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Skittles (sport)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Pins and ball
Pins and ball
Large scale game
Large scale game

Skittles is an old European target sport, from which Ten-pin bowling and Candlepin bowling in the United States, and Five-pin bowling in Canada are descended. In the United Kingdom the game remains a very popular pub sport in England and Wales, though it tends to be found in particular regions, not nation-wide. It is perhaps most common in the south west counties of Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Somerset, Wiltshire and Gloucestershire, Worcestershire and South Wales. It is very popular in Germany, Austria and Switzerland.


  • Ball - the wooden ball rolled at the skittles.
  • Beaver - when a player knocks down no pins in a hand.
  • Broken frame - a frame with some pins knocked over
  • Cheese - a round, flattened wooden discus (often made of lignum vitae), shaped like some types of cheese, which in some variants of the game is thrown instead of rolling a ball
  • Copper - the pin on the extreme left or right of the frame
  • Down - the scores for all players in one set during a single hand, combined, e.g. "we just got a 24 down"
  • Duck - a player who doesn't knock down any pins on their turn.
  • Flattener / floorer / flopper - when a player knocks down all nine pins with one ball or cheese.
  • Flopper ball - the ball that achieves a flopper
  • Frame - the full set of pins (usually nine) standing upright
  • Hand - a player's turn at the game
  • Landlord - the pin in the centre of the frame, immediately behind the front pin
  • Pin - a skittle.
  • Strike-hitting over all the pins within one turn
  • Pitch - the long rectangular strip along which balls are thrown and at the end of which the pins stand
  • Quarter - the two pins to either side of the front pin
  • Set - three or four players who play against the opposing teams set
  • Sidey /Cush - a ball played that hits the side of the alley.
  • Skittle alley - a long narrow building in which skittles is usually played.
  • Skittle may be an onomatopoeic word that describes the noise made when the skittles fall.
  • Spare - when a player knocks down all nine pins with 2 balls, allowing a third throw with the pins re-set.
  • Sticker / sticker-up - a person who puts knocked-over pins back upright
  • Sunshine - (South Wales) when a player fails to knock down any pins with his three balls
  • V/C - used to denote a beaver or sunshine when chalking, also an alternative for those names in North Somerset - said to stand for "very close"

[Often people in the far south get their terminology wrong and do not play the game right.]

Standard game

Skittles usually takes place in a skittle alley, and usually uses a single set of nine pins.

The pitch, like the pins and the rules, varies according to region, but is between 21 feet (6.4 m) and 36 feet (11 m) long to the front pin.

The balls are traditionally made of hardwood, often lignum vitae, though rubber balls may sometimes be found. They are between 4 inches (100 mm) and 6 inches (150 mm) in diameter, and have no finger holes. The player usually has a choice of sizes. A sloping wooden ramp along the side of the alley is often used to return them to the players.

Pins are vertical lengths of wood - traditionally from the wood of a cider apple tree in the west country, or sometimes synthetic materials. They are between 6 inches (150 mm) and 16 inches (400 mm) high, weigh up to 3 kg, with height, shape and weight all varying by region. The central pin (or sometimes the front pin) may be larger or differently shaped in some games. The pins are always arranged in a diamond pattern:

                                   *                                 *   *                               *   *   *                                   *   *                                   * 

Usually three balls are thrown, and any pins that have been knocked down but that remain on the pitch are removed between throws. If all the pins are knocked down, they are put back by the sticker - so the maximum score is typically 27 (3 x 9), though this varies in different versions of the game.

Generally the ball is thrown to roll along the floor, but in some regions it is bowled rather like in cricket, either with or without a bounce - though with an under-arm swing action. Each player may have up to 12 'hands' (turns) during a match.


Front Pin First

In this variant of the game, pins are only counted if the front pin is knocked over first. If the front pin is missed, any pins that are knocked over are not reset. In Devon Summer League, this rule is played frequently.


In this variant of the game, the player has to nominate the pin that will be hit first before the throw. Unless this pin is knocked over the player will not score. The names given to the pins may vary from region to region, in Wiltshire they are usually referred to as Front Pin, Front Right Quarter, Front Left Quarter, Outside Right (or Right Winger), Centre Pin, Outside Left (or Left Winger), Back Right Quarter, Back Left Quarter and Back Pin.

Four Pin

In this variant of the game, only four pins (the two coppers, the front and back pins) are put up and must be hit with the front pin first. It is often used in conjunction with noimination as well. Currently used in North Somerset Cup games.


In the Midlands, a 'cheese' is thrown through the air instead of using a ball, where the sport is usually referred to as Hood Skittles.

Gloucestershire Skittles

In the Cheltenham area, skittles is played with either a team of 12 (winter skittles) or 6 (summer skittles). Each player plays 6 hands of 3 balls. However, in Gloucester, the players play 10 hands of 3 balls, and a team is made up of 10 skittlers.

North Somerset skittles

In North Somerset teams are of 12 (winter leagues) and 9 (summer leagues). Players may be organised in sets of 3 or 4 (teams of 12 only, obviously).


A game for any number of players. Each starts with 3 lives. Each bowls only one ball at a time. The first bowls at a full frame and the skittles are not stuck up until all nine are hit down. Each time a player fails to hit a single pin (but they can hit as many as they like), he or she loses a life. The winner is the last one left with a life intact. Usually played for money, e.g. £1 or 50p a game each player - the winner takes the pot.

London skittles (Nine-pins)

Also known as ninepins, this version uses nine pins (made of hornbeam) and a cheese. The cheese is thrown at the pins using a swinging motion whilst stepping forwards. After an initial throw, the remaining pins (the 'broken frame') may end up in a variety of formations - each of which has a distinctive (and usually London-based) name, such as a London Bridge or a Portsmouth Road. Knocking down all the pins at once is known as a 'floorer' and is highly respected. A player who manages to throw three floorers in succession is lauded.

Whilst it was once a popular game played in pubs all over London (generally sited by the river), it is now only played at two venues: one in Hampstead and one in Norbury. The origins of this skittles game are vague, but it is thought by some to have been started by Dutch sailors, possibly playing on the decks of moored barges.

London Bridge

A variant of nomination but with only the landlord and two coppers set up, i.e. one has to hit a pin with each ball and nominate which one each time.

Table skittles

Table-top versions of the game also exist. These include:

  • Hood skittles: a miniaturized version in which the pins are on a special table which is closed on three sides with a leather hood; a 'cheese' is thrown at the pins underarm
  • Devil among the tailors: another miniaturized version, in which a small ball is attached by a chain or string to a vertical pole, allowing it to be swung through the air in an arc to strike the pins.

See also

  • UK topics
  • Pub games

External links

  • Skittles - History and Useful Information
  • Fédération Internationale des Quilleurs / FIQ
  • Science of skittles
  • French nine pin skittles game
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