Aug 122020

Pin Bowling is a combination of pinball and bowling to make sort of a top-golf version of putt putt but for bowling. Like you’re in a giant pinball machine and you bowl into it. No flippers though, just one bowl. That’s the general idea but not like cartoonishly overdone or anything, something you could actually build. 

I’d really like to bowl like that myself, but designing and building the features seems like even more fun, but I’m not going to be organizing anything like this myself so I thought it would be fun enough to just describe how I imagine it all working.

So for the bowler the experience is that you go to a place that looks like a bowling alley, but inside is kind of a giant DIY pinball machine land. You have a line of short bowling alleyways like a usual place, but they’re only an shorter runway to the larger pinball arena. 

Maybe the alleys are arranged in a semi circle to direct all the bowls towards a larger center arena.

Anyway everyone basically bowls their ball into this giant pinball arena. Your ball is tracked by RFID so anytime you hit a doo-dad or spinny thing or whatever you get the points. The ball return is more or less a free-for-all, maybe just make 3 ball weights for simplicity since this isn’t really about skill, just goofy fun.

And maybe you bowl from each alley in sequence or you’re randomly assigned an alley so you get to try from different angles. Not sure if that matters. 

The arena is as variable as any pinball machine or putt putt course. You can go nuts with all kinds of themes and new and interesting displays and interactions. 

I’m talking ramps, loops, holes, tubes, every crazy rube goldberg device you’ve seen in a pinball machine or putt putt course, and hopefully more creative from there. So that’s the general idea of what the bowling experience would be like.

But in my mind the actual bowling experience is less than half the point of this whole thing.

The real fun is building it all, watching it get pummeled, fixing it, and building more things with what you learn. Of course you could hire a corporate goon squad to spec out some joyless consumer centric implementation of this and probably come away with a mediocre ROI that’s not worth the effort to people who only have coin operated imaginations.

But to me the arena presents a kind of rolling community DIY project. Could work a little bit like Mardi Gras or Christmas decorating competitions but instead of floats or lights people make the most interesting giant pinball mechanism they can. Pinewood derby, robot wars kind of stuff, but hands on for everyone. Not sure if that’s really a thing people are looking for these days, but seems like it would be fun.

There’s a lot of intersection of technological skills needed to design and build something that would work in this environment. It’s kind of a multidisciplinary challenge with some reasonably tough requirements, but very low consequences.

Let’s consider a simple bumper. You’ve got some wood working, graphic design and painting, maybe a little sculpture to make it visually interesting. Metal work for the frame and guards, maybe some welding but nothing critical. Electrical considerations for the lighting responses, sensors for scoring. Maybe sound but that could be centralized for the whole arena.

And that’s just a passive unit, others could include mechanical responses. Obviously want to reserve powerful mechanical forces for more skilled and experienced builders, but there’s an incremental range of opportunities. You can start people out building or upgrading bumper style objects and let them graduate the crazy pneumatic ball launchers. Designing and building a bumper would be a decent challenge for a high school shop club, and then they get to see how well it stands up to serious abuse.

And there’s some great integration challenges to make the whole thing work together in a way that keeps things fun for the players. Might be challenging, but I’m pretty sure I could figure out a basic system using standard wireless networking protocols. An extensible open source home automation system could be forked to develop an arena control system. 

On the arena side it’s pretty much an IOT electronics challenge that could be solved with a generous application of ESP’s and Raspberry Pi’s. You’ve got some WiFi and networking challenges to assemble all that into useful datastream. Servers for the inputs and controls, and some kind of UI’s. Of course that’s a criminal simplification of what would be a pretty complex system, but it’s all doable with reasonably cheap off the shelf gear and open source software. And I like that the whole thing could provide opportunities for about 90% of any curriculum you can think of’s final project from a junior high to graduate level, plus anyone else who just likes to make stuff.

Doesn’t have to be just pinball analogs either, could incorporate RC vehicles. Maybe have a full-contact mech bowling night where people do kind of like robot wars but it’s bowler vs robots and the robot just tries to survive being demolished, idk, maybe shouldn’t get too desensitized to that kind of thing in case machines become sentient. Any at some point it just becomes a big multipurpose DIY arena, but the pin bowling thing gives it a more definite personality and purpose, and maybe in some universe, a way to be a financially viable thing, but I’m not sure where that universe is. 

In this universe insurance and liability stuff probably makes this a non-starter, but idk – demolition derby exists, so there has to be a release or something. Or maybe just save this for that other universe. Seems like this would just confuse a lot people and mostly attract people for the smashing aspects. Fun to imagine though. Easiest thing would be if someone just made a VR pinball bowling game thing so at least I could do the bowling part, but I’d get bored with that after a few minutes and wish I could go build a real one and then laugh at myself because I’m way too lazy for all that, so maybe just writing about it is good.

Does need a better name though, open to suggestions. Pin bowling just sounds like a redundant way of saying bowling. Pin balling maybe? Idk- Whoever builds one gets to name it, until then I guess it’s just pin bowling.

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