The Fascinating Physics Behind Bowling Is a Fun Science Lesson

Usually when an amateur bowler toes the line in front of a lane and ten pins, they’re not thinking about much else besides hurling their ball so it hits its target head on. But the physics of the game—as professionals know—is as complex as the rules are simple. In a new video, YouTuber and science educator Derek Muller gives us insight into the spins, speeds, and angles of the game. And you’ll probably never look at bowling the same way.

Laughing Squid picked up on Muller’s new video, which he recently posted to his YouTube channel, Veritasium. For those unfamiliar, Muller is popular for taking deep scientific looks into random, interesting questions about the world. The YouTuber has, for example, found answers to the questions “Is dust mostly skin?” and “Why do scorpions glow under UV light?”

A professional bowler throwing a bowling ball down a lane.


In this new video, Muller takes a (very) close look at the physics that underpin bowling. Throughout the video, the YouTuber shows everything from how people make bowling balls to how to throw the perfect strike. Double hint: find yourself a ball with a low moment of inertia and aim just to the right or left of the headpin.

Speaking of which, Muller shows in the video that the ideal angle at which to hit a standard arrangement of pins is at six degrees. In other words, if you’re throwing a bowling ball straight down the line, it’s at zero degrees. To throw it at an angle of six degrees, you need to find a way to attack the pins “head on,” but from a little to the side. This is where “hooking” the ball comes in for pros.

A visualization showing a glowing line that dictates where a person should throw a bowling ball for a perfect strike.


Muller covers just about everything else from the world of bowling physics, including a lot about oils. It turns out that the game of bowling as most of us know it wouldn’t be possible without a lot of oil-coated onto lane wood. In fact, without the oil coating, the game would be far more difficult; especially if people still played with today’s relatively “spiky” balls. Although even with perfect conditions, and Albert Einstein as a coach, luck would still play a big part in outcomes.

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