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5 Famous Bowling Alleys

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Shortly after bowling a 37 at the Pleasant Valley Lanes during a March campaign stop in Altoona, Pa., Barack Obama vowed to replace the White House's bowling alley with a full-size indoor basketball court if he were elected President. While it remains to be seen whether Obama will make good on this campaign promise after Tuesday's Inauguration, here's a look at five famous bowling alleys from the past and present.

1. The White House Lanes

The history of bowling in the White House dates back to 1947, when a two-lane alley was installed in the West Wing as a birthday gift to President Truman. While Truman wasn't much of a bowler, a league of White House staffers soon formed. The two-lane alley was moved to the Old Executive Office Building to clear space for a mimeograph room in 1955, but Nixon had a single-lane alley built below the driveway leading to the North Portico shortly after he came into office in 1969.


While bowling enthusiasts scoffed at Obama's comments, the nation's leading bowling organizations cast their differences aside and reached across the gutter to submit a joint proposal to renovate the existing alley (see image below). The proposal described an ultra-modern lane with "electronic bumpers (perfect to help both the President-Elect and his children adopt proper bowling technique)."
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Obama has since suggested that he might keep the alley, but it's a safe bet he won't unwind next week by chasing 300 "“ or 40 "“ in the White House basement.

2. Holler House

holler-house.jpgThe recent trend in the bowling industry has been to develop alleys that look more like nightclubs, where drinks are served in martini glasses instead of pitchers, and stilettos pass as bowling shoes. The nation's oldest bowling alley, the Holler House in Milwaukee, somehow missed the memo "“ and the one in 1936 announcing the invention of the automatic pinsetter. That's right "“ the Holler House, which celebrated its 100-year anniversary in 2008, still uses human pinsetters. Pin boys, as the locals call them, work for $30 per day, plus tips, reloading pins after each throw on the alley's two lanes.

There have been two perfect games in the history of the Holler House and the last one was rolled in 1934. That probably has something to do with the fact that the planks for the lanes are made of real wood and are oiled with a spray can. "I've seen a lot of 200 bowlers on their hands and knees here," bowler Tom Haefke recently told the Chicago Reader. "It's real "“ nothing sterile. The other day, the pin boy had to wipe up water because the roof was leaking." Obama might not break 20 at this place. There's no arcade or snack bar at the Holler House, but there is a small bar filled with bowling memorabilia above the lanes that Esquire rated one of the best bars in America. Just don't expect to be able to order a martini.

3. Rose Bowl

rose-bowl-lanes.jpgWhen the pink, multi-domed Rose Bowl opened its doors in 1962 to bowlers off of Route 66 in Tulsa, it looked something like the offspring of an airplane hangar and a bomb shelter. (It's a girl!) The 32,000-square-foot structure's two-and-a-half concrete domes rested on two support pillars, leaving ample space for lanes, a snack bar, a game room, and audience seating. The Rose Bowl attracted Tulsans and travelers alike for more than 40 years until it was shut down in 2005.

The structure was the target of vandalism and arson until local businessman Sam Baker bought it for $295,000 in 2006. Under the terms of the deal, Baker or any other owner was prohibited from using the Rose Bowl as a commercial bowling alley for the next 20 years. Baker immediately put the structure on eBay and set the minimum bid at $499,000, but it went unsold. Baker eventually decided to turn the structure into an event center, but the renovation process has been slow. In October, Baker estimated that the remaining costs could exceed $1.5 million. He hopes to raise at least some of the money through Route 66 preservation grants.

4. The National Bowling Stadium

bowling-stadium.jpgKnown as the "Taj Mahal of Tenpins," the $50 million National Bowling Stadium in Reno opened in 1995 and is home to numerous championship bowling tournaments each year. The stadium includes 78 lanes, spectator seating for 1,200, a 44-foot-high ceiling, and a 440-foot video screen comprised of high definition digital scoring systems above each lane. The facility also features a tracking system that provides bowlers with an evaluation of their performance and recommendations for improvement, a 10,000-square-foot concourse area, and a movie theater. Fog machines and laser lighting? Yeah, the stadium has those too.

Of all the matches that have been bowled at the NBS "“ including last weekend's National Bowling Stadium Championship "“ the greatest might have been between a pair of fictional characters. The final showdown between Ernie McCracken (Bill Murray) and Roy Munson (Woody Harrelson) in Kingpin took place in Reno. And if you're wondering, the bowling scenes in The Big Lebowski were all shot at the since-demolished Hollywood Star Lanes near Santa Monica.

5. Splitsville

splitsville.jpgAccording to their Web site, stale nachos, tacky carpeting, and retro shoes are a thing of the past at this Tampa hotspot, which opened in 2003. Splitsville features a contemporary design, four bars, plasma TVs, and 13 lanes arranged in clusters that resemble wheel spokes. In addition to providing a different perspective for bowlers, the unique layout of the lanes also creates "cozy nooks that are perfect for an intimate dinner setting." What's on the menu? Try sushi, oven fresh cookies and milk, and 10 types of sliders. In other words, Splitsville is what happens when swanky bowling goes to White Castle.


A giant bowling pin "“ purportedly the world's largest "“ greets bowlers at the entrance to Splitsville, where lane reservations run $85 per hour on Friday and Saturday nights. Among the celebrities who have rolled at Splitsville are Jenna Elfman, Susan Sarandon, DMX, and a Saudi prince. Less notable visitors include South Carolina head football coach Steve Spurrier, who may not be coming back after holding his radio show at Splitsville a few days before the Gamecocks rolled a gutter ball against Iowa in the Outback Bowl this year.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.

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