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Candlepin History
By Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Candlepin bowling is a variation of bowling that is played primarily in several New England states, and in the Canadian Maritime provinces of New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Nova Scotia.

History and Differences

It was developed in 1880 in Worcester, Massachusetts by a local bowling centre owner, Justin White, some years before either the standardization of the tenpin sport in 1895, and the invention of duckpin bowling. As in other forms of bowling, the players roll balls down a wooden pathway (lane) to knock down as many pins as possible. The main differences between candlepin bowling and the predominant ten-pin bowling style are that each player uses three balls per frame (see below), the balls are much smaller (4.5" diameter) and do not have holes, the downed pins (known as 'wood') are not cleared away between balls during a player's turn, and the pins are thinner, and thus harder to knock down. Because of these differences, scoring points is considerably more difficult than in ten-pin bowling, and the highest officially sanctioned score ever recorded is 245 out of a possible 300 points[1].

Game play

Candlepin Bowling pins are specified as 15 3/4 inches (400 mm) in height, have identical ends, and are almost 3 inches (76 mm) in diameter at the center.

Each lane consists of an approach area 14'-16' long for the player to bowl from, and then the lane proper, a maple surface approximately 41" wide, bounded on either side by a "channel", or trough. The lane is separated from approach area by a foul line, which must not be crossed by players. At the far end of the lane, about 60' away, are the pins (60' from the foul line to the center of the headpin or pin #1), placed by a machine called a pinsetter which occupies space both above and behind the pins. Behind the pins is a slightly depressed area for pins and balls to fall into, and a curtain behind this to gently stop the pins and balls from going any further. Generally there is seating behind the approach area for teammates and spectators, and containing a small table to hold scorepads.

Unlike in ten-pin bowling, downed pins are not cleared away between balls during a player's turn.

Candlepin pins are 15.75" (400 mm) tall, have a cylindrical shape which tapers equally towards each end (and therefore having no distinct "top" or "bottom" end, unlike a tenpin), giving them an overall appearance somewhat like that of a candle. The ten candlepins are automatically set by machine into a triangle with 4 pins in the back row, then 3, 2, and finally 1 in the front, at the center of the lane. The front and center pin is number 1, the second row left is pin 2, second row right is pin 3, and so on. As in ten-pin bowling, due to the spacing of the pins (12" center to center), it is impossible for the ball to strike every one. However, while in ten-pin a well-placed ball (usually between the front pin and one of its nearest neighbors) may knock down all ten pins from the chain reaction of pin hitting pin (a strike), in candlepin the smaller thickness of the pins makes throwing a strike extremely difficult. In general, a forcefully thrown ball hitting near the center of the pins will result in many pins being knocked down, but not all. In order to count, the pin must be knocked over entirely; in unlucky circumstances, a pin may wobble furiously, or, even more frustratingly, be "kicked" to the side by several inches, yet come to rest upright, thus not being scored (and not be reset to its original position for any throws that remain, though it may of course still be knocked over by subsequent balls).

Additionally, there is a line 10 feet (3.05 m) down the lane from the foul line; this is the lob line, and the ball must first contact the lane at a point on the bowler's side of it. Violation of this rule constitutes a lob and any pins knocked down by such a ball do not count, and such pins are not reset if the lobbed ball was not the third and last shot for that player in that box.

Also, a third line, centered two feet in front of the head pin (number-1 pin) spot is the dead wood line, which defines the maximum forward limit that any dead wood can occupy and still be legally playable. This lane specification essentially results in the presence of 'three' foul lines, more than in any other bowling sport.

A game of candlepin bowling, often called a string in New England, is divided into ten rounds, each of these rounds being most commonly referred to as a box, rather than a "frame" as in ten-pin bowling. In each normal box, a player is given up to three opportunities to knock down as many pins as possible. In the final box, three balls are rolled regardless of the pincount, meaning three strikes can be scored in the 10th frame.

In each of the first nine boxes, play proceeds as follows: The first player bowls their first ball at the pins. Whatever pins are knocked down are counted and scored. Then the player rolls a second and a third ball at any remaining targets. In the event that all ten pins were knocked down with the first ball (a 'strike'), the player receives ten points plus the count on the next two rolls; the pins are cleared and a new set placed; and play passes to the next competitor. If all ten pins were knocked down with two balls (a 'spare'), they also receive 10 points plus the count on the next ball, pins are cleared and reset, and play passes to the next competitor. If all three balls are needed to knock all the pins down, the score for that frame is simply 10.

In the tenth box, play is similar, except that a player scoring a strike is granted two additional balls, scoring a spare earns one additional ball. Three balls are rolled in the tenth frame regardless.[2]


A foul (scored by "F") refers to a ball that rolls into the channel and then strikes wood (felled pins resting on the pin deck behind the dead wood line) or a standing pin, a ball that touches neither the approach or lane before the lob line, or a roll made by a bowler crossing over the foot foul line. Special scoring comes into play.

A foul always scores zero (0), but you may reset the pins provided it is the first throw in a box or all the preceding balls scored a "F" or 0. Therefore, if on the first ball there is a foul or zero--it is possible to keep the ball on the lane yet miss all ten pins standing in their normal position--and on a second ball foul, the pins may be reset, attempting to knock down a fresh set of 10 pins, but not score a strike or a spare. A foul in the first box but with knocking down all ten pins in the rerack, it is a spare, otherwise a third ball is thrown to finish out the box. Fouling all three attempts scores a zero.

Knocking down at least one pin on the first ball, the rack can not be reset because of a foul. Those pins felled by a foul ball (a ball jumping out of the channel, a lobbed ball, a ball delivered by a bowler over the foot foul line)--whether standing, playable wood, or pins in the channel--remain down and reduce the maximum number of pins to be counted for the box. Therefore, with six pins remaining standing with a foul on the next ball, managing to knock down the remaining six with the foul ball, the frame is over, scoring a 4 for that frame. Knocking down some of the remaining pins means a third ball is rolled I may shoot for the pins left standing and only add that total to the four (4) I felled in the first ball (ex. thus, unadjusted score: 4 4 2 = "X", but true score: 4 F 2 = 6). The same holds true for rolling two good balls and fouling in the third attempt. My frame is over and only the pins felled in the first two attempts are recorded for my score for that box.[3]

While some candlepin alleys have automated scoring systems, and thus know when to clear and reset pins, other alleys, especially older ones have a button which players must press to manually initiate the clearing and resetting of pins. Automatic pinsetters were introduced in the late 1940s; prior to this, as with ten-pin, pins were set by workers called "pinboys".

In league play, a bowler will bowl five boxes at a time, called a half.


One point is scored for each pin that is knocked over. So, in a hypothetical game, if player 'A' felled 3 pins with their first ball, then 5 with their second, and 1 with the third, they would receive a total of 9 points for that box. If player 'B' knocks down 9 pins with their first shot, but misses with their second and third, they would also score 9.

In the event that all ten pins are felled by any one player in a single box, by no more than two throws (just as in tenpins) bonuses are awarded for a strike or spare. Two for a strike and one for a spare. If all ten pins are felled by rolling all three balls in a box, the result is a ten-box, usually marked by an X (as in the Roman numeral for ten) but no additional points are awarded. (In ten-pin bowling, a strike is often scored with an "X").

The maximum score in a game is 300 - a perfect game. This is scored by bowling 12 strikes: one in each box, and a strike with both bonus balls in the 10th box. In this way, each box will score 30 points (see above - scoring:strike).

This scoring system is identical to that of duckpins.


When all 10 pins are knocked down with the first ball (called a strike), a player is awarded 10 points, plus a bonus of whatever they score with their next 2 balls. In this way, the points scored for the two balls after the strike are scored twice.


Box 1, ball 1: 10 pins felled(strike)
Box 2, ball 1: 3 pins felled
Box 2, ball 2: 6 pins felled
Box 2, ball 3: 1 pin felled

The total score from these throws is: 10 + (3+6) + 3 + 6 +1= 29

A player who scores multiple strikes in succession would score like so:

Box 1, ball 1: 10 pins felled(strike)
Box 2, ball 1: 10 pins felled(strike)
Box 3, ball 1: 4 pins felled
Box 3, ball 2: 2 pins felled
Box 3, ball 3: 2 pins felled

The score from these throws is:

Box one... 10 + (10 + 4) = 24
Box two... 10 + (4 + 2) = 16
Box three... 4 + 2 +2 = 8

TOTAL = 48


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