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0000017a-15d9-d736-a57f-17ff8cd30001A blog featuring the work and work life of NHPR's interns and fellows.

Candlepin Versus Ten-Pin: A New England Bowler's Dilemma

Professor Bop via flickr Creative Commons

That's right. I'm asking the age old question: candlepin or ten-pin? Outside of New England, this may not be a hot topic. It may not be a topic at all, as the popularity and instance of candlepin is concentrated almost solely in northern New England. To be completely honest, I didn't even know candlepin was a thing until I moved here almost seventeen years ago. (Military brat - hi!). As with sprinkles vs. jimmies, hair elastic vs. ponytail, and roundabout vs. traffic circle, a lot of New England-isms baffled my midwest-originating family. But it was the candlepin vs. ten-pin debate that had a real and lasting impression on me. (I had an uneventful childhood, apparently).

OK - full disclosure. I may have played on a ten-pin league, had an awesome pink bowling shirt with "Princess Bowler" printed on the back, and coveted my own perfect citrus-smelling ball (Really - along with customizing weight and finger holes, a ball can have a customized scent. Neat). Was I any good at ten-pin? Meh. I once spared a 7-10 split by accident, and I've never broken 200. But I had fun at Merrimack Ten Pin.

I'm not exactly a ten-pin purist per se. I have played candlepin plenty of times: sometimes decently, sometimes pretty well, and sometimes I ask myself "Why? Why do I humiliate myself in this way?" As a Merrimack resident, the closest and most popular candlepin bowling is at Leda Lanes on Amherst Street in Nashua. They have glow bowling, and for the less adventurous or more nightblind, regular 'ol bowling. They also have a bar. The appeal is real.

Second full disclosure - I was given the assignment of writing a post about the inexplicable beauty of candlepin bowling specifically. I said, "Yes! Awesome! Bowling! I like bowling!" But I couldn't deny those nagging feelings I have for ten-pin, my first bowling love. So. Here I am. Torn between two... types of bowling. 

Social Media Strikes

I reached out on Facebook to see what people had to say about bowling and if they had a preference. There were some strong opinions:

Candlepin is cray.

Some interesting comparisons:

It seems like Candlepin and Ten Pin is like saying Coke or Pepsi? Yankees or Red Sox? Island or Mainland?

And some valid points in favor of candlepin:

Candlepin for sure, it allows you to be really mad when you roll the ball .

Candlepin was the overwhelming winner. I blame this on being regional, though my friends had some good points about the game. Many commented on the fact that candlepin has a higher element of difficulty. The smaller ball means more emphasis put on speed and accuracy in the first frame. Those in favor of ten-pin made the same argument - that it has a higher level of difficulty, but in this case it's due to the weight and size of the ball. One commenter found a middle ground:

Both types come down to ball control. It doesn't matter how hard, fast, soft or slow you throw the ball; it's how you handle it and place the ball that matters.

In the Candlepin Corner

Credit Timothy Valentine via flickr Creative Commons

Candlepin is admittedly loads of fun. The game includes a small ball you can grip in one hand and whip down the lane at 10 cylindrical pins you aim to knock down. Each frame includes three attempts, different from the two allowed in ten-pin. Direction and spin upon release can be vital to having a good frame. One major difference from ten-pin is deadwood; pins that are knocked down are not cleared until the frame ends. This means you can use deadwood to your advantage, as long as you have an idea of where it will end up when you hit it.

In the Ten-Pin Corner

Credit Tom Parnell via flickr Creative Commons

On the other hand, ten-pin is well, also loads of fun. Balls are bigger, heavier, and skillful players can regularly achieve a perfect score of 300, an incredibly difficult feat for even the best professional candlepin players. There is no deadwood and only 2 frames. But there is nothing like the sound of a ten-pin strike.


Ugh. Don't make me do this. Is it like choosing which child I love more? Not exactly. But it is kind of like saying, "Given two fun things, which is more fun? Choose carefully, because your choice is permanent and lasting and prevents you from ever experiencing that other fun thing ever again ever." Thankfully we live in a world where candlepin and ten-pin can coexist. And for that, I'm glad.

(But mostly for ten-pin)

(Though a rack of ten-pin balls does kind of resemble a chorus of tortured souls)

Credit Bill Harrison via flickr Creative Commons

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