Google has released another “Chrome Experiment,” which is the company’s name for its games that require a zillion devices and don’t work very well and aren’t that great even when they do work, anyway. This new Google game is called Roll It. Once you hook up the virtual wires between your telephone and the online cloud internet server intranet network web, you can enjoy a simulation of Skee-Ball that is on par with the shittiest of downloadable Wii games. Nice opening animation, though.
Google’s effort may be lackluster, but its choice of subject is timely. Skee-Ball is one of those games that belong to the summer. This hybrid of bowling and archery is the perfect accompaniment to a lazy day at the beach. Skee-Ball isn’t strenuous enough to break a sweat, but it involves enough motion that you can convince yourself that it is a physical activity.
The first Skee-Ball alleys, sold in 1914, were 36 feet long. They didn’t sell too many of them at first, on account of they were 36 feet long. So the manufacturers reacted to demand, and in 1928—a mere decade-and-a-half later—new alleys were introduced at a length of 14 feet. By giving Skee-Ball the novel feature of being able to fit inside a building, the appeal of the game skyrocketed. The rest is history, and you can read that history on the official Skee-Ball site, although I’ll warn you that it gets depressing toward the end. Who knew that there was a casino-themed Skee-Ball that incorporates blackjack and progressive jackpots? I did not know that, and now I do, and I am worse off for it.
There’s surprisingly little advice on Skee-Ball technique on the web. I suppose that kids today can learn Skee-Ball the way I did: from a trucker passing through a seedy bowling alley on the New Hampshire-Vermont border. As my friends and I whiled away the dwindling minutes of a sixth-grade field trip in the bowling alley’s arcade, this trucker approached us and offered to win us some prize tickets on the Skee-Ball machines in the corner. Remembering what we’d been taught about talking to strangers, we readily agreed and gave all of our money to this person who smelled of menthol cigarettes. She fired the balls up the ramp like some sort of Skee-Ball-playing trucker, bouncing the balls off the side of the lane, hitting the 50-point hole almost every time. The prize-redemption tickets sprung forth, and many Chinese finger traps were taken home that day.
I learned an important lesson from that drifter: The carom is key. You want to bounce the ball off the side of the lane about two-thirds of the way up. The exact spot varies depending on your stance and the nuances of your particular machine. It’s hard for me to express exactly why this helps, but it makes a big difference, in part because it gives you an intermediate point to aim for—one that your hand-eye coordination can grasp more easily than the dazzling ramp of holes and point values. (Not every top Skee-Ball player uses the carom, but you are not a top Skee-Ball player, so just use it. I have also heard tell of players who employ a double carom, using both sides of the lane. This, I don’t need to tell you, is madness.)
The other elements of Skee-Ball technique are to stay low and roll the ball off the tips of your fingers. Unlike the carom, I do know why this approach works: It imparts topspin so that when a ball catches the lip of a hole, it’s more liable to keep moving forward rather than bouncing off. There are few arcade failures more humiliating than watching a ball ricochet off the rubber of the 50-point hole and sputter into the pit for zero points.
Some Skee-Ball alleys have 100-point holes in the upper corners of the playfield. These are for the deft, the daring, or the desperate. I recommend sticking to a strategy that focuses on the traditional 50-point hole or the 40-point hole (the latter of which offers more room for error). Don’t concern yourself with learning the 100-point angles unless you are a Skee-Ball professional. And if you are a Skee-Ball professional, I recommend that you reexamine your life, or at least do an Ask Me Anything on Reddit about it.
Miniature Skee-Ball machines appear to be a popular project for Lego enthusiasts. These replicas emulate the basic physical characteristics of the real thing while eliminating all that pesky fun. (But hey, I once made a wooden tic-tac-toe game in shop class, so I’m not one to talk.) The Lego Skee-Ball builders like to put their creations on the popular YouTube video website. Here are a few of those.
The first 50 seconds of the video above will be played for me, on a loop for all eternity, when I arrive in Hell.
This machine is a bit more sophisticated. The person in this video has way cleaner fingernails than me. Well done.
First of all, if you’re going to put all-caps “GIGANTIC” in the title of your video, you’d better give me a Lego Skee-Ball machine that is bigger than this. Second of all, we get it. The coin slot only takes nickels. WE GET IT ALREADY.
Now this guy, he’s a baller. But again with the coin slot.
Do you want to know how to make your own Lego Skee-Ball machine? Well, you should find out how to do that! This concludes my review of Roll It.
Photo of Skee-Ball machines by Rob Boudon.