Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Mad Max IV: Welcome to the Palin-Drome

So, on Monday night, I look over a couple of lanes, and I see Nathan of Little Caesars kickin' it in a pi shirt. Yeah, I'm talking about 3.14159. From a distance, it was the Greek lowercase pi, so I called him out because it's just not the kind of thing I expect to see floating around Bernaski. Not only does he appreciate the dorky recognition, but he points out that the pi on his tee is built from nearly 5,000 digits of that irrational number in like 4 pt font. Furthermore, he directs me straight to the source, where I waste too much of the day browsing all kinds of stuff I don't need but desperately want.

I wonder if Nathan feels the same way I do about US Bowler magazine, which can pretty much be summarized as "WTF?" So, where was I? Well, I was born with a bizarre affliction, the kind where you can spend hours contemplating not only why the ratio of the circumference to the diameter of every damn circle in the universe is the same number, but also why it is equal to 3.14159265358979323846264338327950288419716939937510582097494459230... etc, or how there can be no end to that chain of integers following the decimal. For some people, that proves the existence of God. For others, it is not worth a nanosecond of thought. For others still, it puts you in awe of nature and makes you question whether pi has the same value in every universe.

So by this point, you have either stopped reading or started asking yourself where is this dude going with this Wednesday rant? Well, if you don't give a shit about issues of pi (if you are thinking apple vs. rhubarb, it is definitely time to change the channel anyway), change the channel. For quant types, patterns and numbers are just interesting beasts. For example, last time we bowled against Caesars, Nathan and Clark bowled identical games for something like five straight frames. I told Nathan that I would give him $1 million if they did it all the way to the end. All they had to do was chuck ten straight in the gutter each to call my bluff (and lose to the Movements). I could tell Nathan was engaged by the problem as I have been before, but it was obviously a fool's bet.

Numbers people are just fascinated by such patterns and symmetry. I don't know why. Also, people like me, animals who like math, enjoy unusual aspects of language. We are not the most skilled writers in the classical sense but we like grammar (did you catch that?). We tend to be exceptoinal spellers (that one?). Also, we will attest to loving little letter patterns on tattooed cattle eating cluttered lettuce (if you don't get that, you definitely don't have the curse). Thus, my interest in palindromes. Here are a few of my favorites:

He lived as a devil, eh?
Race car
Able was I ere I saw Elba
A man, a plan, a canal, Panama!

So, for the past six months or so, I have had bowling palindromes on my mind. If you have ever tried to create a palindrome, you know it is not easy once you get beyond the "wow, mom, wow" stage. If you don't know what a palindrome is by this point, I have no idea how you got this far into this post. Bowling has a fairly limited lexicon, and for the most part, when you put those words in a mirror, not much comes out. Similarly, I have been obsessed with bowling scores. Ok, maybe there's no relation, but when you're in my line of work, you are paid to try to find connections among all things.

So, I started wondering if a Bowl Movement had ever bowled a palindromic game. Consider this. In any game of bowling, you have 21 scoring opportunities. That means that in frames 1 through 9, you will roll up to two balls and in frame 10, up to three. It is theoretically possible to have the same game forward and backwards. The geometric center of a game is the first ball in the sixth frame. There are many theoretical games that could be symmetrical about that frame. Here is a hypothetical example:

Read that game from start to finish or finish to start, and it's the same thing. I have no idea how many palindrome games are possible in bowling. If I spent about eight hours on the problem, I could be the first person in the history of the world to answer that question, but I'll leave that to some kid who needs to write an MA thesis in math (or maybe the most difficult bowling puzzler ever). Instead, I just wanted to know if a Bowl Movement had ever pulled off the feat.

I wrote a little program to check the 612 games on record, and the short answer is no. The closest thing we have ever had to a palindrome game was bowled by Johnebob less than two weeks ago, when he had his high game, a 230. In that game, 15 of 21 scoring opportunities were symmetrical (those shown in yellow):

So, if you have read this far, you might be waiting for the grand philosophical conclusion, but there is none. I am impressed if you have pulled off the feat without skipping to the end. In short, my guess that is that a palindrome game is bowled about once in every 2,800 tries. As such, I propose that the USBC add it to their special achievement patches if and when they reinstate them. After all, it has "Palin" in it. Bowlers seem to like anything with those five letters in that sequence.


  1. I feel like I should wear a tinfoil hat when reading this blog sometimes....

  2. Oh; and congratulations on 10,000 views :)

  3. Thanks. I figure that gives me some capital to write about the kind of shit that nobody else enjoys reading.

  4. I am honored to have partially inspired this post.

  5. Doc, Nathan, you guys are my kin. thank you for paying attention. It means a ton.

  6. The funny thing is about a year ago, at work, I wrote on our dry erase board at work "A man, a plan, a canal, panama" No one seemed to get it. It was at that time I realized that I was alone in my pursuit of patterns and numbers, maybe that is why I became the credit anlayst at First Interstate.

  7. I also remember writing a research paper when I was 15 on tessellations, during a summer camp for MSIP - MC Escher you still amaze me to this day!

  8. Nathan, Somehow I just knew you would appreciate it. I am a HUGE Escher fan. I went to an Escher exhibit in college, and it made a massive impression on me. You may or may not know and will not be surprised that I used an Escher a few weeks ago: http://bowlmovementswy.blogspot.com/2010/03/bowling-against-ourselves.html

  9. I have to confess I enjoy reading your 'kind of shit'; really :)


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