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The surprisingly sophisticated technology of bowling balls and lanes

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#1 FirstSight


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Posted 14 October 2021 - 11:36 AM

I only very rarely go bowling, and haven't much interest in watching it as a spectator, and to the extent I gave bowling any thought at all (very rarely), considered it a completely non-technological sport other than the automatic pin-setters.  NEVERTHELESS, I am a big fan of the fascinating science/engineering oriented channel Versitasium, and so when I came across this Versitasium YouTube video on "How Hidden Technology Transformed Bowling", it provoked my curiosity how such a seemingly crudely straightforward sport could be transformed by technological advancements (e.g. think how radically advances in golf equipment technology have changed that sport). How could the explanation be worth a 28 minute video?  Trust me, it is.


For starters, the interior construction of bowling balls is not at all symmetric (way beyond just the obvious finger-holes on one side) - they contain an asymmetrical weight block embedded two to three times as dense as the surrounding interior material comprised of lightweight glass beads.  The shape of this asymmetrical core weight is chosen to alter the ball's axial inertia to facilitate a particular degree of hook-spin, which curved path significantly enhances the probability of bowling strikes.  Also, it turns out that the particular way bowling lanes are waxed, and how this wax pattern changes over time with use, greatly affects which type of asymmetrical core works most optimally toward producing higher probability of strikes - thereby higher-skill bowlers (especially at the pro level) will carry a suite of different balls with them to competitions, changing balls the way pro golfers carry a suite of different wedges for different types of approach shots.  The was pattern on the lanes is also a matter of sophisticated high-technology - without a differential waxing pattern tapering off to bare wood about 2/3 of the way to the head-pin, it will be much more difficult to bowl strikes because it becomes much more difficult to curl the ball into the pins at an optimal angle.  Also, balls vary according to the degree of polish on their surface, so for more advanced bowlers, choosing (or dynamically changing) to a more optimal ball suited to how it will react on current waxing pattern or condition of the lane) is critical - the video contains some very convincing demonstrations of the differences in how different balls react to different conditions.


Worth a watch, even if just for the initial segment of the surprising construction of bowling balls.  Note that "house balls" are often just symmetric, solid polyurethane spheres, and this video explains why your chances of scoring well are handicapped by not using a ball with more sophisticated interior design, beyond just the limits of your raw skill.

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#2 markb


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Posted 14 October 2021 - 11:49 AM

+1 on Versitasium.


I avoid YouTube like the plague, but Versitasium is worth it, along with how to videos on odd specialty repairs.


On the bowling, I took bowling in college, I remember discussion about the way they use waxing (EDIT- oil should be the correct term, but it looks like wax) to change the game, and most lanes are heavily waxed to allow people to bowl higher scores, outside of tournaments.


I had read the college handbook cover to cover and found out you could use six PE courses towards graduation credit so I took bowling, golf, archery and ping pong! Most of my friends took a 'gut' easy A with a professor heard about it and then decided to give only two As to the class, oops. Regular PE classes never appealed to me, but I loved the ones I took.

Edited by markb, 14 October 2021 - 03:12 PM.

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#3 jerobe


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Posted 14 October 2021 - 01:20 PM

Excellent video.  I took up bowling when I retired and have thoroughly enjoyed it.  I get exercise, social interaction and competitive action from my league bowling and it has become one of my anticipated activities, along with dark sky observing, of course!


Thanks for sharing the video.

#4 JimMo


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Posted 14 October 2021 - 02:56 PM

I haven't bowled in 35 years, but for a time I was on a Men's Jr. House league team with my late older brother John and a few of his friends. I was the kid, they were all 10+ years older than me, and they were all high average bowlers so they had me, a beginner bowler, as the fifth man due to my handicap.


Anyways, I never heard them talk about wax, they always talked about oil and how conditions change do to the way the oil was applied. They also joked they'd give their right arm to be left handed as the shot for lefties didn't deteriorate the way the right handed shot did due to far fewer lefties than righties.

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