Candlepin bowling and a 1980’s computer program.

During my freshman year at Hamilton College, I spent most of my free time at the college’s computer center (well, aside from class time and radio station time).

The Hamilton College Computer Center in 1982 consisted of several standalone desktop terminals known as TERAK computers. Software existed on 8″ floppy discs that held about 12 pages of typewritten information. I kid you not. Eventually the college would purchase some Apple II computers, but that was down the line.

Now TERAK computers were actually quite robust for their time. One could use the TXTFORM word processing software to write term papers or esays; or switch to a PASCAL computer language program for some rudimentary computer programming. Trust me, this may look ancient today, but 40 years ago this was light years above what at the time was considered the tops of personal computing, the Radio Shack TRS-80.

Anyway, one of the challenges in the college computer classes was to design a computer program that could keep accurate bowling scores. There were some formulae needed – if you bowled a strike, your next two shots received double the score; and if you hit two strikes in a row, your next shot garnered triple the points. And this all had to calculate properly.

Of course … there had to be ONE student who interpreted the rules a bit differently.

See, there’s regular tenpin bowling – which back then was actually the second-most popular individual recreational activity, after golf. But if you lived in New England, or in the Canadian Maritimes, then you knew of bowling in a different format – the format of candlepin bowling.

And trust me on this. My mother’s side of the family were all champion tenpin bowlers (every one of them had trophies from Del Lanes tournaments), while my Aunt Elaine on my father’s side of the family was a champion candlepin bowler in Massachusetts. We will now pass over the fact that I couldn’t throw a strike if they put barriers on the gutters and a groove in the lane for the ball to travel. But I digress.

Anyway, candlepin bowling is scored in a different manner. You get ten frames, that’s true. But you get three shots at the pins, not two. Any pins that fall are not cleared away and can be used to knock down pins on successive shots (the “dead wood”). If you knock down all the pins with one shot (strike) or with two shots (spare), your next balls score bonus points. But if it takes you three shots to knock everything down, then you just receive ten points for that frame and you move forward. And in the history of competitive candlepin bowling, NO ONE has ever shot a perfect 300 game. I’ve heard that the highest score ever recorded was something like 245; and the guy who bowled that later shot a 95 in his next game. So there’s that.

So take a wild guess which student created a bowling program in PASCAL. Guess which student added a toggle switch between tenpin and candlepin bowling. Yeah, it was the scrawny nerd from Albany with the soda-bottle-bottom glasses and the knucklehead personality.

And somehow, even with the limitations in size for those floppy discs, I still found a way to cram it all in and make it functional.

I’ll just say this. It’s a good thing I didn’t come from Baltimore, I don’t think I could have added a duckpins option for this software program and made it all fit.

But I guess the main takeaway from this anecdote was … I found a way to take an educational challenge and tailor it to my personal experience. To make the educational moment personal. And with that, I learned more than I could previously imagine.

And I’ll take that any time.