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So how many strikes are needed for a perfect game?

John Dela Rionda pulled off "10th-frame lightning."
John Dela Rionda pulled off "10th-frame lightning."
Fred Eisenhammer

This is one of my favorite stories that originally ran Feb. 2, 2013.

How many strikes do you need for a perfect game?

Roll a strike and you get 10 pins plus the score of the next two balls you throw. Roll a spare and you get 10 pins plus the score of your next shot.

There are 10 frames . . . and to get a perfect game, all you have to do is roll 10 strikes – one for each frame.


Whoa! Not exactly.

You actually have to bowl three strikes in the 10th frame for a perfect game and that fact sometimes trips up beginners. Why do you need three strikes in the 10th frame – or 12 strikes overall – to roll that memorable 300 game?

Here’s why:

If you roll a strike in the 10th frame – like the previous nine frames – you’ve earned two more shots to add to the 10 pins that you’ve just chalked up for your strike. If you didn’t have two more shots, you’d finish with 10 strikes and a 270 score – earning only 20 in the ninth frame and only 10 in the 10th.

But when you’re given two more shots after your 10th-frame strike, you can finish off the scoring of the ninth frame if you’ve bowled a strike.

These two extra shots in the 10th frame are called “fill balls” – allowing you to complete your score after bowling a strike in the ninth and 10th frames.

Look at this another way: How could we ever generate “10th-frame lightning” if we didn’t inherit two more shots after a strike on our first ball in the final frame?

Remember that “10th-frame lightning” is a rare phenomenon in which bowlers inexplicably pull out of their doldrums and mount an exciting finish to their game with three strikes in the final frame. Earlier this week, John Dela Rionda (shown in photo) pulled off the feat at AMF Woodlake Lanes in Woodland Hills during his league competition.

“Tenth-frame lightning” is all part of bowling’s lore, just as “smashmouth bowling” is – the art of heaving a shot with maximum velocity at the beleaguered pins and watching them scatter all over the place.

“Smashmouth bowling” seems to have run its course, but perfect games – with 12 strikes – never will.

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