Friday, September 11, 2009

Fun Fact Friday - I wish I was a little bit taller

I wish I was a baller.

Skee-Lo (born Antoine Roundtree March 5, 1973) was a rapper in the mid-1990s. He was born in Poughkeepsie, New York, and grew up in Riverside, California. Despite a number of albums, I only find him notable for two things. First, his 1995 hit single "I Wish", which reached #13 in the U.S. Billboard Hot 100, and was hugely successful in much of Europe.

Skee-Lo also recorded a cover of the Schoolhouse Rock! song "The Tale of Mr. Morton", which taught sentence structure (subject, verb, predicate). The song appears on the compilation album, Schoolhouse Rock! Rocks.

As cool as "I Wish" was, as catchy as it still is, and as much grammar we all learned from Schoolhouse Rock!, this is not actually why we're here today.


I remember my friend Chris' parents would take us to Showbiz Pizza for his birthday, and I could pretend it was my birthday, too, since ours were three days apart. Sure, we'd rock the Pac Man and the Donkey Kong, even some Centipede and the occasional Whak-a-Mole to take out our pre-teen aggressions.
The highlight of these trips, however, was Skee-Ball. Throw a ball, get tickets, redeem said tickets for completely useless clutter. I might still have an eraser shaped like a sandwich cookie, but I'm sure I don't have the endless pencil anymore.


Skee-ball (also spelled skeeball, ski-ball or skee ball; sometimes called skee roll) is commonly found in arcades and was one of the first redemption games. If you're not familiar with it, the game is similar to bowling except it is played on an inclined lane and the player aims to get the ball to fall into a hole rather than knock down pins.

Gameplay varies depending on the skee ball machine, but is generally similar across almost all variations. The player, after inserting appropriate coin payment or token equivalent into the coin slot, is given a set of baseball- or bocce-sized balls to use, made from either smooth polished hardwood (as is my memory) or heavy plastic. Most machines provide the player with nine balls per game, unless the arcade is going cheap on you. The machine has a long ramp which the player must roll the balls up. At the top of the ramp (the ball-hop), there are several holes, usually separated by circular borders, that the player must try to get the balls to go into. Each hole gives the player a certain number of points based on which hole the ball rolls into, the harder-to-reach holes usually giving the most points. When finished playing, the player is given tickets dispensed by the machine based on how many points were earned. The more tickets the player earns, the more valuable the prizes they can get. Obviously, my athletic prowess extended to Skee Ball, because of the craptacular prizes I was able to redeem for.

In some installations, particularly traveling carnival midways, prize-winning is achieved by scoring a certain minimum number of points within one game. This requires an attendant to hand out prizes immediately at the end of games, and is not common in arcade settings. Usually small prizes can be traded up for medium prizes and mediums for large. Perfect or nearly perfect scores earn the largest prize available. On the other hand, low-scoring games earn nothing, not even tickets.
Good players could regularly score perfect games by banking the ball against the side of the ramp/alley. Modern machines have pieces of molding (called banking strips) affixed to the sides to make this technique unreliable.


There are, like all good products, a number of variations. Mega skee ball is a version of skee ball in which the machine is much larger than the standard size. Skee-daddle or Mini Skee-Ball is a version in which the machine is smaller, thus allowing young children to have an easier time at playing the game. I'm opposed to this, since little kids can kick my ass on the regular game, why give them an additional advantage?


The game was devised in 1909 by J.D. Estes in the city of Philadelphia, making this the 100th anniversary year for Skee-Ball. In 1935 the rights to Skee-Ball were purchased by the Wurlitzer Corporation, which in 1945 sold them to the Philadelphia Toboggan Company, an amusement park ride manufacturer. In 1977 the Philadelphia Toboggan Company set up Skee-Ball, Inc. to market the game, now located in Colmar, PA.

When Skee-Ball alleys were first sold in 1914 to the outdoor amusement park industry by Maurice Piesen (the stock was held by nine year old Maurice on behalf of his father, Hugo Piesen), the game had a 36-foot lane. This was much too big for most arcades, and made it so that only people who were quite strong could play it well. As a result it was later changed to 14 feet, but was eventually changed again to the modern length of 10 to 13 feet. Soon after these changes, Skee-Ball became very common in arcades around the United States. Because prizes were given to the players, the game was considered a form of gambling in some parts of the country. This led to restrictions on the number of machines allowed in an arcade in some places, and banning of the game in other places. These laws, however, did not last long, and thus skee ball is now found in almost all arcades in the country. It is also a staple of the restaurant/arcade chain Chuck E. Cheese's.

In 1935, the first ever skee ball tournament was held in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

A version of Skee-Ball known as Super Ball was a pricing game on the American game show The Price Is Right from 1981 to 1998.

Most skee ball machines have a vulnerability that allows for unlimited point and ticket scoring if the player can access the chutes with their hands. As a result, operators usually install netting or other physical barriers to prevent this cheating.

Older, electro-mechanical alleys used switches and relays. On older machines, when a ball lands in a hole, it activates a series of switches to cause the points to score. There are five switches - one behind each of the main holes (10, 20, 30, 40, 50), which are tripped in succession for 10 points each as the ball travels inside the game. For example, when a ball lands in the 40 hole, it activates four switches to score the points, and then activates a fifth switch to remove the ball from play.
Newer alleys utilize modern electronics for score keeping/ticket payout and optical sensors in the ball path in place of switches to score.


The switch that removes the ball from play is located below the gutter - the place where the ball sinks if no points are scored.

It is possible to grab the ball from the gutter before it hits this final switch and reinsert it into a point scoring hole (such as the 50) to score more points. If a ball is grabbed from the gutter, it is never counted against the player's nine initial balls, and unlimited scoring is possible. If a cheater isn't caught, they can drain a machine of its entire supply of redemption tickets for the price of a single game in a matter of minutes.

Chuck E Cheese, one of Skee-Ball's largest accounts, uses a special metal frame on either side of the target board flanked with several optical sensors called E-Nets that will lock out or "tilt" the game when something obstructs its path.

It is also sometimes possible to pull multiple tickets from the machine after one has been given. This is due to the tickets being connected in an accordion-fold stack. Again, even though I could sometimes coax an extra ticket from the slot, I think we've discerned that I wasn't very useful at that either. ("Hey, girl. Wanna erase something with my cookie-shaped eraser?" No wonder the girls weren't all over me in junior high.)

Have I gotten better, honed the mad Skee-Ball skills in my subsequent years? I wish.

(And for those of you hurt that I didn't post the SkeeLo video, here's a clicky for you.)

5 comments:

Courtney said...

I suck big hairy balls at that game....

Harmony said...

I am pretty much awful at every game I have ever played. What the shit?

Samsmama said...

I rock at that game. And I love that song.

the iNDefatigable mjenks said...

Never forget: every century or so, God comes down from heaven and assumes the form of a man, just so He can play skee-ball. He never tells anyone when He's doing it, but He'll just disappear for a weekend of fun and skee-ball at the Jersey shore.

Elliott said...

Oh, ho ho...mercy. Thanks, Mjenks, I needed that. How could I have forgotten that? Now I'm going to be thinking about that on my ride home.

Be nice and share!

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