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 ten-pin bowling, in which the objective is to bulldoze 10 pins in pursuit of a perfect 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 found five notable alleys where you can try them out.
Known to most Americans simply as “bowling,” ten-pin is the most ubiquitous style of the game. To play this old standby, just roll a heavy ball down the 60-foot lane and hope it crashes into the 10 penguin-shaped pins, each of which measures 15 inches tall and 4.7 inches wide.
You Should Play It If: You need to bowl and you need to bowl right now. In 2012, Businessweek estimated that there were 4,061 ten-pin bowling alleys across the US, and more have surely sprung up since.
Best Place to Play It: Brooklyn Bowl, Williamsburg, New York. The nation’s only 100% wind-powered alley boasts 16 lanes, beer from next door’s Brooklyn Brewery, and live shows from the likes of Kanye West in the city where modern ten-pin was invented.
Nine-pin bowling (also known as kegeln) doesn’t differ greatly from ten-pin. Sure, there’s one less pin and the slightly smaller balls don’t contain finger holes, but otherwise the same rules generally apply. Nine-pin was actually the most popular style of bowling in the US until the early 20th century, when authorities linked it to organized crime and thus made it illegal. Kegeln remains popular in Europe and enjoys a cult-like following in Central Texas, thanks to the large German population that settled there.
You Should Play It If: You can’t split to save your life. The pins are connected by one continuous string, making it a whole lot easier to knock down two that aren’t next to each other.
Best Place to Play It: Bulverde Bowling Club, Bulverde, Texas. This club emphasizes the camaraderie that nine-pin players feel the game inherently promotes. Friends and families are always welcome, and inner-club trophy bowling competitions are held twice yearly.
Everything’s a little different in Canada, and bowling is no exception. In this variation, five 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 ten-pin.
You Should Play It If: You’re in Canada.
Best Place to Play It: Shamrock Bowl, Toronto, Ontario. Opened in 1952, this alley is proud to be the oldest five-pin establishment in the city where five-pin was invented.
Candlepin was invented in Massachusetts in 1880, and it’s still extremely popular throughout New England. The balls are small (about 4.5 inches 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.
You Should Play It If: You’re tired of gloating. The highest recorded candlepin score in a single game was 245 out of 300.
Best Place to Play It: South Boston Candlepin, Boston, Massachusetts. This old-school alley flaunts nostalgic touches such as manual scoring, rickety wooden ball returns, and (best of all) cheap beer.
The middle child between ten-pin and candlepin, duckpin maintains ten-pin’s pin shape and basic rules while adopting candlepin’s lighter 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.
You Should Play 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.
Best Place to Play It: Action Duckpin Bowl inside Fountain Square Brewing Co., Indianapolis, Indiana. This midcentury-style alley achieves a retro atmosphere with ‘50s-esque jukeboxes and a soda jerk at the snack bar.