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.

Looking to Downsize? You Can Buy a 5-Room DIY Cabin on Amazon for Less Than $33,000

Five rooms of one's own.
Five rooms of one's own.
Allwood/Amazon

If you’ve already mastered DIY houses for birds and dogs, maybe it’s time you built one for yourself.

As Simplemost reports, there are a number of house kits that you can order on Amazon, and the Allwood Avalon Cabin Kit is one of the quaintest—and, at $32,990, most affordable—options. The 540-square-foot structure has enough space for a kitchen, a bathroom, a bedroom, and a sitting room—and there’s an additional 218-square-foot loft with the potential to be the coziest reading nook of all time.

You can opt for three larger rooms if you're willing to skip the kitchen and bathroom.Allwood/Amazon

The construction process might not be a great idea for someone who’s never picked up a hammer, but you don’t need an architectural degree to tackle it. Step-by-step instructions and all materials are included, so it’s a little like a high-level IKEA project. According to the Amazon listing, it takes two adults about a week to complete. Since the Nordic wood walls are reinforced with steel rods, the house can withstand winds up to 120 mph, and you can pay an extra $1000 to upgrade from double-glass windows and doors to triple-glass for added fortification.

Sadly, the cool ceiling lamp is not included.Allwood/Amazon

Though everything you need for the shell of the house comes in the kit, you will need to purchase whatever goes inside it: toilet, shower, sink, stove, insulation, and all other furnishings. You can also customize the blueprint to fit your own plans for the space; maybe, for example, you’re going to use the house as a small event venue, and you’d rather have two or three large, airy rooms and no kitchen or bedroom.

Intrigued? Find out more here.

[h/t Simplemost]

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10 Facts About Real Genius On Its 35th Anniversary

Val Kilmer stars in Martha Coolidge's Real Genius (1985).
Val Kilmer stars in Martha Coolidge's Real Genius (1985).
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

In an era where nerd is a nickname given by and to people who have pretty much any passing interest in popular culture, it’s hard to imagine the way old-school nerds—people with serious and socially-debilitating obsessions—were once ostracized. Computers, progressive rock, and role-playing games (among a handful of other 1970s- early '80s developments) created a path from which far too many of the lonely, awkward, and conventionally undateable would never return. But in the 1980s, movies transformed these oddballs into underdogs and antiheroes, pitting them against attractive, moneyed, successful adversaries for the fate of handsome boys and pretty girls, cushy jobs, and first-place trophies.

The 1985 film Real Genius ranked first among equals from that decade for its stellar cast, sensitive direction, and genuine nerd bona fides. Perhaps fittingly, it sometimes feels overshadowed, and even forgotten, next to broader, bawdier (and certainly now, more problematic) films from the era like Revenge of the Nerds and Weird Science. But director Martha Coolidge delivered a classic slobs-versus-snobs adventure that manages to view the academically gifted and socially maladjusted with a greater degree of understanding and compassion while still delivering plenty of good-natured humor.

As the movie commemorates its 35th anniversary, we're looking back at the little details and painstaking efforts that make it such an enduring portrait not just of ‘80s comedy, but of nerdom itself.

1. Producer Brian Grazer wanted Valley Girl director Martha Coolidge to direct Real Genius. She wasn’t sure she wanted to.

Following the commercial success of 1984’s Revenge of the Nerds, there was an influx of bawdy scripts that played upon the same idea, and Real Genius was one of them. In 2011, Coolidge told Kickin’ It Old School that the original script for Real Genius "had a lot of penis and scatological jokes," and she wasn't interested in directing a raunchy Nerds knock-off. So producer Brian Grazer enlisted PJ Torokvei (SCTV) and writing partners Babaloo Mandel and Lowell Ganz (Splash, City Slickers) to refine the original screenplay, and then gave Coolidge herself an opportunity to polish it before production started. “Brian's original goal, and mine, was to make a film that focused on nerds as heroes," Coolidge said. "It was ahead of its time."

2. Martha Coolidge’s priority was getting the science in Real Genius right—or at least as right as possible.

In the film, ambitious professor Jerry Hathaway (William Atherton) recruits high-achieving students at the fictional Pacific Technical University (inspired by Caltech) to design and build a laser capable of hitting a human-sized target from space. Coolidge researched the subject thoroughly, working with academic, scientific, and military technicians to ensure that as many of the script and story's elements were correct. Moreover, she ensured that the dialogue would hold up to some scrutiny, even if building a laser of the film’s dimensions wasn’t realistic (and still isn’t today).

3. One element of Real Genius that Martha Coolidge didn’t base on real events turned out to be truer than expected.

From the beginning, the idea that students were actively being exploited by their teacher to develop government technology was always fictional. But Coolidge learned that art and life share more in common than she knew at the time. “I have had so many letters since I made Real Genius from people who said, 'Yes, I was involved in a program and I didn’t realize I was developing weapons,'" she told Uproxx in 2015. “So it was a good guess and turned out to be quite accurate.”

4. Val Kilmer walked into his Real Genius audition already in character—and it nearly cost him the role.

After playing the lead in Top Secret!, Val Kilmer was firmly on Hollywood’s radar. But when he met Grazer at his audition for Real Genius, Kilmer decided to have some fun at the expense of the guy who would decide whether or not he’d get the part. "The character wasn't polite," Kilmer recalled to Entertainment Weekly in 1995. "So when I shook Grazer's hand and he said, 'Hi, I'm the producer,' I said, 'I'm sorry. You look like you're 12 years old. I like to work with men.'"

5. The filmmakers briefly considered using an actual “real genius” to star in Real Genius.

Among the performers considered to play Mitch, the wunderkind student who sets the movie’s story in motion, was a true genius who graduated college at 14 and was starting law school. Late in the casting process, they found their Mitch in Gabriel Jarrett, who becomes the third generation of overachievers (after Kilmer’s Chris and Jon Gries’s Lazlo Hollyfeld) whose talent Hathaway uses to further his own professional goals.

6. Real Genius's female lead inadvertently created a legacy for her character that would continue in animated form.

Michelle Meyrink, Gabriel Jarret, Val Kilmer, and Mark Kamiyama in Real Genius (1985).Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Michelle Meyrink was a staple of a number of ‘80s comedies, including Revenge of the Nerds. Playing Jordan in Real Genius, she claims to “never sleep” and offers a delightful portrait of high-functioning attention-deficit disorder with a chipper, erratic personality. Disney’s Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers co-creator Tad Stones has confirmed that her character went on to inspire the character of Gadget Hackwrench.

7. A Real Genius subplot, where a computer programmer is gaming a Frito-Lay contest, was based on real events.

In the film, Jon Gries (Napoleon Dynamite) plays Lazlo Hollyfeld, a reclusive genius from before Chris and Mitch’s time who lives in a bunker beneath their dorm creating entries to a contest with no restrictions where he eventually wins more than 30 percent of the prizes. In 1969, students from Caltech tried a similar tactic with Frito-Lay to game the odds. But in 1975, three computer programmers used an IBM to generate 1.2 million entries in a contest for McDonald’s, where they received 20 percent of the prizes (and a lot of complaints from customers) for their effort.

8. One of Real Genius's cast members went on to write another tribute to nerds a decade later.

Dean Devlin, who co-wrote Stargate and Independence Day with Roland Emmerich, plays Milton, another student at Pacific Tech who experiences a memorable meltdown in the rush up to finals.

9. The popcorn gag that ends Real Genius isn’t really possible, but they used real popcorn to simulate it.

At the end of the film, Chris and Mitch build a giant Jiffy Pop pack that the laser unleashes after they redirect its targeting system. The resulting popcorn fills Professor Hathaway’s house as an act of revenge. MythBusters took pains to recreate this gag in a number of ways, but quickly discovered that it wouldn’t work; even at scale, the popcorn just burns in the heat of a laser.

To pull off the scene in the film, Coolidge said that the production had people popping corn for six weeks of filming in order to get enough for the finale. After that, they had to build a house that they could manipulate with hydraulics so that the popcorn would “explode” out of every doorway and window.

10. Real Genius was the first movie to be promoted on the internet.

A week before Real Genius opened, promoters set up a press conference at a computer store in Westwood, California. Coolidge and members of the cast appeared to field questions from press from across the country—connected via CompuServe. Though the experience was evidently marred by technical problems (this was the mid-1980s, after all), the event marked the debut of what became the online roundtable junket.