Traveling Games

Rick Barron writes: One of the fond memories of my childhood is riding in the back seat of one of the many cars Dad had when I was growing up (or at least, young and getting older), sitting beside my older brother and sister, and playing car games among the five of us. Usually word games, like Ghost, or Twenty Questions, or Who Am I? We recently took a long car trip (well, with Interstate speed limits up to 75 now, which means average of 85, it's shorter than before but still several hours) and played a few of the games my 5- and 7-year olds could play. But I wished I had more ideas. Spotting alpha characters only goes so far, and in the sparse country of Wyoming only around cities. Got any pointers?

Major FUN responds: Boredom is the mother of playfulness. Desperation, the father. This is one truth that you can explore, in depth, while traveling with kids on the Interstate. Or in deed, on any trip lasting longer than 30 minutes. The particular joy of this realization is the attendant realization that almost anything goes. The longer the trip, the lower the criteria for gamish acceptability. Even games that are just barely games. Even games that you have to make up as you go along. I agree that Twenty Questions is a perfect example of a roadworthy game. I have explored it and at least 30 miles worth of related variations in my articles: Twenty Questions, Plenty Questions.

If We Were

Story-building can be made acceptably gamelike. Especially if people take turns adding to the story. You can build a story a paragraph at a time, a sentence at a time, or even a phrase at a time. Sometimes it helps to pick a particular theme. One variation of story-building is a game I call If We Were. If we were, for example, driving in an ant instead of in a car, then, well, the highway would be maybe no wider than the curb on a sidewalk and those telephone poles toothpicks and that big truck a ladybug and that roadsign a matchbook cover, and on, and on, and on. Or if we were, for another example, flying in an airplane, then the road would be maybe a mile below us, and that hubcap that we just passed on the side of the road would really be an airport...well, you get the picture.

Baa Baa Twinkle EFG

Then there's Baa Baa Twinkle EFG, also known as AB Black Sheep Little Star, Twinkle CD Have You Any Wool, et, naturally, cetera. This highly questionable game centers on the mystical realization that the three songs (The Alphabet Song, The Baa Baa Black Sheep Song, and the similarly profound Twinkle Twinkle Little Star Song) all have the same tune, and can all be sung together, simultaneously, without anyone actually singing the same thing at all


Take turns out-blessing each other. Continue until you all feel truly blessed or have had enough of this loving silliness.

A round of blessings might go like this:


Creativity, however, can only take you so far. As the miles ooze by, the brain dries, and you sometimes find yourselves needing to go beyond reason and creativity, into the fickle joys of sheer serendip. Colors is one such game. Simultaneously, call out any color that comes to your individually collective minds. Then, simultaneously call out any other color, the only rule being that you can't say the same color you said on the last turn. Then call out another color, and another color, until everybody says the same color. Then you can play Shapes, or Numbers, Animals, Cereals, and on, and on, and onwards.

It Could be Worse

Starting player says something innocuous, like "I almost overslept." Next player says something like "It could've been worse. You could've been late." Then the next, or other, says something worse, like, "It could've been even worse than that. You could've been dead." And then the next or other tries to find something worse than that. Or, the next person says "it could be better..."

No, No, You Mean

The first player begins with a word, and a definition of the word. Only the definition actually defines a rhyming word. Thusly: “A hatter is something you need when you make a cake .” Someone else responds: “No, no, you mean a batter…” correcting the previous player, but then continues with something like “a batter is that thing you use when you play golf.” Then someone else replies, “No, no, you mean a putter. A putter is thing you get in the mail.” To which you might respond, “no, no, you mean a letter. A letter is a that thing with rungs that you use to get to high places…”

And on, and on, each player supplying the correct word for the previous definition and then coming up with a new definition for a more-or-less rhyming word. Do note that the words don’t have to rhyme exactly. This makes the puzzles more interesting as well as easier to create.

Phantasy Photoshop

Like Polaroid, this is an image-building game. Unlike Polaroid, there is no need or reason to make create a "realistic" image. Photoshop is a computer program that allows people to build images by combining other images.

You could, for example, put someone's face on someone else's body, or make it look like it's on TV. You can give an elephant a human face and or a parakeet's beak or a kitten's body, and make it look like it's riding a chicken. You could even, for yet one more exmple, have Michael Moore, with a rifle on each shoulder, in a leather jacket, standing in a field, with ostriches, made out of hamburgers.

Well, you get the idea. Players, one at a time, create a composite, still image, as wacky as they can collectively imagine it to be.
And when you try it with a bunch of friends or kids, you never really know what you're going to wind up with. And it's fun. And it tweaks the fantasy. Hence, Phantasy Photoshop.


Speaking of getting the picture, the game of Polaroid is like story-building, only instead of building a story, you're building a photograph. Well, you're not actually building it. You're letting it develop, detail by detail. For example, suppose someone imagines a penny. Well, when you imagine a penny, what kind of penny is it? Shiny? Heads-up? And when someone else imagines a shiny, heads-up penny, what date does he see on it? And when someone else imagines a shiny, heads-up, 1983 penny, where does she imagine that the penny is? On a table? In a pocket? Depending on the mood, the distance you have to travel, and the degree of ennui, this game can become a great challenge to the collective imagination. And to the individual ability to integrate other people's visions.

The "Real" Verbal Ping Pong

Question: how can you play ping pong in the car, without a ball or net or paddles, or anything?

When it's your turn, you can either say "ping" or "pong" - depending on your mood.

If you say "ping," you can say it quickly: "ping."

If you say "pong," you can draw it out: "ponnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnng" or say it quickly "pong" or somewhere in between "ponnnnnng."

The other player must return the serve as soon as the "....g" is completed. At least within a mutually agreeable number of nanoseconds.

If someone tries to draw out a "ping" (as in "pinnnnnnng") that's cleary a miss. If someone responds too soon (during the "..nnnn..") or too late (after the "....g"), that's also a miss.

After a few good volleys, you might want to introduce further refinements.

For example, saying "spin" is the equivalent of a verbal backhand. And, of course, you can say "ssssspinnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn" if you feel so moved. The only effective return for a "spin" is, of course, a "ping." Anyone trying to pong a spin automatically misses unless it gets returned.

If enough people want to play there’s always Verbal Volleyball, with “volley” being your basic “ping” equivalent, and “ballllllllllll” your “ponnnnnnng.” And then there’s “spike.”

This is my Nose

Kids still antsy? Time for something completely different. A rather silly, but conceptually alluring game, sometimes called “This is my Nose.” One player starts by pointing to her, for example, elbow, and saying "this is my nose." The next player points to his nose and says "this is my elbow" and then points, for further example, to his head and says "this is my foot." The next then points to her foot and says "this is my head," and then points, perhaps, to her knee and says "this is my eyebrow." And on and again on. All the way home.


See also: The Not-Opposite Game