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- $65 for 2-hour bowling with two lanes, shoe rental, pizza and soda for up to 12 people ($140 value)
Automatic Pinsetters: What’s Going on Back There?
When you’re focused on getting a strike, it’s easy to ignore the action at the end of the lane. Read on to learn how automatic pinsetters make that second roll possible.
Though automatic pinsetters were being developed by bowling companies as early as the 1910s, it was an alley owner who provided the push for their mass production. In the 1930s, George Beckerle reportedly complained to inventor and regular bowler Gottfried Schmidt about his pinboys—they just wouldn’t stick around. At the time, pins were almost universally set by human hands, often those of low-paid teenage boys. They perched on a ledge behind the pins, waiting to jump down into the ball pit, slide the ball back to the bowler, and then reset the pins for the next roll. Though the work was dull, pinboys still had to keep an eye on the game and watch out for angry bowlers who might take their frustration out on their shins. Serious injuries were not uncommon.
Just like their human predecessors, automatic pinsetters clear away fallen pins and create a new rack before the start of a frame. They can do this very quickly—the AMF 8800 Gold Edition pinsetter holds the world speed record, with a strike cycle time of 8.5 seconds. At the start of a frame, a sensor located a few feet from the pins detects a roll. After the ball falls into the ball pit, a rectangular sheet of metal called the sweep lowers to guard the pins from illegal rolls and lost shuffleboard players. Next, the pin table, outfitted with 10 holes, lowers on top of the standing pins and grasps them with its tongs. Then, the sweep pulls back, knocking the downed pins into the ball pit just before the pin table replaces the remaining pins.
As the spent pins are pushed toward the pin elevator by a conveyor, the ball veers off through a door, where it will travel under the lane and back up to the bowler. Meanwhile, the pins continue on into the pin elevator, which feeds the pin distributor that lets the pin table emerge with a fresh rack of 10 when the second roll is finished—any lane has a total of 20 pins moving through its guts at all times. Today, pinboys are mostly as extinct as dodos or goblins, but a few bowling alleys still hew to the nostalgic, if somewhat perilous, old system.