Sunday, July 26, 2009

Duck Pins

I always thought duckpin bowling was an old New England thing, found more frequently in Massachusetts. We had both candlepin and duckpin in my town, but only one of the latter, in a dingey basement downtown where our mothers wouldn't let us go. Because who knew what might happen to you there, they said, leaving us to use our imaginations what horror that might be. I always figured she meant some creep would rub our shoulders and ask us to look at some pictures in the back, but she may have just meant we'd catch some disease.

Guys liked candlepin because you could get higher scores, occasionally breaking 100 even as a kid; the longer pins would fly into the others and knock down a few extras. I heard of people breaking 100 in duckpin, or more likely, read of those scores on the bulletin boards and plaques at the alleys, but I don't think I ever saw anyone do it. They played about equal amounts of candlepin and duckpin in MA. I suppose it was a town-by-town thing, but duckpin was generally the older, downtown places. In Maine I once played a kind of duckpin that had thick bands around the fattest part, and those fell down a little easier. But even more than candlepin, you had to really whale that sucker down the alley at high speed. Those cute scenes with the tenpin balls, where a little kid rolls a ball slowly down the lane and lucks into a strike, the pins falling into each other one-by-one? That seldom happens in candlepin, and never in duckpin. A frustrating game.

I wondered, for no particular reason, whether duckpin bowling still existed. Isn't wikipedia great? How did we ever answer such questions before? It is still played in MD, and at a few spots in MA, including in Billerica. Which figures, if you know Billerica. Maryland claims to have had the game first, but apparently earlier Massachusetts references have been found back to 1893. And - that type of duckpin with the rubber bands is still played in Quebec. So I wasn't imagining that.

Yep. That was about how interesting it was in real life, too. The pinsetter and ball-return mechanisms were about as interesting as the game itself. If you were with your friends, it was a nice social game. If you went with day camp and got stuck with jerks by random assignment, it could be pretty deadly.


Dubbahdee said...

I believe Duckpins is also played in Windsor Ontario, just across the river from Detroit. I remember telling people in Detroit, where I lived in the early 90's, about candlepins, and they would tell me about another weird bowling game they knew about in Windsor. It was basically explained away as something that Canadians play, so go figure. Those people think curling is a sport.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

My parents used to be curlers, at the Wellesley-Weston CC. Very toney sport in the suburban Boston area.

Michael said...

Having grown up in MA, I managed to bowl 10 pin, candlepin and duckpin. There was an alley just over the line from Lowell in Tewksbury. It was called the Wamiset alley. I guess that part of Tewksbury was once know as Wamiset. It was right next to the Wamiset drive-in. My school mates and I spent many a Saturday afternoon there, 25 cents a string when I first went, I think it crept up to 1 dollar a string by the time I got to high school. It was pretty cheap entertainment. An added bonus was that the first McDonalds I ever knew of was about a half mile away and we would stop for our fifteen cent burger after bowling. Alas, The Mcdonalds is still there, the drive in and bowling alley are both gone.

akafred said...

For a few years in the late 50's my family lived in the small town of Lexington, VA. My father would take me to a bowling alley on the second floor of a downtown building. I don't think it was candlepins or duckpins - but the pin-setter was a scruffy college kid who set the pins back in place and then put your ball on the groved return lane. Pretty energy efficient - maybe they were green before their time!

Ben Wyman said...

"If you went with day camp and got stuck with jerks by random assignment, it could be pretty deadly."

Isn't the case with bowling in general? Bowling is a social game, even for people determined to get high scores. Any game where you consume large amounts of alcohol while playing it can't really be taken seriously.

As for me, when I went to college I was surprised to discover that there was a whole other version of bowling that people played that wasn't candlepin, and I didn't have a clue how to play it. It had never occurred to me that the bowling I grew up with wasn't the sort of bowling most people played.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Sorry to have neglected your education on that score. Here's a bit of trivia: My friend Big Mal is still in the record books as having bowled the 5th-highest first game of tenpins in history. He was a very good candlepin bowler, had tremendous hand-eye coordination, and was 6'7" so it wasn't very surprising.

John Malyerck, page 14.