5 Famous Bowling Alleys

An instructor demonstrates how to throw the ball.
An instructor demonstrates how to throw the ball.
Carsten, Getty Images

Shortly after bowling a 37 at the Pleasant Valley Lanes during a March campaign stop in Altoona, Pa., Barack Obama vowed to replace the White House's bowling alley with a full-size indoor basketball court if he were elected President. While it remains to be seen whether Obama will make good on this campaign promise after Tuesday's Inauguration, here's a look at five famous bowling alleys from the past and present.

1. The White House Lanes

The history of bowling in the White House dates back to 1947, when a two-lane alley was installed in the West Wing as a birthday gift to President Truman. While Truman wasn't much of a bowler, a league of White House staffers soon formed. The two-lane alley was moved to the Old Executive Office Building to clear space for a mimeograph room in 1955, but Nixon had a single-lane alley built below the driveway leading to the North Portico shortly after he came into office in 1969.

While bowling enthusiasts scoffed at Obama's comments, the nation's leading bowling organizations cast their differences aside and reached across the gutter to submit a joint proposal to renovate the existing alley (see image below). The proposal described an ultra-modern lane with "electronic bumpers (perfect to help both the President-Elect and his children adopt proper bowling technique)."

Obama has since suggested that he might keep the alley, but it's a safe bet he won't unwind next week by chasing 300 "“ or 40 "“ in the White House basement.

2. Holler House

The recent trend in the bowling industry has been to develop alleys that look more like nightclubs, where drinks are served in martini glasses instead of pitchers, and stilettos pass as bowling shoes. The nation's oldest bowling alley, the Holler House in Milwaukee, somehow missed the memo "“ and the one in 1936 announcing the invention of the automatic pinsetter. That's right "“ the Holler House, which celebrated its 100-year anniversary in 2008, still uses human pinsetters. Pin boys, as the locals call them, work for $30 per day, plus tips, reloading pins after each throw on the alley's two lanes.

There have been two perfect games in the history of the Holler House and the last one was rolled in 1934. That probably has something to do with the fact that the planks for the lanes are made of real wood and are oiled with a spray can. "I've seen a lot of 200 bowlers on their hands and knees here," bowler Tom Haefke recently told the Chicago Reader. "It's real "“ nothing sterile. The other day, the pin boy had to wipe up water because the roof was leaking." Obama might not break 20 at this place. There's no arcade or snack bar at the Holler House, but there is a small bar filled with bowling memorabilia above the lanes that Esquire rated one of the best bars in America. Just don't expect to be able to order a martini.

3. Rose Bowl

When the pink, multi-domed Rose Bowl opened its doors in 1962 to bowlers off of Route 66 in Tulsa, it looked something like the offspring of an airplane hangar and a bomb shelter. (It's a girl!) The 32,000-square-foot structure's two-and-a-half concrete domes rested on two support pillars, leaving ample space for lanes, a snack bar, a game room, and audience seating. The Rose Bowl attracted Tulsans and travelers alike for more than 40 years until it was shut down in 2005.

The structure was the target of vandalism and arson until local businessman Sam Baker bought it for $295,000 in 2006. Under the terms of the deal, Baker or any other owner was prohibited from using the Rose Bowl as a commercial bowling alley for the next 20 years. Baker immediately put the structure on eBay and set the minimum bid at $499,000, but it went unsold. Baker eventually decided to turn the structure into an event center, but the renovation process has been slow. In October, Baker estimated that the remaining costs could exceed $1.5 million. He hopes to raise at least some of the money through Route 66 preservation grants.

4. The National Bowling Stadium

Known as the "Taj Mahal of Tenpins," the $50 million National Bowling Stadium in Reno opened in 1995 and is home to numerous championship bowling tournaments each year. The stadium includes 78 lanes, spectator seating for 1,200, a 44-foot-high ceiling, and a 440-foot video screen comprised of high definition digital scoring systems above each lane. The facility also features a tracking system that provides bowlers with an evaluation of their performance and recommendations for improvement, a 10,000-square-foot concourse area, and a movie theater. Fog machines and laser lighting? Yeah, the stadium has those too.

Of all the matches that have been bowled at the NBS "“ including last weekend's National Bowling Stadium Championship "“ the greatest might have been between a pair of fictional characters. The final showdown between Ernie McCracken (Bill Murray) and Roy Munson (Woody Harrelson) in Kingpin took place in Reno. And if you're wondering, the bowling scenes in The Big Lebowski were all shot at the since-demolished Hollywood Star Lanes near Santa Monica.

5. Splitsville

According to their Web site, stale nachos, tacky carpeting, and retro shoes are a thing of the past at this Tampa hotspot, which opened in 2003. Splitsville features a contemporary design, four bars, plasma TVs, and 13 lanes arranged in clusters that resemble wheel spokes. In addition to providing a different perspective for bowlers, the unique layout of the lanes also creates "cozy nooks that are perfect for an intimate dinner setting." What's on the menu? Try sushi, oven fresh cookies and milk, and 10 types of sliders. In other words, Splitsville is what happens when swanky bowling goes to White Castle.

A giant bowling pin "“ purportedly the world's largest "“ greets bowlers at the entrance to Splitsville, where lane reservations run $85 per hour on Friday and Saturday nights. Among the celebrities who have rolled at Splitsville are Jenna Elfman, Susan Sarandon, DMX, and a Saudi prince. Less notable visitors include South Carolina head football coach Steve Spurrier, who may not be coming back after holding his radio show at Splitsville a few days before the Gamecocks rolled a gutter ball against Iowa in the Outback Bowl this year.

10 LEGO Sets For Every Type of LEGO Builder 

Amazon
Amazon

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

If you’re looking for a timeless gift to give this holiday season, look no further than a LEGO set. With kits that cater to a wide age range—from toddlers fine-tuning their motor skills to adults looking for a more engaged way to relax—there’s a LEGO set out there for everyone. We’ve rounded up some of our favorite sets on Amazon to help you find the LEGO box that will make your loved one smile this year. If you end up getting one for yourself too, don’t worry: we won’t tell.

1. Classic Large Creative Gift Box; $44

Amazon

You can never go wrong with a classic. This 790-piece box contains dozens of types of colored bricks so builders of any age can let their inner architect shine. With toy windows, doors, tires, and tire rims included in addition to traditional bricks, the building possibilities are truly endless. The bricks are compatible with all LEGO construction sets, so builders have the option of creating their own world or building a new addition onto an existing set.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Harry Potter Hogwarts Express; $64

Amazon

Experience the magic of Hogwarts with this buildable Hogwarts Express box. The Prisoner Of Azkaban-inspired kit not only features Hogwarts's signature mode of transportation, but also Platform 9 ¾, a railway bridge, and some of your favorite Harry Potter characters. Once the train is built, the sides and roof can be removed for play within the cars. There is a Dementor on board … but after a few spells cast by Harry and Lupin, the only ride he’ll take is a trip to the naughty list.

Buy it: Amazon

3. Star Wars Battle of Hoth; $160

Amazon

Star Wars fans can go into battle—and rewrite the course of history—by recreating a terrifying AT-AT Walker from the Battle of Hoth. Complete with 1267 pieces to make this a fun challenge for ages 10 and up, the Walker has elements like spring-loaded shooters, a cockpit, and foldout panels to reveal its deadly inner workings. But never fear: Even though the situation might look dire, Luke Skywalker and his thermal detonator are ready to save the day.

Buy it: Amazon

4. Super Mario Adventures Starter Course; $60

Amazon

Kids can play Super Mario in 3D with LEGO’s interactive set. After constructing one of the courses, young designers can turn on the electronic Mario figurine to get started. Mario’s built-in color sensors and LCD screens allow him to express more than 100 different reactions as he travels through the course. He’ll encounter obstacles, collect coins, and avoid Goomba and Bowser to the sound of the Mario soundtrack (played via an included speaker). This is a great gift for encouraging problem-solving and creativity in addition to gaming smarts.

Buy it: Amazon

5. Gingerbread House; $212

Amazon

Gingerbread houses are a great way to enjoy the holidays … but this expert-level kit takes cookie construction to a whole new level. The outside of the LEGO house rotates around to show the interior of a sweet gingerbread family’s home. Although the living room is the standout with its brick light fireplace, the house also has a kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, and outdoor furniture. A LEGO Christmas tree and presents can be laid out as the holidays draw closer, making this a seasonal treat you can enjoy with your family every year.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Elsa and Olaf’s Tea Party; $18

Amazon

LEGO isn’t just for big kids. Toddlers and preschoolers can start their LEGO journey early by constructing an adorable tea party with their favorite Frozen characters. As they set up Elsa and Olaf’s ice seats, house, and tea fixings, they’ll work on fine-motor, visual-spatial, and emotional skills. Building the set from scratch will enable them to put their own creative spin on a favorite movie, and will prepare them for building more complicated sets as they get older.

Buy it: Amazon

7. Collectible Art Set Building Kits; $120

Amazon

Why buy art when you can build it yourself? LEGO’s Beatles and Warhol Marilyn Monroe sets contain four options for LEGO art that can be built and displayed inside your home. Each kit comes with a downloadable soundtrack you can listen to while you build, turning your art experience into a relaxing one. Once you’re finished building your creation it can be exhibited within a LEGO brick frame, with the option to hang it or dismantle it to start on a new piece. If the 1960s aren’t your thing, check out these Sith and Iron Man options.

Buy it: Amazon

8. NASA Apollo Saturn V; $120

Amazon

The sky (or just the contents of your LEGO box) is the limit with LEGO’s Saturn V expert-level kit. Designed for ages 14 and up, this to-scale rocket includes three removable rocket stages, along with a command and service module, Lunar Lander, and more. Once the rocket is complete, two small astronaut figurines can plant a tiny American flag to mark a successful launch. The rocket comes with three stands so it can be displayed after completion, as well as a booklet for learning more about the Apollo moon missions.

Buy it: Amazon

9. The White House; $100

Amazon

Reconstruct the First Family’s home (and one of America’s most famous landmarks) by erecting this display model of the White House. The model, which can be split into three distinct sections, features the Executive Residence, the West Wing, and the East Wing of the complex. Plant lovers can keep an eye out for the colorful rose garden and Jacqueline Kennedy Garden, which flank the Executive Residence. If you’re unable to visit the White House anytime soon, this model is the next best thing.

Buy it: Amazon

10. Volkswagen Camper Van; $120

Amazon

Road trip lovers and camping fanatics alike will love this vintage-inspired camper. Based on the iconic 1962 VW vehicle, LEGO’s camper gets every detail right, from the trademark safari windshield on the outside to the foldable furniture inside. Small details, like a “Make LEGO Models, Not War” LEGO T-shirt and a detailed engine add an authentic touch to the piece. Whether you’re into old car mechanics or simply want to take a trip back in time, this LEGO car will take you on a journey you won’t soon forget.

Buy it: Amazon

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10 Bizarre Elf Fan Theories

Warner Home Video
Warner Home Video

Elf, the beloved Christmas comedy starring Will Ferrell as a human raised at the North Pole who goes to New York City to find his family, is a certified holiday classic. If you’re like a lot of movie fans, you’ve probably already seen the film dozens—if not hundreds—of times. Which means you’ve hand plenty of time to pick apart every detail of the film, and that means internet theorists have as well. Put all of that together and Elf has had plenty of time to live in the realm of the fan theory.

So, as we revisit this Christmas classic, we're taking a look at some intriguing, amusing, and just plain weird Elf fan theories covering everything from Buddy the Elf’s origins to the film's secret sequels.

1. Buddy the Elf Is Actually A Creep.

One of the things that endears Buddy to so many people throughout the film is his innocence and his way of seeing everything in the world of humans with such wonder and excitement. But according to one theory, that may all be a clever ruse. In perhaps the most popular Elf fan theory of all time, Reddit user Batfan54 posits that Buddy’s innocence is actually an act to hide his creepier tendencies. The chief evidence here is the scene in which Buddy walks into the women’s locker room at the department store where Jovie (Zooey Deschanel) is singing “Baby It’s Cold Outside” in the shower. Buddy joins in, then flees when she screams for him to leave. When Jovie confronts him later, Buddy says “I didn’t know you were naked,” and his childlike innocence seems to win Jovie over. Buddy clearly knows what a shower is, though, as we see him using one at the North Pole earlier in the film. So why does he suddenly play dumb about Jovie being naked? According to this theory, he’s not dumb, he was just trying to get out of trouble after peeping at her in the first place. Shame on you, Buddy.

2. Buddy Is A Secret Mutant Elf Operative.

While some fan theories focus more on Buddy’s social interactions in the human world, others spend time looking at his various physical attributes. Buddy is a human, but his time in the elf world has granted him a number of skills that seem superhuman, including his ability to decorate an entire department store floor overnight, his apparent reliance on just 40 minutes of sleep each night, and his diet of candy, candy canes, candy corn, and syrup. Throw in his machine gun speed with snowballs and his often uncanny physical resilience, and something doesn’t add up. The explanation, according to Tibbsy, is that Buddy is actually a mutant created for the specific purpose of being sent to Earth to spread Christmas cheer and save Santa Claus (Ed Asner) from losing all of his believers. Of course, he doesn’t know this, so he thinks he’s a human, but it was a secret elf plot all along.

3. Elf Is A Prequel To Step Brothers.

Columbia/TriStar

There are a handful of theories which attempt to tie Elf into other films—specifically, other films starring Will Ferrell. A few years back, a blogger named Trent over at Barstool Sports was watching Elf as part of his annual Christmas tradition when he had an odd thought: Buddy’s stepmother is played by Mary Steenburgen, who also plays the mother of Brennan, Will Ferrell’s character in the 2008 comedy Step Brothers. A closer examination reveals that the characters of Buddy and Brennan have a lot in common, from their difficulty dealing with the outside world to their love of animals. So, what if Steenburgen is actually playing the same person in both films, and after Elf she adopted Buddy as her own, changed his name, and remarried? It’s a stretch, but it’s founded on Ferrell’s knack for playing lovable man-children, so once you see it, it’s a little hard to shake.

4. Buddy Is A Hybrid Creature.

Here’s another theory designed as an attempt to explain Buddy’s strange elf behavior, including his candy-based diet, very brief sleep schedule, and superhuman feats of snowball-throwing and travel (remember, he got from the North Pole to New York City on foot without a scratch). We’re told in the film that Buddy is the child of Walter Hobbs (James Caan) and the now-deceased Susan Wells, but what if there’s more to Buddy’s ancestry than we think? What if, somehow, past Christmas elves made their way out into the human world and just started breeding with the human population at some point, if only in a very limited way? Then they might produce some human-elf hybrid creatures with elf-like qualities. If Buddy is the product of this genetic line, it could explain a lot.

5. Miles Finch Is A Con Artist.

A key subplot in Elf involves Walter and his publishing company underlings trying to put together a pitch for a new children’s book by Christmas Eve in order to appease his boss. At one point in the film, his head writers (Andy Richter and Kyle Gass) pitch the idea that they bring in “golden ghost” writer Miles Finch (Peter Dinklage). Finch arrives and, after accepting a hefty cash payment upfront, leaves following an argument in which Buddy assumes he’s not a human little person, but an elf. Finch leaves behind his notebook of ideas, which Walter and company then use to craft a pitch.

Of course, we never get to see this pitch, and Walter leaves the company shortly after to form his own publishing group, so there’s no indication of how successful it was. According to one theory, it was never intended to be a hit, because Finch’s notebook wasn’t where he kept his good ideas. It was a red herring, left behind just so he could pocket the cash and get out of the place without having to do any real work.

6. Elf Is A Prequel To The LEGO Movie.

Another attempt to tie Elf to a different Will Ferrell performance posits that the film is actually a prequel to The LEGO Movie, a film in which Ferrell both voices the evil LEGO character “Lord Business” and plays a father who builds elaborate LEGO sets in his basement and intends to glue them all together to make them permanent, much to the disappointment of his young son.

According to littleblue42, the father in The LEGO Movie is meant to be Buddy, who’s now lost his Christmas spirit after years of life as a parent and publisher in the adult world. To have some sense of order and control, he’s taken to crafting LEGO sets (still a form of toys) and grows frustrated when his son tries to play with them in his own way. The father’s ultimate realization that he’s being too strict with his LEGOs is meant to represent Buddy rediscovering his old Christmas spirit. Is it a stretch? Maybe. But you’ll think of The LEGO Movie differently the next time you watch it.

7. Buddy Caused Santa’s Sleigh To Crash.

    This theory focuses more on the inner-workings of the film than any connection to other media, and it’s actually a fascinating interpretation of the order of events in the film. It’s established early on in Elf that Santa’s sleigh used to run on Christmas spirit alone, but since fewer people believe in Santa Claus now, the sleigh is assisted by an engine crafted by Papa Elf (Bob Newhart). Late in the film, the sleigh crashes in Central Park, and Santa remarks that the Claus-O-Meter dropped down to zero right before the crash. Why did this happen? Well, according to one theory, it’s because—during his first shift as an elf at Gimbel’s department store—Buddy declared the Santa on duty (Artie Lange) to be a fake, and ripped his beard off, horrifying the group of children there to see “Santa.” By doing this, Buddy shattered the image of Santa those several dozen children had, and lowered Christmas spirit just enough to cause the failure of Santa’s sleigh. Of course, he didn’t mean to do that, but it still created a ripple effect.

    8. Buddy Was The Last Person With Christmas Spirit.

    Warner Home Video

      There’s another, bleaker theory for why Santa’s sleigh went down on Christmas Eve during the film, and it has to do with Buddy’s own emotional journey. Throughout the film, Buddy is doing his best to join the world of humans, and with most people he wins them over through his sincerity, kindness, and enthusiasm. That all wears thin on Walter when Buddy ruins an important presentation, though, and Walter yells “Get out of my life, now!” which sends Buddy out into the streets. After writing a goodbye note to his family, Buddy leaves, and is walking alone in Manhattan when he sees Santa’s sleigh fall out of the sky. According to Freakazette’s theory, the two events are very related. Buddy, in this version of events, was the only person left on Earth with Christmas spirit. When his father pushed him away, that spirit left him, and the Claus-O-Meter dropped to nothing. It feels like a stretch to say that no one left on Earth had any Christmas spirit, but perhaps Buddy’s was the strongest and it dimmed in that moment. Either way, it’s a darker take on the film.

      9. Buddy’s Mom Was Killed in Central Park.

        It’s established early in the film that Buddy’s mother, Susan Wells, gave him up for adoption and later died. What we don’t actually know is how or when she died, but AustinJacob claims to have the answer. Late in the film, we’re introduced to the Central Park Rangers, an elite group of police who are tasked with tracking down Santa. The news report mentions that the Rangers are still under investigation for their “controversial” crowd control tactics at the 1985 Simon and Garfunkel concert. Now, Simon and Garfunkel’s concert in Central Park actually occurred in 1981, but that discrepancy aside, why would the Rangers still be under investigation for that? Could it be because their crowd control caused someone to die? Could that someone have been Buddy’s mother? The film, of course, does not elaborate on this, but it’s an interesting idea that only deepens the menacing aura of the Rangers.

        10. It’s part of a larger shared Santa universe.

        Elf is a film that spends quite a bit of its runtime establishing its own rules and traditions within its little Christmas movie universe, but what if there’s more to the story than even this film is telling us? What if it’s all part of a bigger, longer tradition of Santa Claus on film, and Buddy the Elf’s story is just a small part of it. That’s the theory posited by AdamGreenwood1072, who laid out a complex web of story that connects the Leslie Nielsen comedy Santa Who to Ernest Saves Christmas, Miracle on 34th Street, The Santa Clause, and yes, Elf. According to this theory, each of those films represents a different version of Santa as various men step in and out of the job over the years. In Elf, Buddy is first discovered at the orphanage by the confused, tired Santa Who version of the character, but adult Buddy is actually interacting with The Santa Clause version of Santa, as evidenced by the change in costumes Santa undergoes. Buddy doesn’t realize this because, to him, it’s all one Santa Claus, but if you believe this theory, there are subtle nods to a changing of the guard at the North Pole.