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"Non-Stick" Bowling Lanes

No more oil everywhere
  [vote for,

One of my various jobs, over the years, was at a bowling alley. Since I was mechanically inclined, I worked in the back of the facility, where all the pinsetting machines were. Also, though, there was an "up front" duty, that involved cleaning the bowling lanes, and applying a thin layer of oil.

The purpose of this oil, which is applied along half the length of every lane, is to prevent bowling balls from leaving skid-marks. Have you ever seen/heard on TV what happens when an airplane's wheels first touch the runway during a landing? The plane is moving at a couple hundred kilometers per hour, but the plane's wheels are just hanging there, not rotating -- UNTIL they "SKIRRTCH" when contacting the runway. Then they very quickly rev up to match the motion of the plane -- and they leave pretty heavy skid-marks, too (only during that "SKIRRTCH").

(It is my understanding that some modern aircraft have electric motors in their wheels, to pre-spin them up, and thereby prevent such skirrtching, and the associated wear-and-tear on the tires.)

Well, for bowling balls, the situation is nowhere near as extreme, but it remains true that a just-released ball is not rotating much, and after it hits the lane, it quickly revs up so that it rolls instead of slides down the lane. Without oil on the lane, the balls WILL leave skid-marks, and so it has been, for decades.

Now, this oil is not all bad. It has low flammability and cleans up fairly easily. Still, the balls roll in the stuff for something like 10 meters, and then, when they reach the non-oiled last-half of the lane, every dry thing they touch (lane, pins, machinery, etc.) ends up a little bit oily. I spent a whole lot of time cleaning lane-oil off of everything, and it was no fun at all.

So, enter that miracle of modern chemistry, the Non-Stick Surface. We bond a sheet of this stuff to the first half of every bowling lane (which means it's not perfectly non-stick, but that's OK; we WANT the bowling balls to experience enough friction to slowly change from sliding to rolling, remember!). No more lane oil! --And a lot less cleaning to do!

Vernon, Mar 01 2004


       Or make a solvent-soluble, non-stick, anti-SKIRRTCH coating for the bowling balls that the ball return machines would apply to the bowling ball on each return trip to the bowler. Halfway down the lane you erect an array of solvent spray heads that wash the anti-stick coating off of the balls.   

       Another possibility is that of a special glove that has a concave cradle in the palm in which there are a series of powered rollers. These powered rollers, then, would pre-spin the ball to prevent SKIRRTCH.   

       Then there's the airhockey approach: construct a plenum below, and drill thousands of small holes in, the first part of the lane and the ball will settle gently onto the wood. Optimizations could be made by causing the air pressure to taper off down the lane either by baffling the plenum or by progressively reducing the number of holes.   

       Finally, abrupt lane contact by the ball can be avoided by constructing a proxy ball rig that has accelerometers and other transducers which measure the exact forces the player exerts on the instrumented ball. With this proxy, the player merely pretends to throw the ball and the signals from the rig are sent to a machine that shoots the ball down the lane using the "throw" data to best mimic the intent of the throw. The throwing machine would be optimized to release the ball only when it was smoothly in contact with the lane surface.
bristolz, Mar 01 2004

       I rather like the idea of covering the balls and possibly the lanes in oil and then setting fire to them. Maybe you could oil the ball at the top and then burn the oil off as it runs down.
kropotkin, Mar 01 2004

       The inside of the ball could be rotating through induction, and the outside would start turning via a clutch when it leaves your hand. Welcome back, bris.
FarmerJohn, Mar 01 2004

       [bristolz], those were amusing, but not quite as practical as implied. Consider the spray-cleaning notion: NOW the ball is coated with soapy material instead of oil, and THAT will need to be cleaned off, instead. (I should mention that part of the machinery in a bowling alley can only do its job by relying on friction, and both oil and soap can reduce friction and thus cause problems with those machines.) Next, regarding the special glove, please remember that a bowling ball normally has three holes drilled into it so that a bowler's fingers can grip the ball. That is, during the arm-swing, when the bowler is in the process of preparing to give forward motion to the ball, the first part of that swing places the ball PALM-DOWN behind the bowler. The fingers NEED those holes to hold onto the ball! With your special revving glove, the ball would simply fall to the floor behind the bowler. Next, regarding air hocky, the problem here is that a hockey puck is relatively lightweight and FLAT, offering good surface area for the air jets to blow against. Heavy spherical bowling balls will not cooperate at all! Lastly, your proxy rig seems workable, but imagine the expense, for the bowling center, to have one of those at every lane (and it must not break down!).   

       [kropotkin], bowling balls are mostly plastic, and will burn as well as the lane oil....   

       [farmer john], you've simply moved the skid marks from the lanes to the internal clutches. Your bowling balls will have relatively short lifespans, and their mechanical innards, if tough enough to withstand all the impacts, will be rather expensive.   

       Folks, I really think that in this case the simplest solution to the lane-skid problem is the best: a permanent slippery coating.
Vernon, Mar 01 2004

       While I'm not an avid bowler, I'll bun this just because Vernon managed to post an idea less than six pages long!
Freefall, Mar 01 2004

       I think kropotkin has the right idea here. Replace the oil used currently with something much more flammable. Make sure all the equipment is flame-proof (not sure what to do about the lanes themselves). After everyone has gone home you just burn the excess lubricant off the machinery.
FishFinger, Mar 05 2004

       Is it possible to have wood-grained teflon?
thumbwax, Mar 05 2004

       [thumbwax], since there is such a thing as colored teflon, I wouldn't be surprised to find out that the multi-coloring of "wood grain" is possible.   

       On the other hand, teflon itself is a fairly soft plastic (recall all those scratch marks in those first non-stick frying pans), and so may not be tough enough to withstand long-term impacting of bowling balls. (Hmmmm...if it was just tough enough to last longer than its equivalent cost in bowling-lane oil, then that might be sufficient.) But there are other and tougher non-stick coatings...I don't know about coloring them, though.
Vernon, Mar 05 2004

       Why not just create Mag-lev bowling and avoid the friction problem altogether?
imagine002, Mar 05 2004

       /bowling balls are mostly plastic, and will burn as well as the lane oil./   

       Goodness gracious.   

       I imagine a combined oil/soap/water/hot air dispenser, similar in function to those found at McD*nald's, but suspended from a gantry that runs on wheels at the side of the lane. Oil is squirted on to the alley as the bowler breaks a light curtain just behind the line, the gantry then uses sensors to follow the ball down the alley, consecutively soaping, rinsing and drying the ball. By the time the ball gets to the pins, it is clean and dry. The gantry can also be used to clean and dry the alley during the ball return cycle.   

       However I prefer Vernon's proposal for its elegant simplicity, although some of the others would be more fun to watch.
egbert, Mar 05 2004

       [imagine002], the answer is that then nobody could cause the ball to "hook" into the pins at the kind of sharp angle that bowlers have convinced themselves results in lots of strikes. One thing about having 30 feet of lane oil (OR low-friction surface), is that the ball mostly moves in a straight line UNTIL it gets to the high-friction last half of the lane. Then, depending on which way it is moving AND spinning, it can head for the strike zone from the edge of the lane. But your maglev idea would either cause the ball to leave skid-marks as it enters the last half of the lane, or (entire lane is maglev'ed) only straight balls can be thrown (and the strike zone IS narrower from anywhere at the start of the lane, than from halfway-down-near-the-edge).
Vernon, Mar 05 2004

       How about a catapult that causes the ball to land in the last three feet of the lane? Maybe the lane would need to be resin coated concrete to withstand the impacts without denting.   

       Sure would change the game.
bristolz, Mar 05 2004


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