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.
A long-term member of the 12MC community and I were discussing dream jobs lately, ones that combined our slightly obsessive-compulsive list-making tendencies with our respective divergent interests. Mine focused on geographic and historical oddities of multiple flavors tied together with a healthy string of County Counting progressions. The trick, as we thought about it, was to find a way for someone else to finance our peculiarities and allow us to pursue our hobbies professionally. I couldn’t find a feasible solution for my personal situation at the time although I have one now. I simply needed to add my fondness for trashy television to the mix.
Right, it would have to be a pseudo-reality show where I’d travel the countryside in a customized RV, pursing all 3,142 counties and county-equivalents, stopping at geo-oddities while providing historical context, and meeting interesting characters along the way. I’m thinking it would be targeted at the History Channel or its ilk. It might be an amalgamation of How the States Got their Shapes combined with American Pickers and maybe Only in America with Larry the Cable Guy.
I’d need a clever title. "County Counter" might be sufficient. It’s short. It’s descriptive. I think it needs a pun though, and maybe even a double entendre with a salacious second meaning that arouses curiosity and builds an initial audience. Suggestions are welcome.
I’d also need a logline. "Traveling through hidden corridors in pursuit of the real American; one man’s quest to explore the story behind every U.S. county." That’s not catchy enough. I need to find a better hook.
Then I’d need to film a pilot episode. Actually, that already began. I wrote this article in advance and set it to post on Thursday evening thanks to the magic of WordPress software. I’m already on the road heading towards the Riverboat Marathon Series. I’m not a runner, just a driver delivering a runner from site-to-site. Last year I drove between sites at the Dust Bowl Marathon Series and had a wonderful set of adventures (beginning here). One participant even self-published a book about the races. I made a minor appearance as a character known as "Beer Geek." Imagine that.
This is the basic route for the Riverboat Series. Well, not Graceland. I threw that one onto the end for my own enjoyment.
I appreciated the ideas and suggestions provided by the 12MC audience and some of those will happen during the trip. I’ve done a lot of research and believe everyone will be pleased with the itinerary and the geo-oddity surprises that are likely to unfold in these pages over the next several days. Readers who are anxious to learn the plotline and maybe a few spoilers in near real-time should follow the 12MC Twitter Page (you don’t have to subscribe to Twitter; you can check that link manually). Tweets may have already begun. I guess. I can’t be certain because I wrote this days ago. Certainly I would have tweeted something by now.
I’m not fooling anyone and I don’t plan to quit my day job. My wife has stated on multiple occasions that if I want to travel full-time by RV and become a professional County Counter that it would have to be done with my NEXT wife. Point taken. For the sake of family harmony I hereby release my idea for a television pitch to the public domain. If one of you actually makes it happen, all I request in return is a nice brewpub dinner. Oh, and mention 12MC in the credits. And maybe a guest appearance.
The Twelve Mile Circle now has Twitter presence. I began a soft launch with 12MC’s Google+ followers two weeks ago so I could work out the details. I’m now able to post a variety of ways including by mobile phone, and I’ve successfully posted a photo from that source as well. I’m ready to take the next step and open this account to the general public. I do want to take a moment to recognize my Google+ circle — yes, I have a Twelve Mile Circle circle — for bearing with me while I worked out all of the peculiarities on my end. Thank you all for helping me with the launch.
There’s a whole story behind that account name. Obviously lots of names were unavailable because I came to the party so late. This included the existence of a musical group called Twelve Mile Circle. I first floated the Twitter idea about a year ago and loyal reader Greg posted a prescient comment: "It looks like twitter.com/TheReal12MC is available." There you go Greg, you get full credit for naming the 12MC Twitter site.
WordPress software allows an author to select the date and time and article will post to the Internet. I wrote this article on Thursday evening. Right now — if you’re reading this article the day it posts — it’s Sunday. I am on the road somewhere within the vicinity of Dust Bowl on my way to Dalhart, Texas. I have embarked upon the Dust Bowl trip that I’ve been talking about since August.
Why does that matter? Other than it’s totally cool and I’ve been planning it for months? Because I wanted to time the Twitter rollout with the trip so I could live tweet from the road. Expect a steady stream of random observations and blurry photographs all week long (March 18-22, 2013). Follow along while I provide commentary from a different state for five straight days. That’s your incentive to head over to Twitter right away and start following TheReal12MC. I’m probably already tweeting.
Let me shift topics just a little to comment on Google Reader. I think many of us were taken by surprise when Google announced their plan to shut down Reader on July 1, 2013. This situation has not been resolved as of the time I write this (on Thursday). It’s possible that Google may have had a change of heart when this posts on Sunday, or a better RSS reader alternative may have emerged. A huge number of 12MC readers follow this site on Google Reader. I use it myself to keep track of dozens of geo-geek sites so I face the same dilemma. I can say with certainty that the Twelve Mile Circle will continue to publish an RSS feed as long as people are able to read it, regardless of whether Google Reader exists or not.
I will also try to figure out other simple, reliable, convenient ways to share content with you. I guess I’m fortunate with the coincidental timing of my Twitter rollout because that’s one avenue the Intertubes are suggesting. G+ may figure into this too. Maybe Reddit would be another path. I will also explore whether I can set up an email subscription option. Your ideas and suggestions for sharing 12MC content in a world without Google Reader would be much appreciated.