Computerized scorekeeping can send relaxation of bowling right down gutter

December 28, 1993|By Chris Zang | Chris Zang,Staff Writer

The computer age has finally gone too far.

Sure, I could handle it when a computer voice called to tell me my catalog order had arrived. It was OK when the money machine started processing my bank transactions.

I was even tolerant enough to compete in the touch-tone Olympics -- punch in your account number, your Social Security number, your oldest child's birthday divided by three and the first 78 digits of your driver's license number -- to check the balance of my mortgage.

But on a recent Saturday, my computer patience finally logged off -- at, of all places, a bowling alley.

tTC Yes, that mecca of relaxation, where you don't even have to bring a ball, shoes -- or even one of those snazzy patch-filled shirts -- to have a good time.

But now, thanks to "advances" in the industry, you do need to bring your computer knowledge, for keeping score in the vast majority of tenpin centers in the metropolitan area is handled electronically.

Or at least it is supposed to be.

This new fact of bowling life I learned on a rare day off -- I thought I left the computer at the office -- when my 10-year-old son, Kris, joined me for a "relaxing" game.

We began by punching in our names on the computer at our lane. After winding up with four names on our screen, then one, then two, we thought we were set.

Kris, who bowls maybe twice a year, rolled his first ball and got seven pins -- and a big smile. Even a gutter ball on the second couldn't wipe away that smile.

But the computer did.

Because I didn't properly lock in the second name, it didn't compute his first frame. So we took it over. And he got a zero. And I got a look that I hadn't seen since, well, since we were at the video arcade and I ran out of quarters.

I decided to give him credit for the original seven. It only took

around 5 minutes and tapping on a few dozen keys, but I got it done.

Half an hour, half a frame. Kind of like watching Mitch Williams in the World Series.

Anyway, it was time for Dad's debut. And I got . . . a strike. (Really. I wouldn't lie. I used to teach college journalism students that truth is our ultimate goal.)

In fact, I got a second strike, according to the computer anyway. After Kris had rolled five balls or so in the second frame with none registering on our state-of-the-art scorecard, he hit the re-set button. The machine swept the lane clear of pins and I had a second "X" next to my name without even throwing a ball.

Kris then got back up and bowled. . . . and bowled . . . and bowled.

After maybe eight balls, none of which hit much of anything or were recorded on our favorite computer, Dad trooped up to the front desk.

"Our computer score isn't working," I said with only a tinge of annoyance.

"Well, maybe your son isn't throwing the ball hard enough. Is he using a 6-pound ball?"

"No, bozo, er, sir, he's using an 8-pounder," I said, annoyed that bowling -- something I loved even as a tot throwing the ball between my legs -- now suddenly was off-limits to someone who couldn't throw a big-enough ball at a fast-enough speed. "Is there anything you can do to make this wonderful computer work?"

He looked down at his table and started punching buttons on -- you guessed it -- a computer. After a few dozen taps that would make any data processor proud, he pronounced the lane ready for action.

So Kris bowled . . . and bowled . . . and bowled, with the same unrecorded result.

Dad then had the brilliant idea to go up and ask for a scoresheet.

"Oh, we haven't had those around here for months," the manager said, giving me a look as if I had asked for two rocks to rub together rather than a match to light the cigarette dangling from his lips.

Undeterred, I found one of those lovely "please join a league" fliers that are so predominant at bowling centers. (Does Fair Lanes own stock in Weyerhauser or what?) It had a plain back. We would draw up our own scoresheet. And I would add up our own scores, much the way I strengthened my math skills as a kid. (Let's see, seven with a spare is 17 plus five is 22 . . . .)

There was one problem: "No, we don't have any pencils either."

So Kris bowled . . . and bowled . . . and bowled, still in the third frame. His efforts paid off with a ball down the middle that netted him seven pins, and actually computed on the scoreboard. But there was dead wood, so we hit what we thought was the dead wood button, which wiped out all the pins . . . and gave Dad a third strike for the one ball he had rolled thus far.

Kris shrugged, I seethed, and we came to a joint decision:

It was VIDEO GAME TIME!

As we dropped off our shoes, the man at the desk said: "What, giving up so easy?"

Sorry. For me, there's only one challenge to bowling.

And it has nothing to do with a damn computer.

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