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The hidden oil patterns on bowling lanes

Every bowling lane has a unique pattern — including yours.

Every lane has a pattern.
Phil Edwards is a senior producer for the Vox video team.

Bowling isn’t just about a great ball and good form — if you want to understand the sport, you have to understand the lane.

Every bowling lane, including the one in your neighborhood alley, is coated with an oil pattern to protect the wood. But these patterns aren’t just for protection — the way oil is applied to the lane can affect the speed and direction of your ball. These patterns are so important that recreational and professional bowlers bowl on vastly different patterns — the Professional Bowlers Association (PBA) even classifies the patterns it uses in tournaments.

I met with professional bowler Parker Bohn III at his childhood bowling alley, Howell Lanes in Howell, New Jersey. He guided me through the complex strategy a pro bowler uses when encountering different oil patterns. Not only do they have to assess which pattern is in use, but they also have to judge how that pattern changes as the oil shifts and slides over the day. Knowing how to play a specific lane can be the difference between a title and second place.

But these patterns aren’t just for the pros — they’re relevant to recreational bowlers as well. Watch the video to see how you can use these patterns to step up your game.

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