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Pool is a timeless game, and as such the design of the table has hardly changed in hundreds of years. Check out Groupon’s dissection of the history hidden in the pockets.
Pool Tables: A Peek Under the Felt
The pool table has occupied an indelible place in American culture for years, serving as a fixture in bars, billiard halls, and even the White House. In 1828, John Quincy Adams placed a pool table in the presidential quarters, leading a Congressman to decry it as "gambling furniture." Morality notwithstanding, the basic structure of the billiards or pool table has remained the same through much of modern history. While the earliest tables used wood for the top surface, or “bed,” most manufacturers since the 1820s have preferred slate—a rock that naturally breaks into flat pieces and resists warping. The modern pool tables most often seen in the United States contain six ”pockets” carved into the bed—one on each of the four corners and one at the midpoint of each longer side—as well as a border of rubber “rails” surrounding the playing surface. Stretched taut over the slate and tucked over the rails, a thin cloth of woven wool—not actually “felt,” as it’s called—has been the fabric of choice since the 1500s. Dimensions may vary—4.5’x9’ is the standard size—but pool tables are always rectangular and twice as long as they are wide in case players need to hop on top for a fencing match to settle any disputes.
One of the most striking variations among pool tables is in how they deal with the balls once they’re pocketed. Whether in a basement rec room or a pool hall, standard tables typically catch the balls in nets or pouches suspended under the pockets, making them easy to recover. In most commercial pool tables, however, each pocket is a trap door, confiscating the balls as they roll down a circuit of chutes inside the table and come to rest behind a sheet of plexiglass—visible yet irretrievable until players pay for the next game. Still, a curious thing happens in the event of a scratch: the cue ball manages to avoid the fate of its numbered brethren, funneling into its own receptacle so that the game can continue. There's nothing mystical about the cue balls' immortality, though. Some tables simply use a cue ball that’s ever-so-slightly larger than the others, allowing it to roll past the initial chute and drop into a larger one. Another method is to place a magnetic device inside the cue ball, which triggers a detector that closes a trap door and diverts the ball to a safer passage.