(Roughly) Daily

“One of the advantages bowling has over golf is that you seldom lose a bowling ball”*…

Bowling is easy to shrug off as a mere leisure pursuit—a boozy weekend pastime in which anyone with decent hand-eye coordination can perform well enough. But hardcore bowlers have a very different take on the sport: To them it’s a physics puzzle so elaborate that it can never be mastered, no matter how many thousands of hours they spend pondering the variables that can ruin a ball’s 60-foot journey to the pins. The athletes who obsess over this complexity also understand the debt they owe to Pinel, whose career as a ball designer was just beginning when he attended the Super Hoinke in 1993. Notorious as a bit of a colorful crank, he is also the figure most responsible for transforming how bowlers think about the scientific limits of their sport.

After narrowly surviving two wrecks at a drag strip, Pinel thought it wise to find a safer way to satisfy his yen for competition. So he made the switch to bowling in 1969. He came to view the pastime as a spiritual cousin to drag racing: Both involve a few seconds of precise and rapid travel down a narrow path, and both appeal to those who relish technical conundrums. “A bowling ball is just a gyroscope that’s not on its preferred spin axis, right?” Pinel says when trying to describe his affection for the sport. “So ball motion is one gyroscope operating in the field of a bigger gyroscope, which is the earth.”

Pinel quickly taught himself the game well enough to win small purses at regional tournaments. He soon began to wonder whether he could reach the sport’s next tier by hacking his equipment. His main aim was to tease more flare potential out of a ball—in essence, reconfigure it to create a sharper hooking motion. That hook is essential because of how the sport’s pins are arrayed. There is an inches-wide “pocket” on either side of the front pin that all bowlers aim to hit at the optimum entry angle; if they manage to do so, they have a 95 percent chance of scoring a strike.

When Pinel looked into the discourse around ball performance, he found that most everyone believed that all that mattered was the quality of coverstock—that is, the exterior layer of a ball that is visible to the naked eye. Coverstocks are studded with microscopic spikes, the roughness of which is measured by the average distance from each spike’s peak to valley—a metric known as Ra. The higher a ball’s Ra, the more friction it can create with the lane and thus the greater the potential that it will hook well under the right circumstances. The hardness of the material that underlies the spikes is also an important factor. In the early 1970s, several pros had enjoyed great success by soaking their balls in methyl ethyl ketone, a flammable solvent that softened the coverstocks. (The balls became so gelatinous, in fact, that a bowler could indent the surface with a fingernail.) These softer balls gripped the lane much better than their harder counterparts, and so they tended not to skid unpredictably when encountering patches of oil used to dress the wooden boards. The use of methyl ethyl ketone had increased scores so much that rules were put in place mandating a degree of coverstock hardness as measured by a device known as a Shore durometer.

Pinel thought that too much attention was being paid to coverstocks and not nearly enough to what was inside the ball. The hearts of bowling balls, he discovered, were virtually all the same. Each had a round and centered core topped by a pancake-shaped weight block. Based on his experiences with drag racing, a sport in which the engine is every bit as important as the tires, Pinel figured he could change a ball’s dynamics by tweaking its internal structure…

And so he did. “One Man’s Amazing Journey to the Center of the Bowling Ball“: how Mo Pinel harnessed the power of physics to reshape the core of the ball– and the game of bowling itself. From Brendan Koerner (@brendankoerner)

Don Carter


As we roll true, we might send relaxing birthday greetings to  Edwin J. Shoemaker; he was born on this date in 1907.  In 1928, he and his cousin Edward M. Knabusch prototyped a porch chair out of some wooden slats taken from orange crates; it would automatically recline as a sitter leaned back.  Since it was a seasonal item, his sales improved when he added plush upholstery for year-round indoor use.  Still, his chairs were for the most part locally/regionally sold.  So he designed a manufacturing facility which utilized the mass-production methods of Detroit’s automotive industry– and in November of 1941 went national with the La-Z-Boy recliner.

 Edwin (left) and Edward with their original creation


Written by (Roughly) Daily

June 2, 2021 at 1:01 am

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