Skeeball is the arcade game that’s a cross between bowling and target shooting. Follow some tips and practice enough and you can win some nifty prizes. J.D. Estes invented Skeeball in 1909 in Philadelphia. It was among the first arcade games to be played for prizes. At one point it came under restrictions as it was seen as a form of gambling, but today it is common in arcades.
The goal of the game is to roll nine softball-sized wooden balls up an inclined alley, which has a ramp at the end to launch them into numbered holes. The holes that are more difficult to hit will garner more points.
Most Skeeball games use a prize system which involves dispensing tickets as you earn points. The more points you score, the more tickets you receive, and you can accumulate tickets from game to game to trade in for prizes. In this way, the more games you play the better prizes you can collect.
In a few arcades, like those at Cedar Point amusement park in Sandusky, Ohio, scores of a specific level within a single game will garner prizes of a certain size. It will take higher scores to win even the smallest prize than you would need to get tickets, but the prizes are better. You can also trade in accumulated small prizes for larger ones.
The advantage of the latter system is that a skilled player can walk away with one of those giant stuffed animals in a single game. The disadvantage is that an unskilled player can walk away with nothing but the memory of having spent a quarter per game.
Get Your Money’s Worth
In both systems it’s prudent to check out the prize situation before you begin playing. In the case of the tickets, look at the prize counter to see how many tickets it takes for the various prizes. You may find that the value of the tickets is approximately the value of the paper they’re printed on. So if going for nice prizes is your thing, this may not be the place to do it. On the other hand, if you’re playing for practice or just for fun, it doesn’t matter. In cases like this I’ll often give whatever tickets I earn to the nearest little kid, who will enjoy the plastic trinkets more than I will.
In the case of the single-game prize system, judge based on your skill how likely it is you’ll score well enough to get a nice prize, or consistently enough to accumulate the small prizes for the bigger ones.
So now you’re ready to throw in your quarter and give it a go. If you’re playing on an older machine, you’ll want to check that all nine balls actually roll down into place; there’s a little window there to show you. Call over an attendant if they don’t.
When you start to play, remember that you want to roll the ball, not toss it. Develop a comfortable stance and a consistent swing of your arm.
The most common technique among experts is to use a bank shot. Unlike bowling alleys, Skeeball machines don’t have gutters, so you can bounce the ball against the side on its way up the incline. With a few practice games, experts can find each machine’s “sweet spot” along the side, where if they aim their ball there they’ll score the maximum on each throw.
Sometimes the older machines are better for this technique. The wooden rails along the sides will have more “give” and will provide a nice bounce to the ball. You may notice some spots on the rail that are more worn; try aiming for them because they may be the “sweet spots” the experts have been using.
Note: It’s cheating to roll balls from more than one machine into the same Skeeball machine. And in modern machines it won’t work, anyway; they automatically stop adding up scores when nine balls have been played.
Be cautious when trying out an arcade you haven’t been to before. Some will have Skeeball machines that are not the standard size, or that dispense fewer than nine balls per game. Know what you’re getting into.