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“That’s why the spinning ball trick

works,” says Kegel’s Ted Thompson, a liaison for the European Tenpin Bowling Federation and one of the world’s foremost experts on the effects of topography on ball motion. “There is very little friction when the ball is spinning like a top. That allows gravity to do its work. “So when a lane’s depressed —

sloped towards the center of the lane — it’s just going to follow the center of the lane all the way down. It’s only a ‘trick’ because many assume slopes that are not visible to the naked eye will not affect a bowling ball’s path, but our testing has shown these ‘invisible slopes’ can affect the path of the ball significantly.” Even topographical irregularities

that fall within the USBC specification range of 40,000ths-of-an-inch per lane still can impart a consequential effect on ball motion.


“Varipapa definitely used gravity,”

Thompson adds. “The more he threw it to the gutter, the more it would go back toward the center of the lane. The more it was in the center of the lane, the less it moved, which makes sense because the ball is very happy at the bottom of a ditch.”

One of the most startling illustrations

of this in Strikes and Spares occurs when Varipapa kicks a bowling ball toward the right-hand side of the lane. The ball abruptly jumps left, then settles into a more stable, straighter motion toward the pocket. It carries for a strike, by the way. The 6-pin even slaps out the 10. One way to envision a depressed lane is to visualize a skateboarding


TWO SCENARIOS: The red and blue on this graphic of a depressed lane in- dicate slopes toward the center of the lane. The darker the color, the more extreme the slope. A shorter pattern on this lane forces bowlers to play right, on the side-hill, rewarding high- er ball speed and less axis rotation while higher axis rotations will grab early. A longer pattern again rewards higher ball speed, but also higher rev-rates and axis rotations, as those players can help the ball retain energy and maximize pin carry by playing the downhill slope.

competition. The skateboarder glides down one end of the ramp, gaining mo- mentum on the way down the hill that then allows him to journey up the op- posite ramp and dazzle the crowd with a mid-air flip. A depressed lane has the same bowl-shaped character of those ramps any skateboarder dreams of. It also is the kind of shape that

bowlers of a certain style may dream of, albeit one that may more closely resemble a nightmare for bowlers of another style. Varipapa, like those skateboarders,

was having a blast exploiting Newton’s laws of motion. Newton’s law of inertia states that an object will continue down a path at a constant speed and direction unless a force causes its speed or direction to change. Varipapa’s kicked bowling ball found the kind of force Newton knew would change an object’s direction — in this case, depressed heads. Gravity forced the ball “downhill,” causing that abrupt jump to the left. “Think of it as the lane pushing up against the ball,” Thompson says. Much is made of oil depletion — especially “fried heads” on which oil is thought to have depleted rapidly in the front part of the lane — as the reason a right-handed, high-rev player will tend to play deep inside. It is quite possible, however, that gravity, not oil, is the advantage that player is exploiting.

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