, which could have been acquired by some fine bowling business, would in turn have been spent elsewhere by an employee of said business, perhaps on groceries, pornographic magazines, Just for Men Gel, or replacement wiper blades. Every time these funds change hands, the economy is stimulated and jobs are created. Without said sponsorship, that guy working the assembly line at the Just for Men Gel factory could be laid off. If he is laid off, he will no longer bowl. If he no longer bowls, he will not be purchasing a new Brunswick Python. If demand drops for Brunswick Pythons, you will be required to reduce your work force. Why? Obviously, it is because you failed to sponsor us.

Who are we, you ask? We are the men who comprise the greatest bowling team in the history of universe, the Bowl Movements. I know what you are thinking, "We already sponsor some amazing bowlers, like Parker Bohn 3, Sean Rash, and Carolyn Dorn-Ballard. Why should we add some no-names from Wyoming to our cadre of moochers?" The reasons are simple and two-fold: 1) As I have already explained, the future of your business and the sport depend upon it. 2) It is time to recognize the hard working men and women who bowl every week and struggle to hit the 200 mark. We are the foundation upon which the sport is built.

Yes, two of us already use your equipment, and two of us don't. Here is what I say to anyone who asks me about my ball, "It is a Brunswick Smash Zone. It is the most finely engineered piece of bowling equipment ever produced. Its dark pearlized cover stock was inspired by the aragonitic surface sheen of the black pearls sought after by the skin divers of Bora Bora. It is a machine to be handled firmly and yet also with the gentle touch of an infant koala. I highly recommend one if you are looking for a new ball, and I think you should recommend one to everyone you know, and tell them to do the same."

I recognize your current strategy of sponsorship. It is common in sport; it is the guilt by association approach. If a great bowler is seen performing well, people will ask, "What kind of ball are they using?" It is an odd question since the word "Brunswick" appears in huge block letters across the front of their tacky jersey. It is not difficult to show that this tactic does not work. If things associated with great bowlers are taken up by those who are not so great, then why don't I see Parker Bohn's mustache adorning the faces of bowlers ?

You see, Brunswick Bowling, it is time to usher in a new era of sports sponsorship. It is time to sponsor the everyday man and woman. It is time to show the world that an investment of $24 can save the economy and the sport of bowling. It is time for you to ponder the potential fiscal windfall of the phrase "Brunswick Bowling presents the Bowl Movements." I will sit by the phone until you call.


The Four L's of Bowling

Any true connoisseur of bowling knows the four L's. If you do not, you average under 260. Pathetic. For those of you who require schooling in the art of rolling, I will reluctantly oblige:

1) Laramie - The Gem City. Population 27,204. Elevation: 7,165 ft above sea level. Bowling: The highest per capita number of 200+ bowlers in the world. Mecca is to Islam as Laramie is to Kegling.

2) Lanes- Eighteen highly engineered plastic bowling surfaces covering hardwood. Ten on the left side; eight on the right. The right is reserved for nobility.

3) Lounge- The locker room. Prior to and post-rolling, this is the chosen sanctuary. Put your ass on a stool and knock one back. It's almost time to roll, or it might be time to commiserate with your colleagues about your inability to breach 800.

4) Liquor- A little somethin' to take home, or perhaps to sip prior to arrival. Either way, it is the secret sauce of striking success.

Bowler Puzzler VII: Pathways to 290

One of my heroes is an anonymous primate who maintains a site called balmoralsoftware.com. If you click on that link, you will find an unassuming webpage with a number of links in small print. The last of these links reads "Bowling Scores". If you click on that link, you will be transported to a wondrous world of the most detailed mathematical treatment of bowling scores ever written. Whenever I do so, I feel like Charlie entering Willy Wonka's chocolate factory. Yes, I have a problem. If you scroll down on that page, you will find a list that tells you how many different ways there are to arrive at any particular bowling score. For example, you will find that there are 2,447,444,695,948,898 pathways to a score of 124. That means that are more than 2.4 quadrillion ways to score 124.

These numbers become much more tractable as you get into the high 200's. A major break occurs between the scores 290 and 291. According to this wonderland of bowling scores, there is only one way to arrive at a score of 291. This is accomplished with eleven consecutive strikes followed by a one on the bonus ball in the 10th. This makes me wonder if anybody has ever actually scored 291, but my question concerns 290. According to "Mr. Balmoral," there are eleven ways to score 290. The first should be obvious... eleven straight strikes followed by a gutter ball. Here is my question:

What are the other ten ways to score 290?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Constant and Erratic Pace of Improvement in Bowling: 10 Pins Per Year

Anyone who bowls competitively, whether in a leagues, tournaments, or both wants to improve their game. With time and practice, you will, but improvement is frustratingly slow. It seems as if our memory is only capable of tracking things over a period of weeks or months, and on this time scale, things do not seem to change much. You have those weeks when the pins are falling, and those when it feels like you are fighting to pick up spares all night. There are weeks when the confidence is there, and others when it is on vacation. Improvement is best gauged over a period of years. The system is simply too noisy to see the underlying change over short time scales.

The core Movements started bowling in the 2nd half of the 2006-2007 season, in early January of 2007. It has been three years since we began this endeavor. I did not start tracking our statistics until midway through our third season in December of 2008. Thanks to Bowl.com, however, I can at least reconstruct our averages for those early years. Here is how our averages have evolved over time:

That graph on the right shows the average of all three bowlers, John, Joe, and myself. Since January of 2007, it has been ticking up like clockwork. The pace is very constant, and is equal to ten pins, or a full rack, per year. In our first season, we averaged a paltry 127. This season, we bowl with an average just under 157. This is a huge improvement. For three bowlers, it equates to getting 90 pins per night more than we did three years ago.

The graph on the left shows the data that make up this constant growth, and notice that for individual bowlers, improvement has been anything but constant. I am poster boy of this. From 2007 to 2008, my average dropped seven pins. John and Joe offset that drop by adding 12 and 20 pins to their averages, respectively. The next season, I added 19. So far, John's average has dropped three pins this year. Of the three bowlers, only Joe has seen improvement every year.

So, if you are having an off year, you can find some solace in that it happens to other folks, too. Over the long term, you will improve. You just have to fight through those rough times. Eventually, you will find yourself moving back in the right direction.

You can expect to add about 10 pins per year to your average in your early years, but this pace cannot continue ad infinitum. At some point, it must slow because nobody averages 300. Apparently, we have yet to reach that plateau as a team, but I expect it will come soon. If this trend continues, we will be averaging nearly 180 pins per game two years from now and 200 in four. That seems like a tall task, but if you had told me three years ago that I would average over 160 today, I would have had a hard time believing it. In fact, I have a hard time believing it right now.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Volcano

A volcano spends most of its life doing nothing. It looks like any old mountain. But deep inside of its bowels, the pressure builds within its magma chamber. The overlying rock acts as a shield for the gases inside. They cannot escape. A threshold of pressure must be crossed, but when it does, a massive explosion results, and ash is sent high into the atmosphere.

I think this is more or less what happened at Laramie Lanes last night. For six weeks, we have been dormant. Over that time, we have had five consecutive losing nights with a 3-17 record plus a last place finish in the City Championships. The pressure has been building, and it had to be released. That happened in Game 1.

Game 1 has historically been our worst game, but last night, it was our all time best with a scratch pin total of 756 or an average of 189 pins per bowler. It was an odd game by all accounts. Laughlin and Gingy each had four in a row in frames 3 through 6 to finish with a pair of 183's. Daniele had zero strikes, but went 8 for 10 on spares. He picked up his first six including three splits. I set a team high game record with a 233. This was garnered with eight strikes, but I missed two of three chances for spares in that game.

The 756 in Game 1 broke a long standing team record. Our previous high game was more than a year old, set on January 5, 2009 when Becker was in town subbing for the Canadian. The old record was a 749. The graph below shows the progression of the record through time. The new record may be around for a while, but I've got a feeling that sometime within the next year or two we might get to 800.

After the explosion, we reverted to our normal ways. We followed a massive Game 1 with a dud. We finished with just about 200 pins fewer in Game 2, averaging 142. We have seen this happen before. We build a nice lead in Game 1 only to watch it evaporate over the next two games. But apparently the volcano was not finished. It still had one more belch to emit. In Game 3, we came back with a 167 average or 669 scratch, another big game for us. We finished with three wins and a loss bringing our 2nd half record to 12-24. It felt good to win.

Here are a few statistical notes. John had a 500 series and converted 7 of 9 single pin chances. I missed a 600 series by eight pins because I could not pick up spares (5 for 13). Gingy had another massive night for a Rookie averaging 152.3 and set a new personal high for strikes with 11. Daniele's strike ball was not working all night, but he led the team in pickup%, getting 63% of his chances. In fact, he tied the team record for most spares in a series with 17.

On a side note, we faced Team 6, or the team formerly known as Overrated. They also bowled their asses off. In fact, they too had their best performance in weeks. On most nights, they would have gone at least 3-1 or 4-0. I felt bad for those guys because I could very much relate. They were just unlucky to run into us on the week when the volcano finally popped.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Does a bad first frame portend a bad night of bowling?

Last week, EB of the Thumbhole Chronicles suggested that I look into first frame effects. According to the man from the Lone Star State, "I guarantee you that for bowlers like me, the first frame portends the outcome (most of the time-- I have been known to have three opens in a row and then mark out the rest for 160-170 game). For pros, of course, this doesn't mean a thing. Or does it?" I know what he's talking about. You step up to roll your first ball, but you leave a nasty split. Worse yet, you leave a solid 10 pin and fail to pick it up. You return to your seat having opened the first frame. Is this a symptom of things to come, or is it an isolated incident that has little bearing on what follows?

To answer this question, I performed two analyses using our database, which currently includes 552 games. In the first, I compared the outcome (strike, spare, or open) of the first frame of each game to the average game score. In the second analysis, I compared the first frame score of the first game to the score for the entire series.

Before I continue, I should note the obvious. With regard to game scores, it would be expected that a strike in the first frame would yield the highest average game scores, followed by spares and opens. However, when the outcome of the first frame of the first game is compared to the final score for the series, the effect should still be in play, but it should be much smaller since it comprises a much smaller fraction of the total score (1/30 vs. 1/10). I will also note that for a EB, a bad start seems to have the opposite effect.

The bar graphs below compare average game scores to first frame outcomes for the four primary BM bowlers this season. Generally speaking, the data pattern in predictable ways. For three bowlers (JL, TS, and JD), average game scores are greatest when the first frame is struck. For all four bowlers, the lowest game scores occur when Frame 1 is left open. For the Rookie (JG), the highest average game scores occur when the first frame is a spare. There is another interesting difference relating to our cleanup man, JD. For the other three bowlers, the difference between the best and worst average game scores is typically around 10 pins (the difference between a mark and an open frame), but for JD, the difference is 27 pins. If he records a strike in Frame 1, he averages 161.6 pins a game. If he leaves the first open, he only averages 134.5, a huge difference. For JD, what happens in Frame 1 seems to be extremely important in determining the outcome of a game.

The situation is similar for series scores as shown below. For three bowlers (JL, JG, and JD), the highest average for a series occurs when the first frame of Game 1 is a strike. I do slightly better, however, if I pick up a spare to start the night. The difference in series average between a struck and open 1st frame depends upon the bowler. For JL and TS, the differences are minimal, but again for JD, there is a massive difference. In fact, the difference is amazing. If he gets a strike in the opening frame, he ends up on average with 65 more pins for the series than if he leaves it open. It is the difference between a 481 series and a 416.

So does a bad first frame portend a bad night of bowling? Yes and no. It seems to depend upon the bowler. For three of us, it doesn't seem to have much of an effect. In fact, the effect is pretty much what you would expect. For Joe, our anchor, the effect appears to be enormous. For this reason, I hope he never reads this because it will turn him into a head case. Stepping up to bowl on the first frame in league night is very much like standing on the 1st tee at the golf course. You want to blister one right down the middle of the fairway, but if you slice it into the deep grass, it leaves a bad taste in your mouth. If you want to turn things around, you have to just forget about it and move on. Johnebob seems to be very capable of this; Joe,well, umm...