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  • Writer's pictureJoe Pace

Player of Games, #102: Candlepin Bowling

I get it, America. I do. You think what you do out there clumsily blundering into your fat-ass pins with those gaudily-painted swollen balls that you stick your fingers in is bowling. That's your delusion, and you're welcome to it. But don't for a moment believe it's the truth.

That's because real bowling, as God intended it to be played, is candlepin bowling. It's the older version, and far, far more difficult. How much tougher? A perfect game has never been bowled in sanctioned play. The highest score ever recorded is 245 (rolled in 1984 and 2011). Still popular in its native New England and Canadian Maritimes, candlepin has thinner, cylindrical pins that are arranged in two parallel rows. Nail the headpin in your big-ball game and your chances are good of achieving a strike. Roll the same ball in candlepin, and you're just as likely to suffer a Half-Worcester, taking out just that pin and the one behind it. The smaller ball grants better control (relying not at all on absurd, showy spin), and three are rolled per frame. Also, pins are left where they fall for subsequent throws, referred to as deadwood. As they used to say on the old local cable Saturday afternoon Stars & Strikes broadcasts, "wood is good". Faced with a devilish configuration - a Woolworth Split, perhaps, the Four Horsemen or the Hi-Lo-Jack - proper application of ball to fallen pin can represent salvation.

My favorite bowling alley was the one at the student union building at the University of New Hampshire, where I would bowl with friends after Sunday night Student Senate meetings while munching on chicken fingers. They tore those alleys up after my freshman year, but I still have a pair of shoes and a pin from the final game played there. The place I've bowled the most, though, is on Lafayette Road in Portsmouth at the loud, brightly-lit and awesomely named Bowl-O-Rama. My brother and I started there in youth bowling leagues a million years ago, earning patches for "The Smurfs" if memory serves. As time went on, I made plenty of trips back with buddies or dates or family for the disinfectant-scented good times of the bowling alley. Perfection in its own right.

Candlepin bowling. An elegant game, from a more civilized age.

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