Candlepin Bowling is a favorite Maine pastime, many enjoy the game and many compete in it. For Maine locations and information click here Maine State Candlepin Bowling Association

Game play

Candlepin bowling pins are specified as 15 3/4 inches (400 mm) in height, have identical ends, and are almost 3 inches (76 mm) in diameter at the center. Numbering of a "full rack" of ten candlepins. Unlike in ten-pin bowling, fallen pins are not cleared away between balls during a player's turn.A candlepin bowling lane, almost identical to a tenpin bowling lane, has an approach area of some 4.3 to 4.9 meters (14 to 16 ft) long for the player to bowl from, and then the lane proper, a maple surface approximately 1.05 meters (41 in) wide, bounded on either side by a gutter or "channel", or trough. The lane is separated from approach area by a foul line, which must not be crossed by players. At the far end of the lane, are the pins (18.3 meters [60'] from the foul line to the center of the headpin or pin #1), placed by a machine called a pinsetter which occupies space both above and behind the pins. Unlike a tenpin lane, which has a level surface all the way from the near end of the lane's approach to the end of the lanebed, a metal pin plate forms the "pindeck" area of the candlepin lane, and is very slightly depressed below the lanebed forward of it. Behind the pindeck area of the lane is a well-depressed "pit" area for the felled pins and balls to fall into, and a curtain behind this to gently stop the pins and balls from going any further. Generally there is seating behind the approach area for teammates and spectators, and containing a small table to hold scorepads.

The Candlepins themselves are 15.75" (400 mm) tall, have a cylindrical shape which tapers equally towards each end (and therefore having no distinct "top" or "bottom" end, unlike a tenpin), giving them an overall appearance somewhat like that of a candle, and have a maximum weight of 1.13 kg (2 lb 8 oz) apiece.[3] Candlepin bowling uses the same numbering system and shape for the formation within the ten candlepins are set, as the tenpin sport does. Also, as in ten-pin bowling, due to the spacing of the pins (12", or 30.5 cm, center to center), it is impossible for the ball to strike every one. However, while in ten-pin a well-placed ball (usually between the head pin and the 2 or 3 pin) may knock down all ten pins from the chain reaction of pin hitting pin (a strike), in candlepin the smaller thickness of the pins makes throwing a strike extremely difficult. In order to count, the pin must be knocked over entirely; in unlucky circumstances, a pin may wobble furiously, or, even more frustratingly, be "kicked" to the side by several inches, yet come to rest upright, thus not being scored (and not be reset to its original position for any throws that remain, though it may of course still be knocked over by subsequent balls).

In addition to the foul line for the bowler themselves, there is a line 10 feet (3.05 m) down the lane from the foul line; this is the lob line, and the ball must first contact the lane at a point on the bowler's side of it. Violation of this rule constitutes a lob and any pins knocked down by such a ball do not count, and such pins are not reset if the lobbed ball was not the third and last shot for that player in that box.Also, a third line, centered 61 cm (24 in) front of the head pin (number-1 pin) spot is the dead wood line, which defines the maximum forward limit that any toppled pins ("dead wood") can occupy and still be legally playable. This lane specification essentially results in the presence of 'three' foul lines, more than in any other bowling sport.

One unique feature of the candlepin sport is that fallen pins, usually called dead wood, are not removed from the pin deck area between balls, unlike either the tenpin or duckpin bowling sports - depending on where the fallen pins are located and their angle at rest (as all fallen pins must be stationary before delivering the next ball), the dead wood can be a major help, or obstacle, in trying to knock down every single standing pin for either a spare or "ten-box" score in completing a round.

The Ball The ball used in candlepins has a maximum weight of 1.1 kg (2 lb 7 oz), and has a maximum diameter of 11.43 cm (4-1/2 inches), making it the smallest bowling ball of any North American bowling sport.[3] The nearly identical weight of the ball, when compared to that of just one candlepin, tends to cause rapidly-delivered balls to sometimes bounce at random when impacting a full rack of pins on the first delivery of a frame, and sometimes when hitting downed "dead wood" pins on subsequent deliveries.

A game of candlepin bowling, often called a string in New England, is divided into ten rounds, each of these rounds being most commonly referred to as a box, rather than a "frame" as in ten-pin bowling. In each normal box, a player is given up to three opportunities to knock down as many pins as possible. In the final box, three balls are rolled regardless of the pincount, meaning three strikes can be scored in the 10th frame. In each of the first nine boxes, play proceeds as follows: The first player bowls their first ball at the pins. Whatever pins are knocked down are counted and scored. Then the player rolls a second and a third ball at any remaining targets. In the event that all ten pins were knocked down with the first ball (a 'strike'), the player receives ten points plus the count on the next two rolls, the pins are cleared, a new set placed, and play passes to the next competitor. If all ten pins were knocked down with two balls (a 'spare'), the player receives 10 points plus the count of the next ball, pins are cleared and reset, and play passes to the next competitor. If all three balls are needed to knock all the pins down, the score for that frame is simply 10. In the tenth box, play is similar, except that a player scoring a strike is granted two additional balls, scoring a spare earns one additional ball. Three balls are rolled in the tenth frame regardless.

Fouls A foul (scored by "F") refers to a ball that rolls into the gutter and then strikes wood (felled pins resting on the pin deck behind the dead wood line) or a standing pin, a ball that touches neither the approach or lane before the lob line, or a roll made by a bowler crossing over the foot foul line. Special scoring comes into play. A foul always scores zero (0), but a player may reset the pins provided it is the first throw in a box or all the preceding balls scored a "F" or 0. Therefore, if on the first ball there is a foul or zero-it is possible to keep the ball on the lane yet miss all ten pins standing in their normal position-and on a second ball foul, the pins may be reset, attempting to knock down a fresh set of 10 pins, but not score a strike or a spare. A foul in the first box knocking down all ten pins in the rerack is a spare, otherwise a third ball is thrown to finish out the box. Fouling all three attempts scores a zero. Knocking down at least one pin on the first ball, the rack can not be reset because of a foul. Those pins felled by a foul ball (a ball jumping out of the channel, a lobbed ball, a ball delivered by a bowler over the foot foul line)--whether standing, playable wood, or pins in the channel-remain down and reduce the maximum number of pins to be counted for the box. Therefore, with six pins remaining standing with a foul on the next ball, managing to knock down the remaining six with the foul ball, the frame is over, scoring a 4 for that frame. Knocking down some of the remaining pins means a third ball is rolled I may shoot for the pins left standing and only add that total to the four (4) felled in the first ball (ex. thus, unadjusted score: 4 4 2 = "X", but true score: 4 F 2 = 6). The same holds true for rolling two good balls and fouling in the third attempt. The frame is over and only the pins felled in the first two attempts are recorded for the score for that box.[5] While some candlepin alleys have automated scoring systems, and thus know when to clear and reset pins, other alleys, especially older ones have a button, or floor-mounted foot pedal switch, which players must press to manually initiate the clearing and resetting of pins. Automatic pinsetters were introduced in the late 1940s; prior to this, as with ten-pin, pins were set by workers called "pinboys". In league play, a bowler will bowl five boxes at a time, called a half.


One point is scored for each pin that is knocked over. So, in a hypothetical game, if player 'A' felled 3 pins with their first ball, then 5 with their second, and 1 with the third, they would receive a total of 9 points for that box. If player 'B' knocks down 9 pins with their first shot, but misses with their second and third, they would also score 9.

In the event that all ten pins are felled by any one player in a single box, by no more than two throws (just as in tenpins) bonuses are awarded for a strike or spare. One for a strike and two for a spare. If all ten pins are felled by rolling all three balls in a box, the result is a ten-box, usually marked by an X (as in the Roman numeral for ten) but no additional points are awarded. (In ten-pin bowling, a strike is often scored with an "X"). The maximum score in a game is 300 - a perfect game, which has never been known to have been achieved in the history of the sport.[6] This is scored by bowling 12 strikes: one in each box, and a strike with both bonus balls in the 10th box. In this way, each box will score 30 points (see above - scoring:strike). This scoring system, except for the scoring sheet's appearance, and the graphic symbols used to record strikes and spares, is identical to that of duckpins. Strike

When all 10 pins are knocked down with the first ball (called a strike), a player is awarded 10 points, plus a bonus of whatever they score with their next 2 balls. In this way, the points scored for the two balls after the strike are scored twice. Example: Box 1, ball 1: 10 pins felled(strike) Box 2, ball 1: 3 pins felled Box 2, ball 2: 6 pins felled Box 2, ball 3: 1 pin felled The total score from these throws is: 10 + (3+6) + 3 + 6 +1= 29 A player who scores multiple strikes in succession would score like so: Box 1, ball 1: 10 pins fell(strike) Box 2, ball 1: 10 pins fell(strike) Box 3, ball 1: 4 pins fell Box 3, ball 2: 2 pins fell Box 3, ball 3: 2 pins fell The score from these throws is: Box one... 10 + (10 + 4) = 24 Box two... 10 + (4 + 2) = 16 Box three... 4 + 2 +2 = 8 TOTAL = 48

A player who bowls a strike in the 10th (final) box is awarded two extra balls, so as to allow for their bonus points. If both these balls also result in strikes, a total of 30 points (10 + 10 + 10) is awarded for the box.


A 'spare' is awarded when all pins are knocked down with a fair ball in or by the second frame. For example, a player uses the first two balls of a box to clear all ten pins. A player achieving a spare is awarded 10 points, plus a bonus of whatever they score with their next ball (only the first ball is counted). Example: Box 1, ball 1: 7 pins fell Box 1, ball 2: 3 pins fell(spare) Box 2, ball 1: 4 pins fell Box 2, ball 2: 2 pins fell Box 2, ball 3: 1 pin fell The total score from these throws is: 7 + 3 + 4(bonus) + 4 + 2 + 1 = 21 A player who bowls a spare in the 10th (final) box, is awarded one extra ball so as to allow for their bonus points. X box

An 'x box' (or "10-box") is awarded when no pins are left standing after the third ball of a box. A player achieving an X box is awarded 10 points, but without any bonus for the following ball. Example: Box 1, ball 1: 7 pins felled Box 1, ball 2: 2 pins felled Box 1, ball 3: 1 pin felled The total score from these throws simply is: 7 + 2 + 1 = 10

Calculating scores Correct calculation of bonus points can be a bit tricky, especially when combinations of strikes and spares come in successive boxes. In modern times, however, this has been overcome with automated scoring systems. When a scoring system is "automated", the bowler only has to bowl. It keeps score and will reset the pinsetter after three balls are thrown or all 10 pins have been knocked down. If a scoring system is "semi-automated", the bowler has to enter the score but the computer will keep track of it. The bowler needs to press a button at the end of the ball return to receive a new "rack" of pins. [edit]Scoring sheet The candlepin scoring sheet is different from either tenpins or duckpins, in that it is usually oriented vertically, with two columns of squares in a two-square-wide, ten-square-tall arrangement to score one string for one player. The left hand column is used to detail the "per-box" score, with the cumulative total being recorded as each box is rolled in the right-hand square. The first box bowled is recorded in the top horizontal pair of squares, running down the sheet as the string progresses. Spares and strikes are also marked uniquely in candlepins. Spares are recorded in a box by coloring in the left upper corner of the appropriate left-hand square (using a triangular shape to "fill-in the corner"). If a strike is recorded, opposing corners of the left-hand square are similarly colored in. A common (albeit unofficial) practice is to mark a strike on a strike's bonus ball (double strike) by shading in the remaining two corners of the first strike.


Candlepin bowling uses its own colorful jargon to refer to the many scenarios that can arise in a game, with most of the terms denoting different combinations of pins left standing after the first ball has been rolled. Examples of these terms include: Head pin: The 1-pin, which is in front of the other pins. King pin: The 5-pin, which is in the center of the pins. Four Horsemen: Four pins in a diagonal line, from the head-pin outward; if the 1-2-4-7, it is known as "Four horsemen, left side," and if the 1-3-6-10, it is known as "Four horsemen, right side." The usual tenpin term for a spare leave of this kind is a "picket fence" or "clothesline". Spread Eagle: A split configuration consisting of the 2-3-4-6-7-10, caused by the first shot striking the head pin too directly, leading to a failure to scatter the pins.Video of the "spread eagle" being left, then converted Diamond: Four pins that form a diamond-shaped configuration, either the 2-4-5-8, known as "left-side diamond," the 3-5-6-9, known as "right-side diamond", or the 1-2-3-5, known as the "center diamond" (this same configuration is usually referred to as a "bucket" in standard ten-pin bowling, and while it is very difficult to convert into a spare in candlepin bowling, in ten-pin bowling a spare is usually made from it by an experienced bowler). Half Worcester: Perhaps the most distinctive term used in the game. This results when the first shot strikes either the 2-pin or 3-pin too directly, and knocks down only that pin and the one immediately behind it; when only the 2- and 8-pins fall it is a "Half Worcester Left," and when only the 3- and 9-pins fall it is a "Half Worcester Right" (less commonly only the 1- and 5-pins may be knocked down with the first ball, producing a "Half Worcester Center"). According to legend, the term was coined when a team from Worcester and a team from Boston were competing in the semifinal round of a statewide tournament held sometime in the 1940s; late in the last match of the round, one of the bowlers on the Worcester team knocked down only two such pins with his first ball, prompting a member of the Boston team to taunt him by saying, "You're halfway back to Worcester!" It is sometimes said that a player will get "one a game" referring to the Half Worcester. Hi-Low-Jack: This term refers to the 1-, 7-, and 10-pins, which are on the three corners of the triangle. Trying to knock down all three in one shot (with no wood) is sometimes a contest as part of a televised candlepin bowling program. 7-10 split: when after the ball is thrown, only the 7 and 10 pins remain standing on the lane. If there is no wood, it is the hardest two-pin combination to completely knock down on one ball. The tenpin term for this most dreaded of spare leaves is usually "bedposts" or "goal posts". Backdoor Strike: A strike in which the 1 pin is the last to fall.