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Alley Chat Pinsetter
| Bowling

Behind The Pins: How Do Pinsetters Work?

Picture a perfect day at your local Zone Bowling: you’ve got your game face on, your moves are smooth, and the strikes are flowing, each straight and hook sending pins scattering into the black abyss. But ever wondered what goes on in the background while you’re doing your special tenpin bowling victory dance? Who is working their magic behind the scenes to get your pins back in position and return your bowling ball to your fingertips in a matter of seconds, ready for the next throw?

As it turns out, it’s not a ‘who’ but a ‘what’ tirelessly toiling in the background to pick up pins and return that ball to sender – this is how pinsetters keep the game of tenpin bowling on track.

Back in the day

Like the idea of little bowling elves sweeping up pins and polishing balls? Well, before modern day pinsetting technology came along, ‘pinsetters’ referred to ‘real’ boys or young men who did the work manually! (Nope, Pinocchio never worked as a pinsetter…)

These so-called pin boys had to reset bowling pins to their correct position, clear fallen pins and return bowling balls to players – and they had to do it really, really fast, especially if a bowler got impatient! The work wasn’t without risk: pin boys had to lurk in the dark pit at the end of a bowling lane and dodge flying bowling pins – and back then, some of those bowling pins were made from solid, heavy wood. Sometimes, they also had to dodge bowling balls thrown at them ‘just for fun’ while they were pinsetting, because there’s always that one clown on the lanes… It was exhausting work, too: one pin boy who managed four lanes of 20 bowlers averaging 150 a game estimates that he often set up to 18,000 pins a ! Retro tenpin bowling: danger, adrenaline, and cardio in one speedy package.

Luckily for pin boys and safe work conditions in bowling alleys everywhere, the first mechanical pinsetter was invented by Gottfried (Fred) Schmidt, who sold the patent in 1941, laying the foundations for modern bowling.

How do pinsetters work?

Mechanical pinsetters are activated by a bunch of sensors that detect your ball as it approaches the pins. As soon as the bowling ball knocks down the pins, the sweep bar comes down and acts as a protective barrier in front of the pins while the pin table is lowered onto the remaining pins.

The pin table records how many pins are still standing and relays that information to a computer for scoring. It then picks up the pins remaining, and the sweep clears away the ‘deadwood’ – the pins that have been knocked over. The standing pins are then lowered again and settled in place, ready for your second throw.

Dude, where’s my ball?

After your bowling ball and the deadwood fall into the ball pit, they are both transported along a conveyor belt. A sensor that is only activated by the weight of a bowling ball then opens the ‘ball door’ for the ball alone, sending it back to you along another belt under the lane, ready for your next strike. The fallen pins are transported to a pin storage system, which stores them above and/or behind the pin table, ready to be used as the next full rack of pins.

Nowadays, pinsetters are highly sophisticated and reliable machines that save time and effort, allowing bowlers to focus on their game. Despite their efficiency, pinsetters require regular maintenance and calibration to ensure they are working as they should. Bowling alleys employ skilled technicians to keep their pinsetters in top condition, performing routine checks and repairs as needed. So next time you’re at ZONE BOWLING, take a moment to appreciate the hard work of these unsung heroes behind the scenes.

See these pinsetters in action for yourself at your nearest Zone Bowling!

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