Most arcade games leave you with an empty feeling--you
drop in a few quarters, hammer mindlessly at a button for a while, then
wander away with empty pockets and glazed eyes. But Skee-Ball's different:
Not only does it require a certain amount of skill, but in many cases it
actually pays you something when you win. Sure, most of it's cheap plastic crap, but you can occasionally get something fun,
like a little water gun, a yo-yo, or one of those ultra-bouncy rubber
To the average cocky teenage guy, it seems like an easy game, because
it only involves flinging some balls at some holes--it's just like
baseball or basketball or something, and every guy should be
good at that, right? It's easy to think that you're doing well, too,
because the "Winner" light starts flashing at about 150 points or
Unfortunately, that sort of hubris has felled three generations of
males in my family, because Skee-Ball isn't as simple as it looks.
A young couple are strolling along the boardwalk after a long day at
the beach. They spent the day swimming and jumping through
the waves; he watched in captivation as she popped through wave after
wave, tugged at her bathing suit, and tossed her hair back, with her wet
skin glistening in the bright hot sun. They had hamburgers
from the diner for supper, and they're pleasantly tired but not yet
exhausted, so they're spending the last hours of the day wandering between
the water and the arcades. A cool breeze blows off the water, and he
catchers her scent: she smells like saltwater and sunscreen
and sand. He wants to slip down to the dark beach with her, to duck
under the boardwalk and kiss her for hours and hours as the waves roar
endlessly in the distance. But each time he puts his arm around her, she
stiffens a little, then turns her head, pulls away, and heads off to the
ring toss or the dart throw.
He knows the problem. There's a hoop somewhere, and he needs to jump
through it. If it were a standard-issue circus hoop--one that's ten feet
off the ground, surrounded by tigers, and blazing with two-foot
flames--that'd be easy; he'd go hurtling through it posthaste. But this
one's a bit more difficult, because he doesn't know where it is or what it
looks like or what it'll take to get to the other side. It's the last hoop (or
so he thinks--you can never be
sure with women) and if he can make it through...some sort of heaven
awaits. He's not quite sure what kind of heaven, but he knows he wants it
more than anything else.
But he's not sure how to do it, and so they wander on without any
particular destination. She's not looking at him at all now; she's
staring off into the darkness beyond the sea, and his heart drops to his
feet as he sees her yawn deeply. Now his hands are beginning to sweat; he's desperately trying to think of something else to do
before the night comes to a premature halt.
They pass an arcade, and he's tempted to go play one of those cool
games with the guns. Then, somewhere in the depths of his mind, he
vaguely recalls that girls don't particularly like to watch guys blow
stuff away. For a moment he considers doing it anyway--guns are easier to
understand than women, after all--but he glances again at the soft curve
of her bare shoulders, and thinks better of it.
Then he spots the Skee-Ball machines. That's it! He is going
to play Skee-Ball. He is going to play and play and play until he wins
enough tickets to get her a stuffed animal. He'll present it to her,
and she'll cuddle it to her chest and smile; she'll hug him close
for a minute, and he'll breathe deep. When they're under the boardwalk,
he'll lay her down gently and she'll rest her head on it, and when it's
time to go he'll insist on brushing the sand off, refusing to let her have
it back until it's perfectly clean.
So he heads over to the cashier's window, plunks down two hours' wages,
and gets a roll of quarters, which he slips into his pocket. He strides
back to the Skee-Ball alley (where she's looking more bored than ever). He
finds an empty machine, drops in a quarter, and begins to play.
He hurls ball after ball up the ramp, and the machine beeps like crazy
as it spews out ticket after ticket. He is vaguely aware that she has
dropped a quarter into the machine beside him and is playing a game of her
own. As the "Winner" light flashes and the game ends, he glances up at
his score--a respectable 190. He pulls a dozen tickets out of the machine
and turns to her proudly--only to see that she's virtually covered with
tickets, with two strips over her shoulder, a few around her neck, and
even more clutched in her left hand.
He looks incredulously up at her scoreboard, and reads the
The little bitch smoked him by 160 points.
Some time later, he's the one sitting and waiting for his
parents with the My Little Pony unicorn resting in his lap and a limp
coin wrapper in his pocket...
...and she, of course, is gone.
- Roll gently.
If you can swish the ball, sinking it without having it bump against
any of the rings, then it doesn't much matter how hard you throw it.
Usually, though, your shot will end up bouncing off at least one of the rings. If you fling the ball hard, it'll bounce far away, and you'll end
up with a ball in the 10-ring (or the embarrassing 0 pit). If you roll it
lightly, on the other hand, then it'll bounce gently, and possibly drop
straight into the nearby 30 or 40 ring.
- Bank the ball.
Sure, some people say that you should roll straight up the middle, but
the bank shot defeated me, my father, and his father before him, so as far
as I'm concerned, the bank shot is the way to go. When you roll the ball,
aim for a spot on the side bumper that's about two-thirds of the way up
the ramp. This will make your shot easier to control and to place;
furthermore, a bank shot that's off the mark is more likely to go into a
higher ring. I'm not sure why this works--maybe some physicist out there
can explain it--but it does.
- Aim for the 30-ring or the 40-ring.
On most Skee-Ball machines, the center 50-ring is only a little wider
the ball. Unless you're extraordinarily skilled (or lucky), you won't
sink a 50 very much. Shoot for the 40s instead, and if you screw up,
you'll get a 30.
The people who rack up scores of 300 or 400 have probably been playing
regularly for about 15 years. You probably won't be able to achieve
such scores unless you practice, practice, practice. Fortunately, it's a