How Three Strikes became a “Turkey”


Graphic of bowling ball and pins

How Three Strikes became a Turkey – Have you ever heard someone use the word “turkey” when talking about bowling?  In bowling, a turkey means shooting three strikes in a row.  This silly name might sound like something someone came up with as a joke, but it actually has roots dating back hundreds of years ago!

During bowling tournaments way back in the 1800’s, some bowling centers gave food items out as prizes to anyone who could shoot three strikes in a row.  Around the time of Thanksgiving in the United States, some centers decided it would be appropriate to give a turkey to anyone who could achieve this feat.  When a player got three strikes in a row, their teammates would yell out “Turkey!” to let whoever was running the center know that someone had earned their prize.

In the 1930’s, the Great Depression left many families poor and hungry.  Bowling centers used this to their advantage and would offer turkeys as sweepstakes prizes during Thanksgiving and Christmas time.  When you hear about someone giving away a turkey, you might think of a frozen turkey that you buy for Thanksgiving.  But some of these centers actually gave out live turkeys!  Can you imagine if Laurel Lanes did that?  We’d need a turkey farm on the roof!

You might be thinking “Wow, I’ve hit three strikes in a row a lot of times, why haven’t I been rewarded?”  Keep in mind that back in those times bowling worked quite differently.  Automatic pinsetters hadn’t been invented yet, so all the pins were set by hand.  This often led to an uneven setup of the pins.  Some bowling centers would actually put weights in the bottom of some pins during tournaments to make it even more difficult to knock them down.  Back then, lanes were still cleaned and oiled by hand.  There was very little consistency from lane to lane, and you didn’t know how a ball was going to react.  To top it all off, bowling balls were made of a hard rubber, which made it even harder to throw accurately because they weren’t balanced too well.

It wasn’t easy at all to bowl back then, let alone get three strikes in a row.  Lucky for you, now we have a machine that
consistently cleans and oils all of our lanes.  You have a much better shot of bowling a turkey these days.  But when you do, all
you’re going to win are bragging rights!

The History of Bowling

There's no doubt bowling has been around for a very long time.


There’s no doubt bowling has been around for a very long time.  Just how long?  You might be surprised.

In 1895 while researching an ancient egyptian grave, British archeologist Flinders Petrie discovered a group of heavy stone balls.  If Petrie was correct that they were bowling balls, then bowling would date all the way back to 3200 BC.  In that grave a group of heavy stone balls were found as well as nine vase-shaped stones.  The vase-shaped stones were only flat on the bottom, which led Flinders to believe they were stood up, and the balls (which were heavy) were rolled at them.  Since the balls and vases were found separately, it’s hard to determine whether or not this was the first instance of bowling.  It could have just been coincidental that these objects were found together.

The first historical documentation of bowling according to the PBA (Professional Bowler’s Association) is back in 300 AD Germany.  It was said that bowling was used as part of a religious ceremony.  Whoever could knock down the pins was of good character, and those who missed had to confess their sins.  Can you imagine if we still had to do that?  I’d be in Church after every game.

A century later in England, bowling was something of an exclusive sport.  King Henry VIII and his advisors were known to be fans of lawn bowling.  They would go out into the royal gardens and throw “bowls” or balls around the large open lawns.  These were the same areas where jousting, wrestling, and tennis took place.  King Edward III was known to have outlawed bowling because his troops kept choosing to bowl instead of practicing their archery.  He also banned bowling for everyone except the upper class, because so many working men were neglecting their trades.

Throughout the colonial era, bowling kept growing in popularity.  In Connecticut in 1841, a law was passed prohibiting nine-pin bowling because of all the gambling and crime associated with it.  The people couldn’t stand it, so they decided to add a tenth pin to bypass the law.  This created the ten-pin format we all know and love today.  In 1895 the American Bowling Congress, a national organization was created to regulate rules and create national bowling competitions.

By 1945 ten-pin bowling became a billion-dollar industry in the United States alone.  The next year AMF (American Machine and Foundry) released the first fully automatic commercial pinsetter.  Before then, a person would stand by the pins and set them by hand.  The pinsetter, or pinspotter, had to clear fallen pins and return the balls.  So, when the automatic pinsetters came around it made the game a lot quicker and smoother.

Since then, bowling hasn’t stopped advancing, and neither has the technology surrounding it.  Now there are systems in place that automatically keep track of your score for you, and your ball returns to you soon after it hits the pins.  Thank god for modern technology!

How it Works – Behind the Lanes

 Do you ever wonder what happens after your ball hits the pins?


Do you ever wonder what happens after your ball hits the pins?  How does the computer know how many pins you hit?  How does your ball reappear so quickly on the ball return?  It’s actually pretty interesting!

The machine that sets up the pins and sends your ball back to the ball return is called a pinsetter. It’s a large machine with about as many moving parts as a car.  We have a team of specially trained mechanics who know how to keep them running as smoothly as possible.  At any given time there’s always at least one mechanic behind the machines, ready to fix whatever problem may occur.

There are 20 to 21 pins in every pinsetter, that way when you have a full set of pins standing up, theres another full set in the machine ready to be set down in case you get a strike.  10 pins sit in a part of the machine called the turret, which holds them until they are ready to be dropped into the deck, which picks them up and puts them down.

In every pinsetter on each of our 60 lanes there’s a camera focused on the pins, and when your ball hits the pins the camera detects how many are still standing.  At that point your ball rolls to the back of the machine, the machine picks up the standing pins(if you didn’t knock them all down), and the rake sweeps any fallen pins out of the way for your next shot.  The pins that were left standing are then placed back down and the rake moves out of the way for your second shot!

If you get a strike and knock all the pins down, you make the machine’s life a little easier, because then all it has to do is put down another full set of (10) pins.  If you throw a gutterball and don’t even knock a single pin down, the machine picks all the pins up at once and sets them back down.

When your ball reaches the back of the machine, there is a spinning wheel that rolls your ball up the side of the machine and onto a set of tracks.  The tracks then slope downward and your ball rolls down, giving it enough momentum to make it all the way back to you at the ball return.

Now that you have a better understanding of how it all works, come play a few games with your new found appreciation of the sport!