These Scented Bowling Balls Help Players Reach Their Flow States
Walk into any bowling alley, and you’ll quickly find yourself caught in an olfactory battleground. Whiffs of floor polish mingled with shoe disinfectant face off against the stale spector of popcorn and Miller Lite beer. Meanwhile, the must of ancient cigarette butts clings to the carpeting, as if stitched onto its very being, in imperceptibly small patterns. Curiously, the one thing that doesn’t leave a distinctive mark on the nostrils is the bowling ball itself, a neutral party in the olfactory conflict. That is, unless the ball in question comes from the factories of Storm Products.
Storm began with a simple dream: to develop a product that could make use of the porous quality of bowling balls made with the newly dominant material called urethane. Chemist, avid bowler, and now CEO Bill Chrisman noticed, back in the early ’80s, that the urethane balls—the latest development in the historical progression of the bowling ball from wood to rubber to plastic—would sop up oil from the bowling lane, an intentional feature that gave the ball the necessary fluidity to travel along its trademark hooked path according to the spin at which a bowler released it (plastic balls still find some use as a “straight ball,” for hitting spares or splits). But over time, the lane oil would build up on these bowling balls, clogging their pores and accordingly stifling their ability to hook. To remedy this, Chrisman developed a ball-cleaning product, U Clean / U Score and, alongside his wife, Barbara Chrisman, founded the company High Score Products in 1985.
Six years later, the Utah-based company’s success allowed it to transition into manufacturing high-performance bowling balls under the guidance of Keith Orton, a pioneer in the field, and the muscular new name Storm Products. But the company’s origins in the aromatic world of cleaning supplies showed their marks when, in 2000, Storm manufactured the world’s first scented bowling balls, starting with just the scents of green apple and citrus but, soon mixing every fragrance from grape to cinnamon in with the liquid that forms the bowling ball’s thick outer layer.
Beneath the veneer of simple fun in cooking up chocolate and maple-syrup bowling balls, there rests a core of theory that supports these pungent creations. “The olfactory center of the brain is really close to the hypothalamus, your memory center,” says Chad McLean, Storm’s technical director of product development. Because of this, he explains, an athlete has a better chance of reaching a flow state—being in the zone—if a scent can trigger the memory of a time when they played at their best. As McLean puts it, when somebody grabs the orange-scented ball (Storm’s most popular fragrance, with grape and cherry close behind) that they once bowled more than 200 points with, “the fragrance reminds them of that particular moment in time, and it actually frees up their swing. It decreases their grip pressure and allows them to relax, which is important in bowling.”
Not all scents enjoy such pleasant associations. “I’ve had people call in and complain they have an allergic reaction just by smelling a cinnamon ball,” McLean says, despite there being “no cinnamon in the ball whatsoever.” According to him, Storm made an attempt at manufacturing a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup ball, but so many people in the trial run complained of allergic reactions (despite all fragrances being fully synthetic) that the dream of a peanut-scented bowling ball looks like it’ll be staying exactly that.
More than a dozen professional bowlers, including superstar Pete Weber, have used Storm’s scented creations. Some players have discovered the less-conventional performance qualities of the balls, too, like when bowler Ryan Shafer used a black licorice ball for the sole reason that, as he told The Associated Press, he knew his opponent hated the smell of the stuff. These quirks may carve out a place for them in the upper echelons of the bowling world, but the continued existence of ginger snap and root beer float bowling balls seem to rest, in the end, on the arbitrary maxim: People just like things that smell nice.