The Anthropological Anomaly of Candlepin
Two years ago I went on a few dates with a girl from Boston. On the third date (a non-date, really, and a dealbreaker) she invited me to the Lucky Strike where she and her sister and her sister’s friends were to engage in hip, expensive bowling.
A girl who bowls. Hmm, this was very intriguing (and not unattractive, I might add). Now, the Lucky Strike is for socializing and celebrity sightings and anyone who really likes bowling wouldn’t be caught dead there, but my interest was piqued.
Of course it was a disaster and we never actually got to bowl because there was a four-hour waitlist and the point of the Lucky Strike isn’t to bowl but to sit around and drink cocktails while three-dimensional bowling activities go down in your periphery and Rock-n-Bowl lighting effects prevail.
But it was like I was in the grip of some weird drugs--I found that my judgment of her was severely amplified because of the close proximity of bowling. I was being driven toward a precipice—The Precipice of Bowling Appreciation—and our future would depend on this moment. Bowling is like peyote—it strips away the illusory and artificial external world and reveals the inner truth. Bowling Reveals. Bowling Never Lies.
At one point I brought up the anomaly of candlepin bowling. I had heard stories of this freakish curiosity from others, but had never verified its existence. The girl from Boston went one further. She said that until she was eighteen or so she had never even heard of “large ball.” Large ball? You mean, normal bowling?
This blew my mind. Was it true or was she just really, really thick? Boston is in Massachusetts and Massachusetts in the United States, definitely. Indeed, it doesn’t even border Canada. So was it possible that someone with an IQ over 100--who was born and raised in the United States--could not know of the existence of normal “large ball” or “bigball” bowling and that someone could think that the bizarre spectacle of duckpin bowling was what bowling actually was?
At first, candlepin bowling appears to be the evolutionary cul-de-sac, the Neanderthal in the spectrum of bowling history. But actually, if you want to talk history, candlepin is probably closer to bowling’s roots, which was skittles, I believe, and which descended from bocci ball or lawn bowling. I have never thrown bocci balls, but a candlepin ball seems roughly the same size and heft. At some point a brilliant dandy had the idea to put ten skinny skittles down at the end of a green (a bowling green, perhaps?). You were to roll the ball down there and knock the skittles down.
That’s right, skittles. Of course gambling and hooliganism immediately prevailed.
So bowling-bowling (which we shall call “largeball” for purposes of clarity) is actually the evolutionary offshoot. Largeball is NuSkool and candlepin is Old School. Candlepin is where it’s at, historically. But boy is it strange.
Candlepin is largeball on acid. All the ingredients are the same but tweaked out in incomprehensible mind-blowing ways.
First, there are the balls, which are small and palmable, just slightly larger than softballs. There are no holes in them and they are all the same size, weight, and color.
Second, there are the pins, which are skinny and tall and basically cylindrical but for a slight potbellied bulge in the middle. The spaces between the pins are vast and intimidating, veritable deserts of nothingness thru which the little ball often vanishes without impact.
Then there is the lane, which seems normal, but has some weird (and provocative) lines on it that demark unheard-of rituals and unspeakable bowling variants. We can only imagine what these are for.
Then there are the rules:
1. You get three chances to knock down the ten pins.
2. The lane isn’t swept until after the third ball, so you can bowl into already-fallen pins to obliterate other pins, something McCracken and I call “The Propeller Effect” or “Propellerhead.”
3. You bowl two frames at a time. That is, one bowler bowls frame one and then frame two, and the other bowler then follows suit.
This makes for some good speed bowling. And because all the balls are the same and there are six or seven there waiting for you at all times, there’s no need to wait for the lane to sweep and reset while your ball rolls back down the tube toward you. You just throw over and over and over. Two frames at a time, no waiting.
Speed bowling. And very fun too, I might add. This is a picture of The Condiment using his trademarked flailing style:
This is a picture of McCracken using a more traditional, more refined technique:
We still never figured out the scoring. On the one or two occasions where we managed to knock down all of the pins in three tries, nothing really happened. We expected some kind of bowling reward, like getting ten points plus the number of pins on the next ball added to the total, something, but there was none of that. Instead of having 58 points, I had 59. And that was that.
I theorize that if you get a strike or a two-ball spare then you might be entitled to extra points, but the third ball is just kind of a bonus ball to clean up the mess with. Like a matador who doesn’t kill the bull on the first try…the third ball is kind of shameful…and definitely not worth congratulation or reward.
But we were never able to knock down all of the pins in two tries, so I guess we will never know.
For those who might be interested, the Condiment prevailed in game one but McCracken held off a late advance in game two to tie the thing. So the 1st Annual Beantown Candepin Am is a push. Inconclusive. Very fun, and highly recommended, but only as a curiosity. Honestly, the anthropological anomaly of candlepin just doesn’t seem receptive to our addiction.
Not like largeball, anyway.
As for the girl from Boston, well, that never really worked out. Now if she had been passionate about candlepin (or a champion or something), then that would have been kind of interesting and admirable, like dating a beautiful girl with a really huge nose or supermodel with a hunchback. I can definitely get behind something like that. But she wasn’t. Candlepin was just something that was around, something kind of stupid for boring Friday nights in Boston.
How dare you call candlepin stupid? I think to myself, now. Strange and unusual, sure, but stupid? Come on, lady, where is your soul? Even the oddest (and worst) bowling variant is better than the best day of nonbowling.