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The Bowling Lane
sport of ten-pin bowling is performed on a straight, narrow surface known as a
lane. This bowling lane is 60 feet from the foul line to the head pin. About
15 feet from the foul line are a set of guide arrows. The lane is 41.5 inches
wide and consists of 39 boards. The bowling lane has two sets of approach
dots; from the foul line back to the first set of approach dots is about
12 feet and to the second set of approach dots is about 15 feet. Each lane has
a coat of lane oil to protect the surface from abuse from the repetitive
rolling of the bowling ball. Lanes were originally made out of wood, but now
most bowling alleys have synthetic wood lanes. The original wood bowling lane
was made up of several different types of wood, the first 15 feet was normally
maple a very hard and durable wood, the next 45 feet was usually made of pine
a softer material that also increase friction. Where the pins are set (pin
deck) was also made of maple to with stand the abuse of the pins falling over.
USBC rules specify that a pin must be 15 inches tall and 4.7 inches wide at
its widest point, where a rolling ball would make contact. There are
additional measurements which delineate the shape. The weight of a single pin
must be at least 3 pounds, 6 ounces and no more than 3 pounds, 10 ounces.
Within a set of ten pins, the individual weights may vary by no more than 4
ounces, if made from wood or plastic coated or just 2 ounces if synthetic. The
top of the pin shall have a uniform arc with a radius of 1.273 inches, ± 1/32
inch. The USBC also has regulations governing the weight distribution of the
pin from top-to-bottom. Pins are allowed one or two “voids” (holes) in the
belly area. The voids are needed to balance the narrower top half of the pin
with the wider bottom half. Without them, the pins would be too bottom-heavy
to fall properly when struck. The pins must show the name and mark of the
maker, either “USBC Approved” or “BTBA Approved” and appear uniform. The head
pin or 1 pin stands on board 20 of the lane.
The Bowling Ball
circumference of the ball must not be more than 2.25 feet, and the ball cannot
weigh more than 16 pounds. The ball must have a smooth surface over its entire
circumference except for holes or indentations used for gripping the ball,
holes or indentations made to bring the ball back into compliance with
weight-distribution regulations, identification letters and numbers, and
general wear from normal use. A bowling ball can’t have an once or more of
weight on the side, more than three ounces top weight, or an ounce difference
between the top and bottom of the ball. Bowling balls were originally made of
wood, as time progressed they began making them out of harden rubber or
plastic, then urethane, and now resin.
Basic Rules of Play
game of bowling consists of ten frames. In each frame, the bowler will have
two chances to knock down as many pins as possible with their bowling ball. In
games with more than one bowler, as is common, every bowler will take their
frame in a predetermined order before the next frame begins. If a bowler is
able to knock down all ten pins with their first ball, he is awarded a strike.
If the bowler is able to knock down all 10 pins with the two balls of a frame,
it is known as a spare. Bonus points are awarded for both of these, depending
on what is scored in the next 2 balls (for a strike) or 1 ball (for a spare).
If the bowler knocks down all 10 pins in the tenth frame, the bowler is
allowed to throw 3 balls for that frame. This allows for a potential of 12
strikes in a single game, and a maximum score of 300 points, a perfect game.
Bowling Terms & Slang
A ball thrown by a right-handed bowler that hooks left-to-right instead of
right-to-left. If thrown by a left-hander, a back-up ball breaks
The last 15-20 feet of the lane, where the ball is supposed to develop the
most friction (due to lack of oil) and hook into the pocket.
(#-)Bagger: Always preceded by a number from three to
eleven, denoting a string of consecutive strikes. ("Six-bagger")
The 7-10 split, considered one of the most difficult to convert. Also known as
the fence posts or goal posts.
A very hard split to convert, this leaves pins 4-6-7-10. If a BTBA member
converts it in a BTBA Sanctioned League he can be awarded a badge. USBC
members are awarded a patch for converting this split in league play. Also
known as "Grandma's Teeth."
A throw that results from the ball hitting the opposite “pocket” from the
bowler’s normal handedness, i.e., a right-handed bowler rolls the ball but it
crosses over and hits the 1 and 2 pins first, or a lefty crosses over to hit
the 1-3. This may also be referred to as “Jersey.”
A condition where a good shot (or even a less-than-perfect shot) rolled into
the pocket results in a strike.
A condition where oil from the front of the lane is transferred farther down
the lane than desired, usually due to excessive ball traffic in the same area
of the lane. This condition can cause the ball to “slide” in the area of the
lane the bowler would desire it to hook.
An open frame where the front pin of a combination consisting of two or more
adjacent pins is struck in the middle and neither the ball nor front pin takes
out any other pins of the spare. (Example: The ball striking the middle of the
2-pin in a 2-4-7 combination, and leaving the 4-7 pins, is considered a chop.)
Also refers to four strikes in a row, a reference to the 4-leaf clover.
Another word for a spare, often preceded by the number(s) of the pins left
before shooting the spare. (Example: “3-6-10 conversion.”)
Refers to the number of pins knocked down on a given shot, particularly after
a mark in the prior frame.
A bowler known for rolling the ball with extreme revolutions, making it hook
Two strikes in a row during a single bowling game.
Term used for a pin that has fallen out of the grasp of the rake and sits in
The bonus ball(s) earned for marking in the tenth frame. So named because it
"fills" all the tenth frame boxes on the scoresheet.
Leaving just the 10 pin after the first shot, while the 6 pin lays in the
gutter instead of flying around the 10 pin (as with a Ringing 10). For a
left-hander, the equivalent is the "Flat 7."
A shot where the bowler's foot crosses the “foul line” at the end of the
approach (and start of the lane), which often results in a light and/or buzzer
being triggered. A foul also occurs when any part of the bowler's body touches
the lane beyond the foul line, whether or not the foul light or buzzer is
triggered. A foul counts zero for the ball roll in which it occurs, regardless
of how many pins are knocked down. Crossing the foul line only results in a
foul if the bowler releases the ball. In “lowest-score-wins” fun-games, a foul
results in a strike.
A single turn for a bowler, constituting one or two rolls, depending on
Getting strikes in a given number of frames, starting with Frame 1. For
example, a bowler striking in Frames 1-6 is said to have the Front 6.
(Go) off the sheet:
To end a game with many consecutive strikes. ("He can go off the sheet for a
259 game." See "Strike out", directly above; comes from long ago when bowling
was scored on paper.)
The 4-6-7-8-10 or 4-6-7-9-10 split. Also known as a cathedral.
Located on either side of the lane to catch an errant throw. A ball that lands
in the gutter scores zero (0) points for that roll.
Four Strikes in a row during a single bowling game.
The 1-pin. In a full setup, this is usually the first pin that the ball will
or High shot: A shot that hits more of the head pin than desired, often
resulting in a split.
Rolling the ball with enough side-spin to make the ball curve as it rolls
toward the pins.
shot: A shot that rolls into the pocket, but is closer to the 3-pin (or 2-pin
for a left-hander) than the head pin.
Another tricky split, this time leaving pins 5-7-10. Also known as a “sour
The path that a bowling ball takes down the lane. Also can be used to describe
one game of bowling.
A spare or a strike.
A pin that goes across the width of the pin deck and knocks down another pin
or pins, resulting in a strike. Also known as a birddog, scout, shrapnel, or
The conditioner used in the front two-thirds of the lane, which allows the
ball with side-spin to roll the necessary distance down the lane before it
starts to generate friction and hook.
Any frame in which a strike or spare was not made.
The ten "targets" at the far end of the lane that a bowler attempts to knock
down by rolling a ball at them.
The ideal place for the ball to hit the pins in order to maximize strike
potential. The pocket for a right-hander is between the 1 and 3 pins (1 and 2
pins for a left-hander).
A bowler who combines the high hooking power of a cranker with the smooth
delivery and timing of a stroker. Power Stroking is a form of “tweening,”
meaning the form lies somewhere in between cranking and stroking.
The situation where the result appears to be a strike, but a pin (usually the
6) flies around the 10 pin without knocking it over, leaving a pin-count of 9.
For a left-hander, the equivalent is the "Ringing 7."
A set of full bowling games, usually three, in league play.
In match play, a situation in which it becomes mathematically impossible for a
bowler to match or exceed an opponent's score, even should (s)he throw all
strikes and the opponent throw all gutterballs for the remainder of the game.
The name for a pin standing directly behind another pin, making it hard to
see, eg. 8 behind 2, 5 behind 1 or 9 behind 3. Also known as a “phantom pin”,
“double wood” or “mother-in-law.”
All ten pins down on two ball rolls of a frame.
A spare leave where the head pin is knocked down and at least two non-adjacent
pins are standing. (Example: the 8 and 10 pins left by themselves would be
considered non-adjacent. The 6 and 10 pins are adjacent, and thus not
considered a split.) Common jargon for certain splits include: “baby split”
(most commonly 2-7 or 3-10), “big four” (4-6-7-10), “Greek church” (4-6-7-8-10
or 4-6-7-9-10) and “fit-in split” (most commonly 4-5 or 5-6).
All ten pins down on the first roll. This is the aim of all bowlers at the
start of each frame.
To roll three strikes in the 10th frame of a game (the maximum possible). Also
used to denote a longer string of strikes to end a game. ("He struck out after
that open in the 5th frame.") Also referred to as "going sheet."
A bowler known for smooth timing and delivery with relatively low amount of
hook on the ball.
A condition where a good shot that appears to hit the pocket properly results
in less than ten pins being knocked down. The most common “tap” situations for
a right-hander include leaving the 8 or 10 pin by itself (7 or 9 pin for a
The pattern of oil left on a bowling ball after a shot. This indicates what
parts of the ball have contacted the lane on its path.
The migration of the ball track from the bowler’s initial axis (the axis upon
release) to the final axis (the axis at the moment of impact with the pins).
Track flare is used to expose fresh, dry ball surface to the lane surface.
While on oil, this means little to the performance of the ball, but when the
ball crosses from the oil to the dry, the dry ball surface bonds with the dry
lane surface to increase friction which causes earlier hook and greater
Three strikes in a row during a single bowling game.
A spare left where at least two non-adjacent pins are still standing, but the
head pin is also standing.
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