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I think I've enjoyed skee-ball for damn near all of my 25 years. And I'll probably enjoy it for 25 more. Maybe it's the simple gameplay. Maybe it's the old-style carnival coolness. Maybe it's the fact that I can win Pac-Man temporary tattoos at the nearest Skee-Ball emporium.

Fun skee-ball Facts:

Skee-Ball is a standard game found in almost any boardwalk arcade or even most general arcades. It is a distant relative of bowling but on an incline. The player is provided with 9 balls. There is a long ramp which slopes up and has a series of holes at the top of the ramp. Each hole has a point designation based on how hard it is to roll the ball up into it. The player would roll the wooden ball up the ramp, over a small hump, and then hopefully into one of the holes designated by a ring around it with the point amount. The game then dispenses tickets in return for the amount of points you scored. The tickets are usually redeemable for prizes and such.

The ramp initially was 36 feet long when it was invented in 1909 by J.D. Estes in Philadelphia, but were shortened to 14 and then 10 feet. The shorter lanes made it possible to fit more games in a single arcade and thus made the activity more accessible and popular. The original lanes were so long that whoever was playing needed to have considerable strength in order to roll the ball hard enough and with enough precision.

In the early 1900s, nearly all penny arcades had a row of machines and a display case of prizes to win. Back in the day, law enforcement considered any game that gave you a prize to be a gambling mechanism. In some places there were restrictions put on the amount of lanes allowed, if the game wasn’t completely banned from the arcade altogether. These laws were eventually let up and the first Skee-Ball tournament took place in Atlantic City, NJ in 1935.

The key is rolling the ball straight up the center of the lane, and not too hard. It is difficult to get the ball into the center hole, but with enough practice and the right rhythm, it is definitely possible. Nowadays there are several different versions of Skee-Ball, such as Mega Skee-Ball (which is much larger) and Skee-Daddle (a miniature version for kids). In the 1990s, lights and more effects were added to the previously no frills game just in time for it to be made popular in Chuck E. Cheese's and other kid-oriented places.

Sources:
www.skee-ball.com
www.yesterdayland.com/popopedia/ shows/arcade/ag1210.php

Most arcade games leave you with an empty feeling--you drop in a few quarters, hammer mindlessly at a button for a while, then wander away with empty pockets and glazed eyes. But Skee-Ball's different: Not only does it require a certain amount of skill, but in many cases it actually pays you something when you win. Sure, most of it's cheap plastic crap, but you can occasionally get something fun, like a little water gun, a yo-yo, or one of those ultra-bouncy rubber balls.

To the average cocky teenage guy, it seems like an easy game, because it only involves flinging some balls at some holes--it's just like baseball or basketball or something, and every guy should be good at that, right? It's easy to think that you're doing well, too, because the "Winner" light starts flashing at about 150 points or so.

Unfortunately, that sort of hubris has felled three generations of males in my family, because Skee-Ball isn't as simple as it looks.


A young couple are strolling along the boardwalk after a long day at the beach. They spent the day swimming and jumping through the waves; he watched in captivation as she popped through wave after wave, tugged at her bathing suit, and tossed her hair back, with her wet skin glistening in the bright hot sun. They had hamburgers from the diner for supper, and they're pleasantly tired but not yet exhausted, so they're spending the last hours of the day wandering between the water and the arcades. A cool breeze blows off the water, and he catchers her scent: she smells like saltwater and sunscreen and sand. He wants to slip down to the dark beach with her, to duck under the boardwalk and kiss her for hours and hours as the waves roar endlessly in the distance. But each time he puts his arm around her, she stiffens a little, then turns her head, pulls away, and heads off to the ring toss or the dart throw.

He knows the problem. There's a hoop somewhere, and he needs to jump through it. If it were a standard-issue circus hoop--one that's ten feet off the ground, surrounded by tigers, and blazing with two-foot flames--that'd be easy; he'd go hurtling through it posthaste. But this one's a bit more difficult, because he doesn't know where it is or what it looks like or what it'll take to get to the other side. It's the last hoop (or so he thinks--you can never be sure with women) and if he can make it through...some sort of heaven awaits. He's not quite sure what kind of heaven, but he knows he wants it more than anything else.

But he's not sure how to do it, and so they wander on without any particular destination. She's not looking at him at all now; she's staring off into the darkness beyond the sea, and his heart drops to his feet as he sees her yawn deeply. Now his hands are beginning to sweat; he's desperately trying to think of something else to do before the night comes to a premature halt.

They pass an arcade, and he's tempted to go play one of those cool games with the guns. Then, somewhere in the depths of his mind, he vaguely recalls that girls don't particularly like to watch guys blow stuff away. For a moment he considers doing it anyway--guns are easier to understand than women, after all--but he glances again at the soft curve of her bare shoulders, and thinks better of it.

Then he spots the Skee-Ball machines. That's it! He is going to play Skee-Ball. He is going to play and play and play until he wins enough tickets to get her a stuffed animal. He'll present it to her, and she'll cuddle it to her chest and smile; she'll hug him close for a minute, and he'll breathe deep. When they're under the boardwalk, he'll lay her down gently and she'll rest her head on it, and when it's time to go he'll insist on brushing the sand off, refusing to let her have it back until it's perfectly clean.

So he heads over to the cashier's window, plunks down two hours' wages, and gets a roll of quarters, which he slips into his pocket. He strides back to the Skee-Ball alley (where she's looking more bored than ever). He finds an empty machine, drops in a quarter, and begins to play.

He hurls ball after ball up the ramp, and the machine beeps like crazy as it spews out ticket after ticket. He is vaguely aware that she has dropped a quarter into the machine beside him and is playing a game of her own. As the "Winner" light flashes and the game ends, he glances up at his score--a respectable 190. He pulls a dozen tickets out of the machine and turns to her proudly--only to see that she's virtually covered with tickets, with two strips over her shoulder, a few around her neck, and even more clutched in her left hand.

He looks incredulously up at her scoreboard, and reads the number: 350.

The little bitch smoked him by 160 points.

Some time later, he's the one sitting and waiting for his parents with the My Little Pony unicorn resting in his lap and a limp coin wrapper in his pocket...

...and she, of course, is gone.


  1. Roll gently.
  2. If you can swish the ball, sinking it without having it bump against any of the rings, then it doesn't much matter how hard you throw it. Usually, though, your shot will end up bouncing off at least one of the rings. If you fling the ball hard, it'll bounce far away, and you'll end up with a ball in the 10-ring (or the embarrassing 0 pit). If you roll it lightly, on the other hand, then it'll bounce gently, and possibly drop straight into the nearby 30 or 40 ring.

  3. Bank the ball.
  4. Sure, some people say that you should roll straight up the middle, but the bank shot defeated me, my father, and his father before him, so as far as I'm concerned, the bank shot is the way to go. When you roll the ball, aim for a spot on the side bumper that's about two-thirds of the way up the ramp. This will make your shot easier to control and to place; furthermore, a bank shot that's off the mark is more likely to go into a higher ring. I'm not sure why this works--maybe some physicist out there can explain it--but it does.

  5. Aim for the 30-ring or the 40-ring.
  6. On most Skee-Ball machines, the center 50-ring is only a little wider than the ball. Unless you're extraordinarily skilled (or lucky), you won't sink a 50 very much. Shoot for the 40s instead, and if you screw up, you'll get a 30.

  7. Practice.
  8. The people who rack up scores of 300 or 400 have probably been playing regularly for about 15 years. You probably won't be able to achieve such scores unless you practice, practice, practice. Fortunately, it's a cheap game.


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