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Let’s Talk Skee-Ball: 24 Fun and Random Facts (Trivia, Controversies,…)

Last Updated on January 25, 2024 by Gamesver Team and JC Franco

The popular arcade game Skee-Ball inspired many of today’s games with its original and challenging gameplay style. At more than a century old, the game is one of the oldest arcade games that’s still popularly played today in some form or another. Such an old game must obviously have a vibrant history. Let’s look at some fun and random trivia about the exciting game of Skee-Ball.

Skee-Ball was patented in 1908 in New Jersey, in the United States. The name was derived from the old spelling of the word “ski” due to the incline at which the players must launch the ball. It shares some of the same origins as the more modern game of pinball, though the games are quite different. 

There are many interesting facts and trivia about the game of Skee-Ball, and since there are many people who still passionately play the game, it’s good to know these facts to make for an exciting conversation starter. Here are some of the most fun and random facts about the game of Skee-Ball.

1. Skee-Ball And Pinball Share The Same Origins

Some people believe pinball is based on Skee-Ball because pinball became popular about two decades later than Skee-Ball. This is not true. Instead, both Skee-Ball and modern pinball are loosely based on the old parlor game Bagatelle, where players had to roll marbles into small holes in the ground.

2. Skee-Ball Alleys Are Shorter Today Than They Used To Be

Original Skee-Ball alleys were about 35 feet long. This made the game a bit more challenging. But due to the game’s rising popularity in the 1920s and 1930s and the effects of the great depression, the alleys were made shorter to accommodate more alleys in an arcade. They are now 10 feet long on average.

3. Skee-Ball Got Its Name From The Old Spelling Of The Word “Ski”

An issue of the magazine Popular Mechanics from 1909 described the skill required to get the ball into the hoops as similar to how a “skee-jumper” completed a complex jump. This, combined with the incline of the Skee-Ball alley, is believed to be where the game got its name from.

4. Skee-Ball Almost Went Bankrupt With Its Creator

Joseph Fourestier Simpson was the original creator of Skee-Ball (this is often debated, more on that soon). A few years in, he had sold only a few alleys and suffered financial ruin. Skee-Ball appeared to be doomed, but a friend of Simpson’s fell in love with the game and bought the rights from Simpson.

5. There Is Controversy About The Founder Of Skee-Ball

People often attribute the creation of Skee-Ball to J. Dickinson Este, who headed the game to eventual success. But Este bought the rights to Skee-Ball from Joseph Fourestier Simpson, who patented the game in 1908 but could not succeed with the business.

6. Skee-Ball Has Formal Tournaments

The National Skee-Ball Company organized the first national Skee-Ball tournament in Atlantic City in 1932. There are still national Skee-Ball tournaments today, organized by the National Skee-Ball League (NSBL).

7. Skee-Ball Is Linked To A Few Crimes

From the 1940s to the 1970s, Skee-Ball was often associated with a crowd of rebellious teens and young adults who spent their days smoking, drinking, and gambling at Skee-Ball alleys. Around 1947, Skee-Ball alleys were often targeted by the police in anti-gambling raids.

8. Modern Skee-Ball Became Mainstream Due To Brewskee-Ball

After a bit of a decrease in popularity in the late 1990s, a company called Brewskee-Ball took the concept of Skee-Ball out of arcades and placed them in bars and other adult hangout spots. The company also established Skee-Ball as a formal sport in the US in the early 2000s. All of this has helped to take Skee-Ball out of the domain of kids and teens and made it popular among adults.

9. The NSBL Is Managed By A “Skee-E-O”

The world of Skee-Ball is full of puns and plays on words. One such example is that the head of the National Skee-Ball League are referred to by themselves, players, and the media as the “Skee-E-O,” a play on the term “CEO” or Chief Executive Officer.

10. The NSBL Hosts International Tournaments, Too

NSBL stands for “National Skee-Ball League,” but NSBL tournaments are not only national. International teams and players often participate against those of the US. Skee-Ball is especially popular in Europe.

11. Skee-Ball Belonged To A Jukebox Maker Once

The jukebox maker Wurlitzer became concerned about Skee-Ball alleys becoming more popular than jukeboxes in the 1930s. So, they bought the rights to Skee-Ball from the previous owners in the hopes of making a killing, but that went very wrong for Wurlitzer since the alleys were high-quality and rarely needed replacing. During this time, interest in the game also started to wane.

12. Skee-Ball Has A Tainted History With Local Authorities

Because of Skee-Ball’s unintentional association with casual gambling, many local law enforcement agencies have taken matters very seriously. There are reports of police entering bars and other establishments and smashing their Skee-Ball alleys with hammers and axes before throwing them out into the street.

13. Skee-Ball Loves Its Puns

As mentioned before about the “Skee-E-O,” Skee-Ball players love their puns. Players often have interesting names that are either related to “skee” (for example, Monica LewinSkee) or alcoholic beverages (like Brewbacca). Furthermore, the game is played in “skeesons,” and the monthly newsletter is sent out as a “skeemail.” New players are “Rookskees.”

14. Skee-Ball’s Creator Never Reaped Any Rewards For Success

As mentioned, Joseph Fourestier Simpson invented Skee-Ball but could not make it a success and eventually sold the patent to a friend. Simpson was 57 when he patented it. He passed away years later, having seen the success of his creation, but with no financial gain from it.

15. Skee-Ball Has Had At Least Six Owners In About A Century

After the original creator, Joseph Simpson, lost his house and couldn’t keep the company afloat, Skee-Ball went to J. Dickinson Este in 1914. 

Este later left the business, and his partners sold Skee-Ball to Wurlitzer in 1935. Popularity waned, and Wurlitzer sold it to the Philadelphia Toboggan company in 1945, who kept it until 1985, when they sold it to businessman Joe Sladek. It was then sold to Bay-Tek Games Inc. in 2016.

16. Some 1940 Skee-Ball Machines Are Still In Operation

The current owners of Skee-Ball have found machines dating back to the 1940s, manufactured in the time of Wurlitzer and Toboggan, still operating in some bars around the US. Machines from the Simpson or Este eras are scarce, though.

17. The First Ever Skee-Ball Ad Called It “Bowling”

The first Skee-Ball advertisement was placed in Billboard magazine on April 17, 1909. It was placed by the original owners, the Skee-Ball Alley Company. It referred to the game as “Skee-Ball Bowling,” calling it the “most popular game ever invented.” This was ironic since Skee-Ball would only become popular almost a decade later.

18. The First Skee-Ball Tournament Had A Huge First Prize

Coming just a few years after the stock market crash and right in the middle of the great depression, the first Skee-Ball tournament had a top prize of $1,000. Since this was during the great depression, the winner would be seen as very wealthy.

19. The First Skee-Ball Game Used Automatic Ticket Dispensers

All modern arcade games come with automatic ticket dispensers. Still, these were first used commercially by Frank D. Johns, an amusement park owner in Daytona Beach, to make his Skee-Ball alleys work without an attendant and make it more profitable in the process.

20. Skee-Ball Was The Best-Selling App On Apple’s App Store

The Skee-Ball app (electronic game) was launched on Apple’s iOS App Store during Skee-Ball’s centennial celebrations, and it was the top-selling app for weeks, quite an achievement for an app that isn’t free. It was eventually knocked off the number one position by Angry Birds.

21. The Original Skee-Ball Alleys Didn’t Have The 100 Hoops

The very first Skee-Ball alleys didn’t have the hoops for 100 points. These were only added much later, during the 1940s. Rumors say that some of the players decided to add them (back before automatic scorekeeping) to make the game more challenging.

22. You Should Aim For The 40 Hoop In Skee-Ball

New players are often tempted to shoot for the highest-scoring hoops on the Skee-Ball alley, namely the 50 and 100 hoops. But these hoops are mainly distractions; most often, hitting one of them is more fluke than skill. Pro players agree that it’s best to aim for the 40 hoop, so much so that getting nine 40s in a row has an official term: “full circle.”

23. Your Skee-Ball Stance Is Incredibly Important

People don’t often understand the importance of keeping the correct stance. Even the official Skee-Ball website has a tongue-in-cheek story about a boy called Skeeter who got permanently stuck in his Skee-Ball stance. The fact is that your stance helps you with balance and stability as you shoot the perfect shot.

24. Skee-Ball Alleys Aren’t Rigged

Due to the game’s simplicity, it’s virtually impossible to rig a Skee-Ball alley. This sets it apart from most other arcade games. Note that it’s almost impossible. It can always be done, but due to the way the alley is constructed, you will likely be able to see evidence of tampering if you know the game well enough.

In Closing

Most Skee-Ball players tend to play it with a glass or bottle of their favorite alcoholic beverage, and being intoxicated while playing isn’t unheard of. But whenever you find yourself in the middle of a Skee-Ball game, playing or spectating, and need something to get a conversation going, you now know 24 random facts about the game that are sure to get people talking.

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This article was co-authored by our team of in-house and freelance writers, and reviewed by our editors, who enjoy sharing their knowledge about their favorite games with others!

JC Franco
Editor | + posts

JC Franco serves as a New York-based editor for Gamesver. His interest for board games centers around chess, a pursuit he began in elementary school at the age of 9. Holding a Bachelor’s degree in Business from Mercyhurst University, JC brings a blend of business acumen and creative insight to his role. Beyond his editorial endeavors, he is a certified USPTA professional, imparting his knowledge in tennis to enthusiasts across the New York City Metropolitan area.