|This article relies on references to primary sources. (August 2007)|
Skee ball (also spelled skeeball or skee-ball; sometimes called skee roll) is a common arcade game and one of the first redemption games. It is similar to bowling except it is played on an inclined lane with fist-sized balls and the player aims to get the ball to fall into a hole rather than knock down pins. The object of the game is to collect as many points as possible by rolling balls up an incline and into the designated point value holes.
Gameplay varies depending on the skee ball machine, but is generally similar. The player, after inserting appropriate coin payment or token equivalent into the coin slot, is given a set of baseball-sized balls to use, made from either smooth polished compressed masonite or heavy plastic. Most machines provide the player with nine balls per game; this can vary from machine to machine, however. Each machine has an inclined ramp 10-13 feet long, up which the player must roll the balls. A sudden increase in incline at the end of the ramp (the ball-hop) launches the balls above the plane of the ramp toward a series of rings that direct the balls into holes of varying point values, the harder-to-reach holes usually giving the most points. When the balls are exhausted, the player is given tickets dispensed by the machine based on how many points were earned. These tickets can be traded in at the arcade for prizes. The more tickets required for redemption, the more valuable the prizes. In some locations, a player who achieves a posted, exceptionally high score can earn a large ticket bonus reward.
In some installations, particularly traveling carnival midways, prize-winning is achieved by scoring a certain minimum number of points within one game. This requires an attendant to hand out prizes immediately at the end of games, and is not common in arcade settings. Usually small prizes can be traded up for medium prizes and mediums for large. Perfect or nearly perfect scores earn the largest prize available. On the other hand, low-scoring games earn nothing, not even tickets.
Mega Skee Ball is a version of Skee Ball where the machine is much larger than standard size. Skee-Daddle and Mini Skee-Ball are smaller versions easier for young children to play.
The game was invented in 1909 by J. Dickinson Este in the city of Philadelphia. In 1935 the rights to Skee-Ball were purchased by the Wurlitzer Corporation, which in 1945 sold them to the Philadelphia Toboggan Company, an amusement park ride manufacturer. In 1977 the Philadelphia Toboggan Company set up Skee-Ball, Inc. to market the game, now located in Chalfont, Pennsylvania.
When Skee-Ball alleys were first sold in 1914 to the outdoor amusement park industry by Maurice Piesen (the stock was held by nine year old Maurice on behalf of his father, Hugo Piesen), the game had a 36-foot (11 m) lane. This was much too big for most arcades, and made it so that only people who were quite strong could play it well. As a result it was later changed to 14 feet (4.3 m), but was eventually changed again to the modern length of 10 or 13 feet (4.0 m). Soon after these changes, skee ball became very common in arcades around the United States. Because prizes were given to the players, the game was considered a form of gambling in some parts of the country. This led to restrictions on the number of machines allowed in an arcade in some places, and banning of the game in other places. These laws, however, did not last long, and thus skee ball is now found in almost all arcades in the country. It is also a staple of the restaurant/arcade chain Chuck E. Cheese's.
Skee-Ball is now a competitive and social sport being played in bars in North America. Skee-Ball leagues have begun to pop up under various banners including the United Social Sports banner based in Washington DC and SkeeNation based in the Carolinas. These leagues are rapidly increasing in popularity and are expanding the reach of Skee-Ball to new players.