Candlepin Bowling

Pool halls in Boston make a popular winter refuge for teens and collegiates (though some ban under-18s). Forget Paul Newman and smoky interiors: Boston likes its billiards halls swanky and well-lit, with polished brass and dark wood. Many do double duty as bowling alleys. Be forewarned, however, that in New England bowling is often "candlepin," with smaller balls and different rules.

It was back in 1880 that Justin White trimmed the size of his pins at his Worcester, Massachusetts, bowling hall, giving birth to candlepin bowling, a locally popular pint-size version of tenpin bowling. Now played almost exclusively in northern New England and in the Canadian Maritime Provinces, candlepin bowling is a game of power and accuracy.

Paradoxically, candlepin bowling is both easier and far more difficult than regular bowling. The balls are significantly smaller, like boccie balls, weigh less than 3 pounds, and have no finger holes. Thus, players of all ages and abilities can whip the ball down the alley. But because both the ball and the pins are lighter, it is more difficult to bowl strikes and spares. Players are allowed three throws per frame, and bowlers may hit fallen pins ("wood" or "deadwood") to knock down other pins. There has never been a perfect "300" score: the world record is 245. Good players will score around 100 to 110, and novice players should be proud of a score of 90.

Among the handful of alleys in and around Boston, many maintain and celebrate their own quirky charm and history.

Boston Bowl. This Dorchester mainstay is open 24 hours a day, and attracts a more adult crowd. It has pool tables, a game room, both tenpin and candlepin bowling, and a restaurant and bar. Call ahead to reserve a lane as bowling leagues snap them up pretty quickly. 820 Morrissey Blvd., Dorchester, Boston, Massachusetts, 02122. 617/825–3800;

Needham Bowlaway. Founded in 1917, this tiny alley's eight cramped lanes are tucked away down a flight of stairs. Fans say Bowlaway is like bowling in your own basement. The charge is $25 per lane per hour. Note that this is a drive-to destination, though it's a short walk from Needham Center train station. 16 Chestnut St., Needham, Massachusetts, 02492. 781/449–4060;

Sacco's Bowl Haven. The '50s decor here "makes bowling the way it was, the way it is." Run by the Sacco family until 2010, the building and alleys in the heart of Davis Square were bought and are maintained by Flatbread Company pizzeria. Its 10 lanes are open daily until midnight (11 pm Sunday), and cost $30 per hour; there's a $3 fee to rent shoes. You can bowl away and enjoy organic pizza. 45 Day St., Somerville, Massachusetts, 02144. 617/776–0552;

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