Did You Know There Are 5 Types of Bowling?

BY: Groupon Editors |

The sport of bowling dates back thousands of years, with everyone from ancient Egyptians to Roman legionnaires captivated by its more primitive forms. There's something timeless and altogether human, it would seem, about hurling a ball at a row of inert objects.

Today, most Americans play a variation known as 10-pin bowling, in which the objective is to bulldoze 10 pins in pursuit of a perfect score of 300. Plenty of regional variations exist, however, and most are interesting enough to warrant a round or two. We've investigated five common (and not-so-common) types of bowling and explain why you might want to give them a try.

10-Pin Bowling

Known to most Americans simply as "bowling," 10-pin is the most ubiquitous style of the game. While some version of 10-pin has existed in the United States since before the Civil War, the rules of the game as they stand today were officially drafted by the American Bowling Congress in 1895.

The ball: Heavy, typically about 6–16 pounds, with three finger holes

The pins: Though pins may be made of wood or plastic, rules dictate that each one must weigh between 3 pounds, 6 ounces and 3 pounds, 10 ounces, and that each one measures 15" tall and 4.7" wide. The 10 pins are arranged in a triangular formation known as the "frame."

Number of frames in a game: 10

Number of turns each frame: 2 (unless a strike is rolled on the first turn)

You should try it if: You need to bowl and you need to bowl right now. In 2012, Businessweek estimated that there were 4,061 10-pin bowling alleys across the US, and more have surely sprung up since.

9-Pin Bowling

Nine-pin bowling (also known as kegel) is very different from 10-pin, and not just because there's one less pin. For example, 9-pin is a team game, so there are no individual scores. There are six players on a team, and each player takes two turns. Another major difference from 10-pin bowling games is that the pins in 9-pin are not re-set between each player. Instead, the next player simply picks up where the previous player left off until all the pins have been knocked down, at which point the pins are re-set.

Another twist in 9-pin: the pins are set up in a diamond formation instead of a triangle. The pins are white, except for the center pin, which is red and is known as a "12-pin" or "redhead." If a player knocks down every pin in one turn, they are awarded 9 points. However, if they manage to knock down all the pins except the red pin, they are awarded 12 points, as this is a much harder feat.

Nine-pin was actually one of the most popular types of bowling in the US until the early 20th century, when authorities linked it to organized crime and thus made it illegal. Kegel remains popular in Europe and enjoys a cult-like following in central Texas, thanks to the large German population that settled there.

The ball: Similar to a 10-pin ball, complete with finger holes

The pins: As noted, the pins are configured in a diamond shape, with a red pin in the middle. All games of 9-pin are manually set by a human pin-setter.

Number of frames in a game: 6

Number of turns each frame: 2 (even if all pins are knocked down on the first turn)

You should try it if: You're into teamwork! Since the game relies on different players working together to knock down all the pins in a frame, an ideal team consists of players who throw to the right, left, and center.

5-Pin Bowling

Everything's a little different in Canada, and bowling is no exception. In this variation, 5 pins are arranged in a V shape, and each is worth a unique number of points. Players toss a hand-sized ball down the alley, trying to hit the center pin for 5 points and cause a domino effect to clean up 15 total points. It's possible to achieve a perfect 450-point game, but that task is even more difficult than nailing a 300 in 10-pin.

The ball: Five-pin bowling balls are small enough to fit in the hand, so they do not have finger holes.

The pins: Smaller than 10-pins, but larger than duck pins (see below), 5-pins each have a rubber hand around their middle that makes them fly harder when they are hit, thus increasing the likelihood that they'll take down others around them.

Number of frames in a game: 10

Number of turns each frame: 3

You should try it if: You like games of strategy rather than force, since each pin counts for a different number of points—the harder to hit, the higher the points. That or you just happen to be in Canada.

Candlepin Bowling

Candlepin was invented in Massachusetts in 1880, and it's still extremely popular throughout New England. The balls are small (about 4.5" in diameter) and the pins are thin, like candles. Players roll the ball three times per frame as opposed to twice, but don't let this or the setup's cuteness fool you: the candle-like pins are frustratingly hard to tip over.

The ball: Candlepin balls are the smallest bowling balls, weighing in at a maximum of 2 pounds, 7 ounces, and each has a diameter of about 4.5".

The pins: As mentioned, the thin, cylinder-like candlepins are notoriously tough to tackle. And the fallen pins also aren't cleared between frames, adding another layer of difficulty. They are arranged in a triangular shape, just like 10-pins.

Number of frames in a game: 10 (though frames are commonly referred to as "boxes")

Number of turns each frame: 3

You should try it if: You want a challenge. The highest recorded candlepin score in a single game was 245 out of 300.

Duckpin Bowling

The middle child between 10-pin and candlepin, duckpin maintains 10-pin's pin shape and basic rules while adopting candlepin's lighter ball weight and three-ball frames. Since the pins are short and stout, it's easier to get a spare or strike than in candlepin. Even so, the highest sanctioned score is still only 279 out of 300.

The ball: Duckpin bowling balls weigh about 3.75 pounds and do not have finger holes.

The pins: They look like shorter, fatter versions of 10-pins. But they're also lighter, which makes rolling a strike in duckpin harder than it is in 10-pin.

Number of frames in a game: 10

Number of turns each frame: 3

You should try it if: You're a fan of baseball. Orioles Hall-of-Famer Wilbert Robinson claimed to have invented duckpin bowling, and Babe Ruth once called it his favorite sport. It's also a good game for anyone who likes the general rules of 10-pin, but has trouble handling a heavy bowling ball.