bowling, indoor sport, also called tenpins, played by rolling a ball down an alley at ten pins; for lawn bowling, see bowls. Bowling is one of the most popular participatory sports in the United States, where there are thousands of recreational leagues.
A regulation bowling alley is made of polished wood and measures 41 to 42 in. (104.1 to 106.7 cm) wide and 60 ft (18.3 m) from the foul line, where the ball is delivered, to the center of the head pin (nearly 63 ft/19.2 m to the end of the alley). Bowlers (also called keglers) roll a ball made of rubber composite or plastic, which has three or four finger holes and weighs from 10 to 16 lb (4.5 to 7.26 kg), at plastic-covered maple pins standing 15 in. (38.1 cm) high and weighing between 3 lb 2 oz and 3 lb 10 oz (1.42–1.64 kg), set up in a triangular array in rows of increasing width (one through four) at the opposite end of the alley.
A game consists of 10 frames, with two balls allowed a bowler in each frame. Each pin knocked down counts one point. Toppling all pins with the first ball is a strike and scores 10 points plus the total of the next two balls. Clearing the alley with two balls is a spare and scores 10 points plus the next roll. A perfect game, 300 points, requires 12 consecutive strikes.
Forerunners of modern bowling date to at least 5200 BC in Egypt. A form similar to today's, though using nine pins, was popular in Germany in the Middle Ages. Dutch settlers probably introduced the game in America. Tenpins, said to have been devised to evade colonial laws against a nine-pin game, became standard in the mid-19th cent. The invention of automatic pin-setting machines and, later in the 20th cent., television, spurred the growth of bowling.
The American Bowling Congress (founded 1895) and the Women's International Bowling Congress (founded 1916) hold yearly championships. The Fédération Internationale des Quilleurs serves as the world governing body for the sport. Top bowlers now compete for prize money at tournaments under the auspices of the Professional Bowler's Association and the Ladies Professional Bowlers Tour. The games of duckpins and candlepins, played with smaller balls and pins, enjoy regional popularity.
See V. Grinfelds and B. Hultstrand, Right Down the Alley (2d. ed. 1985).