What is Duckpin Bowling – How To Play

First, let me clear something up: no ducks were harmed in the making of this story.

Surprisingly, duckpin bowling has nothing to do with ducks. It’s a quirky and nostalgic game that’s both frustrating and fun at the same time.

It’s a game that anyone can play and anyone can win, making it perfect for people of all ages.

Indianapolis is home to one of the few remaining duckpin bowling facilities in America.

According to duckpins.com, a site for duckpin bowling fans, only twelve states have these lanes, with the majority in Maryland, where it’s believed the game started around 1900. However, there are earlier mentions of the game near Boston.

I learned about duckpin bowling in Indianapolis, in the Fountain Square neighborhood. Linton Calvert, who introduced the game here in 1986, first discovered it in 1970 while he was in the Army.

As a keen bowler since his younger days, he brought the game back to his hometown after his service.

Equipment and Rules

Duckpin Bowling Alley

Duckpin bowling offers a distinct challenge that combines precision and skill, captivating players from their first roll. The game follows similar rules to traditional bowling but with notable differences.

Duckpin features smaller, lighter pins attached to strings and small, finger-hole-free balls that fit in the palm of your hand, making them more difficult to control.

Even the lanes are shorter than standard bowling alleys. Mastering the curve of the ball as it heads toward these miniature pins requires careful accuracy.

The duckpin bowling ball weighs about three pounds and measures between 4-3/4 to 5 inches in diameter, making it slightly larger than a softball. One key difference from traditional bowling balls is that it lacks finger holes.

The pins in duckpin bowling are also unique, standing at 9 inches tall. These pins are shorter and broader compared to those used in ten-pin bowling, giving them a distinctive look.

Pins and Balls in Duckpin Bowling

In terms of gameplay, duckpin bowling allows you three throws per frame, unlike the standard two throws in ten-pin bowling.

And a heads-up: Even a perfect throw straight down the middle often won’t result in a strike.

Linton Calvert, who brought duckpin bowling to Indianapolis, noted that the game levels the playing field among kids, men, and women—everyone has an equal chance at playing well. When men ask him for tips to excel at the game, his usual response is humorous: “I tell them to drink a beer.”

My First Attempt

First attempt at the duckpin bowling

I decided to master the game—how hard could it really be? I went in Indianapolis with a group of friends to learn all about it and play it.

When we started the ball fit perfectly in my palm.

I focused ahead, aligned my arm with the center pin, and released the ball.

My first throw was quite good—I thought it might knock down 7 or 8 pins, or even score a strike in a standard game of bowling.

But this isn’t standard bowling.

Brief History Class

Fountain Square theater building - duckpin bowling lanes

Calvert and his wife purchased the Fountain Square theater building in 1993.

Located just a short drive from downtown Indianapolis, the complex now offers unique spaces for meetings or special events, distinctive hotel rooms at the “Fountainview Inn,” and various dining and drinking options.

Originally opened in 1928, the building was once a beacon of activity known as “the big light on the avenue.”

Over the years, it transitioned into a Woolworth’s department store before falling into disrepair and standing vacant.

After its purchase and renovation by the Calverts, the building was revitalized and now features two main attractions: duckpin bowling lanes located on the fourth floor and in the basement.

Additionally, there’s a public rooftop garden open on select days from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Here, visitors can enjoy stunning views of the Indianapolis skyline while having a meal or glass of wine.

Tips on How To Play

  • Get a Grip: I make sure the duckpin ball fits snugly in my hand, just like a pro would hold it.
  • Eye on the Prize: I focus on the headpin, release smoothly, and let momentum handle the rest.
  • Keep It Smooth: I bend my knees, maintain good posture, and follow through with my arm swing.
  • Chill Out: I take a moment to relax, breathe, and trust my instincts to guide my game.
  • Have Fun: For me, it’s all about enjoying the moment. I make sure to loosen up and have a great time with my friends with every roll!