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How to become a skeeball master

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Enticing kids and adults for more than a century, skeeball's mixture of accuracy, power, and luck is an addictive combination -- but often a humiliating one as well. Get your angle just slightly wrong, and clunk, down goes the ball, while your score stays put (as does that giant, pink, fluffy dinosaur you were hoping to take home as a reward).

Nobody wants to see that, but few actually bother learning ways to maximize scores and take home the best prizes. So read on for a few essential tips to becoming a skeeball wizard.

Pick your machine -- and stick with it

Not all skeeball machines are created equal. Between the shape of the ramp, the geometry of the backboard, and the precise characteristics of the rolling surfaces, each skeeball machine plays slightly differently -- and those variations can throw you off your game. If you're getting settled into a serious practice session, stock up with plenty of tokens and don't step away from your chosen spot.

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Mastering the throw

So here's what it's all about. Opinions vary on the perfect skeeball technique. Some stick with a simple, straight, bowling-style roll of the ball. Others prefer to slide the ball, rather like a curling player slides a stone. Some daring souls favor an off-the-side shot, relying upon the lane's "sweet spot" to routinely rebound the ball into the top scoring slots. Try them all, and you'll soon settle on the style that suits you best.

Once you've figured out which technique works best for you, stick with it. Rather like golf, skeeball game high-scores aren't won with single, brilliant shots -- they're won with consistent, predictable, repeatable ones. Focus on developing a throw that you can reproduce exactly, every time. Just like your golf swing.

The low down

Strange as it may sound, many skeeball aficionados prefer to kneel down to play. Maybe the lower stance helps them line up their shot, or perhaps being closer to the action helps them judge their throwing power a little more accurately. Whatever the reason, it's a tried and true technique for expert skeeball players -- and it might work for you, too. If you're struggling to settle into a comfortable throw, give it a try.

The nifty fifty

Once you've got your basic throw down pat -- consistent, straight, and controlled -- it's time to think strategy. Fortunately, there isn't a ton of it in skeeball.

As a beginning-intermediate player, you want to aim for the 50-point hole. Forget the hundreds; as far as you're concerned, apart from a hail-mary, last-ditch effort to win a close game, they don't exist. The 50 is the highest-scoring hole that's reasonably easy to hit, and even if you miss it, chances are you'll still land in the 40 or 30 zone.

The final step

Here's the conundrum that every improving skeeball player will eventually face. Once you can consistently hit the 50 and can regularly rack up 300-400 points per game, where do you go? The obvious answer -- the only answer, really -- is up to those hundred-point holes in the top left and right corners of the backstop.

Do that, though, and the risk/reward interplay changes dramatically. Chances are, if you miss the 50, you'll likely fall short and hit the 40 or 30 hole. Not great, but not disastrous. Flub a shot on the much harder hundred-point rings, however, and you'll be lucky to score anything at all.

Is it worth it? No matter how good you are, you're going to have to put some in serious practice time to have any hope of hitting those little holes consistently. Only consider switching from the 50-point ring if you're making 60-70% of your shots, and that's a success rate that could well be beyond all but the most talented of skeeball players. The rest of us may eventually have to face the possibility that 450 points per game -- and one giant, pink, fluffy dinosaur -- is the best we can do.

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