Thursday, 7 July 2011

Physiochemical Properties of Bowling

Bowling has just reached a new level in my brain. 

Podcasts are great.  They are like radio except without commercials, the people doing them (do you call them podcasters?) can say whatever they want, and the it has a great target audience.  Since I am a nerd I have been listening to Chris Hardwick, Jonah Ray and Matt Myra for the past six months on the Nerdist Podcast.  The word 'listening' might not do this podcast justice.  'Savagely addicted' might be better however.  So after a couple of weeks of throwing my addiction out the window I came back to the habit and like heroin I instantly got my fix with GeekDad.

Near the end of the hour long podcast they started talking about family and what GeekDad a.k.a. Ken Denmead does with his kids is pretty nerdy (depending on what you like to call it nerdy or geeky) like Dungeons and Dragons and possibly reading the Hobbit in voices.  All cool.  One thing where I became interested in was when GeekDad talked about bowling.  Chris Hardwick immediately became interested since his father was was professional bowler (see awesome video below about Billy Hardwick).  At 54 minutes  'Today bowling is too easy now when I was doing it in the 60's it was a spare game it was about precision'.  Here is the article he wrote for Wired magazine.

So when I was listening to this on the bus going from Otaniemi to Helsinki I hear about oil patterns and wrote something in my ipod 'surface tension of bowling and oil patterns'.  So I looked it up stuff about oil patches and how they can affect the surface tension of the ball going down the lane.  Oil patches in bowling are patches of oil left on the lane.  In the old days they used oil conditioners for the wood in bowling lanes.  After a while some of the oil would come off leaving less oily wood and possibly it was not always the same level of oil in the first place. So now like any sport tradition takes hold and the PBA (Professional Bowlers Association) uses various patterns to add some additional strategy to the sport.  For a list of patterns check here.

So what does this have to do with surface tension?  Everything.  The treating of the wood is very important.  The solvent based conditioners were developed a far back as the 40's and used within a specific era of bowling when they had to clean the bowling center by hand.  The solvents were added to the mineral oil which helped break the dirt down in the cleaning.  Later in the mid 80's and 90's as better products and urethane bowling balls became available the conditioners used had no solvents (100% solid conditioners with mineral oil being a main component in the 4-8 components).  Today high performance conditioners are popular and necessary for new bowling balls that have different contents of glass in them.  Mineral oil may be as low as 75%  in some formulas in the 14-16 components.  So as the bowling evolved different lane conditioners were used and different balls were changed.

Some things that affect these conditioners are noted: A) the viscoscity, B) surface tension (!) and C) temperature all affect the physical nature of the formulation being put onto the surface of the bowling lane and  how the bowling ball interacts with this surface.  The addition of the conditioners also has some affect as the chemicals may interact somehow.

A. Viscosity
It is the measure of the internal friction of a fluid. It is apparent when one layer is made to move against another layer.  The more friction between the two layers the greater force required to cause this movement of 'shear'.  Viscosity is measured in centipose (cps).  Honey for example can have viscosity of 3000 cps whereas water at 20 deg C has a viscosity of 1 cps.

How does this affect Billy Hardwick's bowling ball?  If there is a higher viscosity lane conditioner the ball will have more resistance to the floor which causes the ball to slow down and hook a little bit earlier.

B. Surface Tension

Since you have been reading my blog you already know surface tension.  The surface tension relates to the interaction of molecules at the surface of the water.  Surfactants like those found in floor conditioners will break this surface tension and allow it to spread across the floor easier.  The interaction with the solid floor would relate to the surface energy and the interaction with any mineral oil would relate to the interface tension between these two liquids.  The easiest way understand how the floor conditioner would spread across the surface and not bead up on the surface of the floor would be to measure the surface tension in relation to air using a tensiometer.

How does the surface tension and surface energy affect Billy Hardwick's ball?
The conditioner needs to recover after a ball rolls on it.  If a good conditioning is done to the floor then huge patches will not be evident after bowling many frames.  If not then Billy might want to try avoiding these patches.

C. Temperature

Pro bowling happens around many places in North America and the world.  One study from this website where I got a lot of material showed that for every 1 degree Farenheit (this is the US remember) the viscosity changes by 2 cps.  So for some lane conditioners if you start with a 20cps (viscosity) conditioner and the temperature drops from 80 ºF to 70ºF, the viscosity of that conditioner would be 40cps.

How would this affect Billy Hardwick's ball?  As mentioned above this can make the lane more slick or sticky depending on the temperature outside and conditioner used.  So if a professional bowler was playing in Helsinki on January 1st during the Brunswick Ballmaster Open (outside temperatures around -15 deg Celsius) it would have differed from the Kuwait Open in March (outside temperatures around 11-26 deg Celsius).  Since it is an inside game the temperature outside would only affect depending on the air conditioning or the heating system..

In summary the conditioner and the physiochemical properties of viscoscity & surface tension may affect performance.  Good bowlers should know about this and oil patterns that might be present on the surface.  For recreational bowlers like me that like to have a pint after every two frames and suck regardless of floor conditioner I don't think it matters so much.

Without further ado...Billy Hardwick.