Twelve Mile Circle goes back into its vault every once in awhile to offer little addenda to earlier articles. Sometimes it involves a flash of brilliance that I wish had come to mind during the creation of the original. Other times something new comes to light that didn’t exist beforehand. Still in others instances, it relates to trivial items that nobody cares about except for me. Guess which category prevailed today. Please feel free to indulge my personal whims or go ahead and skip to the next article that will appear in a few days. I won’t feel bad either way.
Duckpin Pale Ale and Double Duckpin IPA
I mentioned an unusual variation of bowling found in the Mid-Atlantic and New England states not long ago called Duckpins. I said that it always seemed to be a "Baltimore" thing to me. Now I have more proof.
Look what I found sitting in my refrigerator when I came home from work a couple of days ago. Not one, but two beers with a duckpins theme. I guess my wife must have fixated on it after our recent journey to the duckpins lanes in Maryland. She explained that she got into a conversation with a brewery representative stocking the shelves at our local bottle shop, as she often does. He recommended Duckpin Pale Ale and Double Duckpin Double IPA, both made by Union Craft Brewing in Baltimore (map). I loved all of the duckpins that decorated the bottles, especially the Double.
The brewery certainly enjoyed this local connection, saying things like "the pins may be small but the flavor is huge" and "danker than a rental shoe and rolling with ten frames of juicy, resinous hops down a solid lane of malted barley and wheat." I couldn’t help feeling maybe they missed a marketing opportunity. Wouldn’t it be great to purchase bottles shaped like duckpins? Then I considered that nobody would collect and place them on a shelf like I would. Drinking and glass bowling pins might not be an ideal combination.
One time 12MC focused a series of pages on various natural forces including gravitation. I had my own experience with gravity yesterday. Seriously though, why would my wife sign me up for a 4-mile (6.4 km) running race with that awful hill in the elevation chart shown above (map)? Sure, running downhill would be great. However the uphill return began to haunt me in the days leading up to the event. Just to make things even more special, winter decided to return this weekend with a race-time temperature of 26° Fahrenheit (-3.3°C) and sustained winds of 14 miles per hour (23 k/hr). Guess which way the wind blew. Directly down the hill and into the faces of people climbing back up to the finish line.
A Guinness at 10:00 a.m.? Sure. May I have another?
I didn’t have much of a plan although it went beyond my usual "Run Like Hell" strategy that wasn’t really a strategy. I did use Run Like Hell on the way down, then switched to "Catch Your Breath" on mile 3 because I knew I would have to revert to "Suck it Up" for the final mile. I wanted to break 30 minutes and I did manage to accomplish that, just barely, at 29:42 (a 7:26 min/mile pace).
That was good enough for first place in my age category although I didn’t have a lot of additional competitors in my bracket. We live in a very young area so it was me and a bunch of 20-somethings. Plus the really good runners skipped this little neighborhood jog for a large marathon taking place at the same time across the river in nearby Washington, DC. At least I scored a legitimate victory this time. My wife signed me up for the local Turkey Trot last Thanksgiving and I "won" my age category… because she accidentally signed me up as a woman.
The course actually involved a bit of geographic trivia. This hill — part of the Arlington Ridge — marked a transition between two of Virginia’s physiographic regions, the Coastal Plain and the Piedmont. That little nugget didn’t propel me uphill any faster although the free pint of Guinness waiting at the end did serve as decent motivation. After all, the race started and ended at a local Irish pub.
I explained my fear of the hill to a coworker a couple of days before the race. Nervous? Me? Really, it turned out to be a lot easier than the tricks it played on my mine beforehand. Don’t get me wrong — it was still dreadful — although I got through it mostly unscathed. He said it reminded him of a hill during his army training days. The soldiers wore heavy packs while they ran so that put things back into perspective for me. He couldn’t remember the nickname they gave the hill although it probably involved cursing. We decided a fine fictitious name would be something with a little play on words, like Damn it to Hill. That reminded me of the amusing Damfino Street in San Antonio, Texas.
Could there actually be a hill with that name, perhaps shortened to something like Damita Hill? Well no, and I checked the Geographic Names Information System carefully. The closest I got was The Dam Hill in Essex County, New York (map) and Dam Hill in Wyoming County, Pennsylvania (map). I similarly found Pull and Be Damned Point in Skagit County, Washington (map) and Give-A-Damn Canyon in Lincoln County, New Mexico (map).
I’m planning for three, maybe four road trips of significant length coming up over the next several months. All of them will involve significant County Counting components. While I’ve put a big dent into my quest to visit every county in the United States, the total still represents considerably less than half of those available. I’ve been pondering several strategies as I’ve examined places that will require significant effort. That led me to stare at a lot of county maps lately, examining them from a variety of perspectives. I don’t think I found anything earth shattering although I tucked a few observations away for future reference.
Georgia continued to confound me. How will I ever finish a state with so many tiny counties crammed within its borders? For sure, I will see every crevice and corner of Georgia by the time I finish. I examined a bunch of other states with tiny counties and I began to wonder which one had the smallest average county size. Being the precise person that I am, of course I created a spreadsheet to calculate and rank them. The smallest average county size belonged to… Rhode Island averaging 207 square miles per county (feel free to convert to square kilometres if you prefer). That hardly seemed a challenge though. Rhode Island only had 5 counties. Plus, I’ve already visited every one of them.
Second place, with an average county size of 297 square miles, went to Virginia. I’ve already finished that one too. That was a difficult feat — and I live there! However Virginia came up near the top only because it had those 38 insanely small Independent Cities. Take away those and Virginia would fall to #8 on the list. Next came Kentucky and New Jersey, and only then Georgia, followed by Tennessee. Every state in that grouping featured an average county square mileage somewhere in the 300’s. All of them will be difficult to finish except for New Jersey which had only 21 counties. Georgia had 159! Texas fell way down on the list with an average county size of 1,028 square miles. Even so it will be frustratingly difficult because of its immense size combined with a jaw-dropping 254 counties.
I figured larger western states with fewer counties would be an easier accomplishment. That might be true in general. However, Alaska might be the exception. If one considered its boroughs and each of the individual Census Areas of the Unorganized Borough (all considered "county equivalents" for these purposes) they would hit an average size of 19,677 square miles. Yet it would be difficult, time-consuming and expensive to visit them all. It would probably involve chartering private airplanes.
Population (2016 estimates)
Mount Rushmore, South Dakota. My Own Photo.
I didn’t stop there however, maybe because I was on a roll, although my next tangent had nothing to do with County Counting. The spreadsheet was already set up so it was pretty easy to add another column and replicate the study with populations. Just because. Why not?
South Dakota featured the fewest people per county on average, with only 13,113 residents each. North Dakota and Montana followed next in line, each with an average of fewer than 20,000 people per county. Alaska served as an interesting anomaly once again. I figured it would be lower on the list than #6. However it had a fairly sizable population even though nearly everyone lived in only two boroughs, Anchorage and adjoining Matanuska-Susitna. That skewed things. Rankings probably would have changed if I’d bothered to examine median rather than average. That would have entailed effort and I’m lazy so we’ll never know.
California fell at the complete opposite end of the spectrum. There, the average county population hit an astounding 676,724 residents. The average California county had a larger population than the entire states of Wyoming or Vermont! Crazy.
I found another oddity. Two very different states had nearly the same population and number of counties: Arizona and Massachusetts. That happened despite Arizona being nearly 15 times larger than Massachusetts. It served as a wonderful demonstration of larger western states with larger county sizes in contrast to smaller eastern states with smaller counties.
What if the District of Columbia ever became a state? DC would be composed of a single county of 61 square miles, and a population of 681,170 residents. That would make DC the state with the smallest average county size, by far. It would also be the state with the largest average county population. County counting would be really, really easy there too.
I travel into the District of Columbia nearly every day so I think I have that one covered.
An interesting conversation took place on Twitter recently between two regular Twelve Mile Circle readers, @CTMQ and @oxwof. They linked me in at the tail-end of their friendly discussion about two unusual and quite rare variations of Ten-pin bowling: Duckpins and Candlepins. They’d answered most of their questions by the time I arrived on the scene. I still had something to add about Duckpin bowling although it took me a few days to get back to them.
I had a vague recollection of playing Duckpins at a friend’s birthday party somewhere in the hazy past. I couldn’t have been more than seven or eight years old. Maybe I dreamed it. I’m not sure. It always seemed to be a "Maryland Thing." We Virginia folks didn’t like to cross the river into Maryland much except maybe to watch the Orioles play baseball a couple times a summer. I knew Duckpins existed although it always seemed so mysterious.
Duckpin bowling concentrated in the northeastern United States, in places like Maryland of course, and also in Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island. A few lanes existed as outliers here-and-there in other places as well. Nobody knew how Duckpins began with any degree of certainty. Some sources pegged Massachusetts as its birthplace, and others said Maryland, happening somewhere around 1900. Either way it retained a nostalgic popularity in its tiny enclaves. The sport even supported a governing body, the National Duckpin Bowling Congress.
I’m on the Case
I needed to try Duckpin bowling for myself. Most of the Maryland lanes clustered near Baltimore although a few straggled towards the District of Columbia border. One alley nearly penetrated the Beltway, only about a half-hour drive from my home. That fortunate placement convinced me to drag my wife and my younger son up to Silver Spring, Maryland (map) on a fine Saturday morning, to the White Oak Bowling Lanes. My older son decided he’d rather stay at home and sleep until noon like any other Saturday. His loss.
White Oak Lanes described itself as,
… Virtually Unchanged Since It Opened Way Back in 1959. There Are Still No Computers, All Scores Are Kept By Hand. If You Came Here As A Kid And Return As An Adult, It Will Feel Like You Never Left.
Check out the equipment! I think they were entirely serious about the 1959 reference. Nothing seemed to have been swapped-out or replaced in the last half-century. It made sense the more I thought about it. There couldn’t possibly be much of a market for new Duckpin bowling alley equipment anymore. They probably needed to improvise their own parts just to keep those ancient machines running. I noticed that they used an old doorbell ringer as a reset button. That was another interesting feature; nothing on these lanes happened automatically except for the ball return. Players had to get fresh pins after each frame by pressing the reset button. A little marker farther down to the left (along the rail by the balls) said "Deadwood." That cleared away any knocked-over pins remaining on the lane during a player’s turn. Players got up to three balls for each turn — not two — so the deadwood button got some use.
Giving it a Try
Then I rolled my first Duckpin ball in decades. The lane seemed normal. The balls, however, differed greatly from anything I’d ever experienced in Ten-pin bowling. They fit into the palm of my hand and they didn’t have any finger holes. Also they weighed a lot less, generally between 3 pounds 6 ounces (1.5 kg) to 3 pounds 12 ounces (1.7 kg). My son liked them a lot. He found them much easier to control. Actually we saw a lot of younger kids there, perhaps for the same reason. Duckpin bowling seemed well suited to their little arms and hands.
Those Tiny Pins
I didn’t have my good camera with me so I took photos with my outdated mobile phone with a lousy zoom. Nonetheless I think the photo gave an appreciation of the pin size. They were a lot smaller and more squat than traditional Ten-pin. Combining small balls with small pins created a devilishly difficult game. I threw a number of balls that would have been easy strikes or spares in Ten-pin that barely knocked anything over. Here, I could throw a ball directly into the middle of the pins and sometimes knock down only one or two of them. Duckpin balls carried significantly less force than Ten-pin balls and the pins didn’t bounce as much. It required much greater precision. That’s why players got three balls per turn, although it didn’t make much of difference for me because I lacked any skills.
Theoretically a player could score 300 points just like in Ten-pin. However, even after more than a century of continuous play, nobody has ever officially bowled a perfect Duckpin game. The highest score ever recorded remained at 279.
The duckpins.com website described an even more rare version called rubber band duckpins found basically only in Québec. A rubber band circled the pin so they bounced more, creating higher scores. I don’t think even that would have helped me.
Well, I lost, and I got robbed in the final frame of the second game too. I threw the ball perfectly and it knocked down only a single pin on my final try. Not that I’m bitter.
Keeping score was a little different because of the three balls per turn. Strikes and spares were recorded exactly like Ten-pin. Knocking down all remaining pins on the third turn just counted as ten though, with no bonus. It wasn’t like we had to worry about a lot of strikes and spares.
We’ll probably try it again someday. Actually now I want to try Candlepin bowling. It seems to overlap with Duckpins in parts of Massachusetts and Connecticut. I wondered if there was a place in New England were someone could find Candlepin, Duckpin and Ten-pin bowling all in the same town! That might be my quest the next time I go up there.