14 Annotations

First Reading

Brendan Edwards  •  Link

Webster's defines ninepins as:

Ninepins \Nine"pins\, n. pl.
A game played with nine pins, or pieces of wood, set on end, at which a wooden ball is bowled to knock them down; bowling.

Basically, a precursor to bowling. Gods only know how well they fared at it aboard ship.

Grahamt  •  Link

Ninepins is still played in Britain:
Usually called skittles and played in older style pubs. Now quite rare as it needs a lot of space for the alley, but I have played in the last 10 years. More dificult than tenpin bowling as the ball is smaller than the gap between the pins. The centre pin of the diamond is called the "kingpin", which is now used metaphorically to mean the main character in an organisation.
Bar or table skittles uses the same ninepin diamond layout in miniature, (pins 4-6 inch high) with the ball suspended on a string from a pole. The ball is swung around the pole to knock down the pins. This is also becoming very rare in pubs.
Bar skittles can be played anywhere, even on a ship.
By the way, "bowling" in Britain (as in Francis Drake's bowling/armada story) means lawn bowls, in which there are no pins. American "bowling" is invariably referred to here as "tenpin bowling" to diferentiate it from nine-pin and lawn bowls.

bruce  •  Link

Ninepins (skittles) is alive and well in pubs in Dorset/Somerset/Devon. Local leagues and teams, and at team level taken very seriously indeed. Gives rise to jobs for our teenagers as "sticker up" - setting the pins back up in place after each player had had their turn.

David Bell  •  Link

Ninepins seems to be something that, like most such traditional games, varies across the country. Often, the variations are overwhelmed by one particular form, as happened to the game of darts.

What I have seen in northern Lincolnshire is a form where the ball isn't a ball, but is slightly flattened, and instead of being bowled it is thrown.

Or it was. I don't think I've seen that variant since the closing years of the last century -- a battered set of skittles at a village fair, along with a few other of the traditional amusements.

Grahamt  •  Link

Ninepins/Skittles is a very old game:
Apparently there is a picture in the pyramids of people throwing balls/stones at sticks stuck upright in the sand.
David Bell is quite correct about local variations. One variation has the kingpin longer than the other 8 pins; the object being to knock it down without disturbing the others. Scoring being the opposite of the normal game: the more pins knocked down, the worse the score.
I have heard of the flattened ball or disc being thrown or rolled, as well as different sized round balls also being thrown or bowled, and variations in the number of pins.
The (1979) trophy I won shows symmetrical barrel shaped pins with the ball about the same diameter as the widest part of the pin. I remember the pins were about a foot high varnished wood, most of which had big chips missing and dents through over enthusiastic (i.e. drink fuelled) play. We used a compressed rubber ball, but often (as in Pepys time) a wooden ball is used.
When only two teams played, the non-bowlers set up the pins, else the next team to play did it. Three balls bowled was a turn. If all pins were knocked down on the 1st or 2nd ball, the pins were set up again, so one could score 27 on a turn. Maximum score was thus 270 (30 strikes) I never saw this happen!
Even between two pubs less than 20 miles apart (in Middlesex and Berkshire) there are variations in rules, equipment and scoring.

Richard Lacey  •  Link

Re: ninepins
American readers may be most familiar with ninepins through the reference in Washington Irving "Rip Van Winkle." The story is located in the Hudson (River -- but actually a fjord) Highlands, where Rip Van Winkle discovered that the thunder often heard there was caused by Hendrik Hudson and his "little men" playing at ninepins.

Jim O'Kane  •  Link

The games of Skittles I've played in the U.K. and Bermuda have small bumps in the playing board where the individual pins are set (the pins have a slight indentation on their bases, matching the raised "peg" on which the pins are set). I would think the same on a ship would be enough to prevent the pins from toppling before a ball was bowled.

Sam Sampson  •  Link

The Online Guide to Traditional Games has good information on the history of skittles. It includes links to present day UK Skittles Leages, and a list of UK Pubs where Alley Skittles is still played. There's also a link to Devil Amongst the Tailors (Table Skittles).
Sam must have been quite an enthusiast when we see how often he played from the links below. The site is worth browsing for other games Sam may have played. We'll see what happens as the days roll by.
If you want to take the game up, gear is available from Masters Games.

guy tunnicliffe  •  Link

Ninepins or skittles is still played in London and is known as London skittles or Old English skittles and differs from Western skittles played in the Western counties and long alley skittles played in the Midlands.A discus shaped 'cheese'of 10lbs or more is thrown at nine hornbean pins set out in a diamond formation.The pins have a 3 inch diameter base and the widest part is some 6 and a half inches.They can only be stood up on one end.
The cheese is thrown through the air and strikes the front pin 'on the full'. This makes the game more three dimentional than than other skittling games including ten pin bowling.There are other differences in the scoring method and throwing action.
For further information on the London game and where it is played visit http://www.londonskittles.co.uk

Rob Flack  •  Link

Hi, I recently purchased an oblong or flattened ball marked: "Brunswick Mineralite". It has a cream colored circle in the center & the ball is black. It is a fingerless ball. Does anyone know what it was used for? Thanks Rob

Grahamt  •  Link

Sounds like a lawn/crown green bowl.
The ball should have a bias, that is if bowled will curve to one side probably towards the cream coloured disc.
The game is played every summer in parks throughout Britain. No pins are involved.

Second Reading

Bill  •  Link

A sure way to play at Nine-Pins so as to strike all down.

The Nine-Pins standing in an equall square, a good Player striking the first Pin somewhat low, shall strike down the second and fifth; these in their violence may strike down three, six, and nine; the Boule being in motion, may strike down four and seaven, which four may strike down the eighth, and so all nine may be struck down. Often tryed.

---Eighteen Books of the SECRETS of Art and Nature. J.J. Wecker, 1661

Bill  •  Link

Malherbe was the first poet in France in his day; but he appears to have little esteemed the art. He used to say that a good poet was not more useful to the state, than a good player of nine-pins.

---Curiosities of Literature. Issac Disraeli, 1698.

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Chart showing the number of references in each month of the diary’s entries.