The Fascinating Physics of Bowling

The Fascinating Physics of Bowling

Bowling has been reinvented many times over the past seven thousand years but especially in the last 30. This is the fascinating physics of balls, oil, lane and pins. A portion of this video was sponsored by Salesforce. Go to to learn more.

Huge thanks to Steve Kloempken and all of Storm Bowling for letting us visit and get a glimpse into the crazy world of bowling.
Huge thanks to legends Chris Barnes and Pete Weber for taking the time to bowl with us.
Thanks to Ron Hatfield and James Freeman for their help with research. Check out their great book, Bowling Beyond the Basics:
Thanks to the United States Bowling Congress (USBC) and Professional Bowlers Association (PBA) for their help with accessing archival data and footage.
Thanks to Bill Guszczo for giving us the idea to make this video in the first place.

Freeman, James, and Ron Hatfield. Bowling beyond the Basics: What’s Really Happening on the Lanes, and What You Can Do about It. BowlSmart, 2018. —
N. Stremmel, P. Ridenour and S. Sterbenz. “Identifying the Critical Factors That Contribute to Bowling Ball Motion on a Bowling Lane.” United States Bowling Congress, 2008. —
USBC Equipment Specifications and Certification Team. “Ball Motion Study: Phase I and II Final Report.” United States Bowling Congress, 2008. —
Brettingen, Patrick, and Nicki Mours. “USBC static weight limits remain relevant.” United States Bowling Congress, 2011. —
Article on lane oil origins —
Luna, Richard. “Bruce Pluckhahn says there’s a little bit of bowling…” United Press International Archives, 1984. —
Johnson, Brody D. “The Physics of Bowling: How good bowlers stay off the straight and narrow.” St. Louis University. —
Talamo, Jim. “The Physics of Bowling Balls.” —
Thompson, Ted. “Breakdown and Carrydown – Then and Now.” Kegel. 2012. —
Frohlich, Cliff. “What Makes Bowling Balls Hook?” American Journal of Physics, vol. 72, no. 9, 2004, pp. 1170–1177., —
Article on bowling’s ranking in participatory sports —
Speranza, Dan, and Dave Nestor. “Initial Oil Absorption Results.” United States Bowling Congress, 2016. —
D. Benner, N. Mours, and P. Ridenour. “Pin Carry Study: Bowl Expo 2009.” United States Bowling Congress, 2009. —
Hopkins, D. C., and J. D. Patterson. “Bowling Frames: Paths of a Bowling Ball.” American Journal of Physics, vol. 45, no. 3, 1977, pp. 263–266., —
Normani, Franco. “The Physics of Bowling.” Real World Physics Problems. —
Horaczek, Stan. “The insides of pro bowling balls will make your head spin.” Popular Science, 2020. —
House shot oil pattern — Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 4.0.

Special thanks to Patreon supporters: Andrew, Diffbot, Micah Mangione, MJP, Gnare, Nick DiCandilo, Dave Kircher, Edward Larsen, Burt Humburg, Blake Byers, Dumky, Evgeny Skvortsov, Meekay, Bill Linder, Paul Peijzel, Mac Malkawi, Michael Schneider, Big Badaboom, Ludovic Robillard, Jim buckmaster, fanime96, Juan Benet, Ruslan Khroma, Robert Blum, Richard Sundvall, Lee Redden, Vincent, Marinus Kuivenhoven, Alfred Wallace, Clayton Greenwell, Michael Krugman, Cy ‘kkm’ K’Nelson, Sam Lutfi, Ron Neal

Written by Derek Muller and Emily Zhang
Animations by Mike Radjabov and Iván Tello
Filmed by Derek Muller, Trenton Oliver, and Emily Zhang
Edited by Trenton Oliver
SFX by Shaun Clifford
Additional video supplied by Getty Images
Music from Epidemic Sounds
Produced by Derek Muller, Petr Lebedev, and Emily Zhang

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34 Responses

  1. FGain says:

    Never have I thought that I will be watching a video about bowling with such interest. Thanks V!

  2. Cory Granholm says:

    I thought I was bad at bowling personally, but now I know I’m bad at bowling scientifically. Thanks!

    • true guy says:

      @WiZarD You ruined it because the guy committed after you saying you ruined it because bowling wasn’t there because I didn’t have the bowling ball for the shoes and the shoes was not matching with the court and the court was green and ball was blue you’re seen and the ball is blue so how am I going to do that if you say you’re professional you need to shut up because you don’t know what you’re talking about and you don’t make no cents

    • true guy says:

      @Nghia No you ruined it because you wasn’t positive because you don’t know what’s like being professional I only had one ball and the owner was cracked in the middle of the wall and it wasn’t that starting the game it was only dear because I only play so you don’t know what you’re talking about and you need to calm the hell down before I come and get you and you don’t know if you’ve talked about it again because the bowling ball wasn’t that round it was kind of square and you are too because I don’t know why you’d straight up this did that but you just mean you a bully and you don’t know what you’re talking about so you need to be quiet and shut up but I guess it wasn’t that bad

    • Arati Rao says:


    • true guy says:

      You’re probably really good at bowling because you’re hurt you’re good at playing with balls But that’s OK because it wasn’t that bad

    • Naughty Spicy Art says:

      First Boring as Hell video from Veritasium 🙁

  3. MicShazam says:

    This is actually kind of mind blowing. I love how a thing you’ve assumed to be sort of simplistic all of your life can turn out to have multiple layers to it.

  4. Gom Jabbar says:

    This vid reminded me of another veritasium episode where you talked about the intermediate axis spinning in space, how a spinning object flipped around when there was no/very low friction acting on it when spinning on the intermediate axis. I wonder if the pattern of track flare would reverse in the direction of procession if given enough oiled lane time.

  5. Austin Butts says:

    “… let the ball be the guide.”
    Translation: I bowl so consistently I can notice how the oil pattern is different and adjust on the fly.

    • Madeleine H says:

      it’s absolutely insane the level of calculation pro-athletes (of any sport) are doing subconsciously in the moment without even knowing they’re doing them. They all describe it the same way, they “just know” or they “just feel it”, but in reality they’re subconsciously doing absolutely baffling mathematical calculations in an instant.

    • SwiftravenCD says:

      On the PBA tour they let the bowlers know ahead of time what the oil pattern is so they don’t have to do anywhere near as much guessing as they used to. Being able to adjust, especially after a few games have been bowled on the lanes is paramount and Pete has it down to almost a science.

    • Ajblue says:

      You can kinda tell by how the pins fall down. There is a little zone to the left and the right of the pocket (what bowlers call the perfect spot to hit the pins) where you will still knock down all 10 pins but it will look and sound loose because the pins will take more time to knock everything down. Thats how you can tell if your shot is changing, poor league bowlers learn to adapt by throwing their shot wider/tighter, faster/slower. While pros act like its harder to play on different oils, they have an arsenal of balls designed for each oil pattern, they throw the same shot but just change the ball making it more consistent. League bowling is also not as easy as they make it out to be, many lanes will apply a thick layer of oil to last throughout the day, while tournament bowling applies a fresh coat of oil designed for perfect shots right before they start. When I bowled I always did better at tournaments and worse in league as I didn’t like to throw a huge hook. Some other people will try and optimize for their league oil pattern and will throw huge hooks to overcome the extra oil, and then when they go to a tournament they struggle because they can’t keep the ball on the lane since their ball hooks too much.

  6. Reid Fleming, World's Toughest Milkman says:

    “I’m even more impressed than you are.”
    _Translation:_ Oh man you got lucky.

  7. Maxime Labelle says:

    So, now, as a total ignorant of all the parameters that go into this game, I know and understand that the results for each and every casual games I have ever played were essentially random 🤯.

    • Lili Sabrina Carlyle says:

      Yes! That’s my takeaway too. And it explains a lot of weird superstitions that can come up about different balls that look identical to any casual player.

  8. Taikamuna says:

    Wow, now I can finally beat Roman in Grand Theft Auto

  9. Eric Taylor says:

    My dad got his hands on the wood from a bowling ally they were closing and made several very good cutting boards from it. The wood is extremely hard.

  10. maruftim says:

    “.. We need the oil. If there was no oil, nobody would have fun.”
    That’s the most American thing ever said coincidentally

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