Backseat Player

Ten games to make your road trips funner.

Illustration by Cynthia

The theme this month is On the Road, and I know we’ve been talking about being on the road to your life and all our travels and journeys and explorations through the world, but…what about when you’re actually ON THE ROAD? Like, taking a road trip?

Specifically, I want to talk about when you’re stuck in the car—when you’ve been there for five hours and all you’re driving past is endless fields and your mom is dozing in the passenger seat and your dad is driving and doing that annoying thing where he reads all the signs you pass out loud and then makes a comment about them, like, “Hey, look, ‘Quality Dairy, 22 miles.’ Ha ha, their sign has QD as their symbol. QD is ‘DQ’ backwards, AND THEY BOTH SELL ICE CREAM! Get it? Is that a Dairy Queen rip-off or what?” and he’s not actually talking to anyone but he’s looking at you in the rearview mirror and waggling his eyebrows. (Please tell me someone else’s father pulls this crap.)

You know what I’m talking about. You’re tired of all the music you’ve brought. You don’t feel like reading. You can’t fall asleep and your ginger ale is warm and your sister’s LEGS are on YOUR SIDE and you’re never getting any closer to home and if you don’t get out of the car soon you’re going to lose it. But getting out of the car isn’t an option, because the doors are locked, you’re going 70 miles an hour, and you have a full day of driving ahead of you.

So the car keeps going. Maybe forever. WHAT SHOULD YOU DO???

Well, if you’re like me, you can look out the window for extended periods of time, turn on something dreamy, like this song, and imagine you have a giant scythe or a big laser sword and that you’re cutting everything you drive by neatly in half. It’s fun! You can cut through farmhouses and “see” lunch being prepared in the kitchen and you can slice through fields of waving corn. You cut down telephone poles and slice into tractors and split through the middle of semis and gas stations and imagine the gas spraying into the air. Wreak havoc with your mind! Car of Destruction, driving through Iowa!

But that’s probably just me.

Another thing you could do is play A CAR GAME!!! Well…do you have any better options?

Without further ado, I bring you: The Car Game Round-Up For When You’re Really, Really, Incredibly Bored on the Road.

The Alphabet Game

This is the eternal, enduring classic of all long car rides everywhere since cars were invented. There are so many variations of this game I don’t really know where to start, but basically it’s this: You and whoever is playing with you take turns finding things you drive past or words on signs that begin with the letters of the alphabet, in order. For example: You have A and you see a sign for “Apple Holler.” Now it’s your brother’s turn, and he has B and he sees a cute li’l calf and its momma cow in a pen, so he yells, “Baby cow!” Then you spend the next five minutes arguing about why that does or doesn’t count for B. Etc.

Fun-ness Rating: Meh. This game is only fun if you are dealing with extremely dedicated and competitive game partners— patient, evil people, willing to cheat and lie and bend the rules. Otherwise you get stuck on letters like K and X and spend 20 minutes silently hunting out the window, hoping for Kissimmee River, only to look up and realize everyone else is asleep.

The Celebrity (or Movie) Game

Another classic. You start with any celebrity—any celebrity at all—and say the person’s name out loud, like “Emma Stone.” Then someone has to take the last letter of the celebrity’s name, in this case E, and think of a new celebrity, such as “Elijah Wood.” See? First person who can’t come up with another celebrity loses. (Btw, the best way to win this game is to be rotten and name Jamie Foxx.)

Movie titles work the same way. You say, “Julie & Julia.” Your buddy has to say a movie title that starts with the last letter in “Julia,” so she thinks for a moment and then says, “Air Bud.” And then you stare at her in wonder.

Fun-ness Rating: Sorta fun! Because, out of sheer desperation, you name celebrities that everyone’s forgotten about, and truly awful movies, and then everyone tilts their head and goes, “Huh. What is Sarah Michelle Gellar doing these days?” or “House Bunny? Did you just say House Bunny?”

Would You Rather

This game is perfect for when you’re stuck in the car with friends, because it can get really gross, really fast. Would You Rather is a game of choices and questions. You take turns asking one another questions designed to horrify, like, “IF YOU HAD TO (and you’re not allowed to say you wouldn’t do either choice), IF YOU ABSOLUTELY HAD TO, would you rather…

• eat a salad with a nest of pubic-hair clippings from the boys’ locker room on top?


• clean the crack between the folding lunch tables, the one that’s never been cleaned and is full of moldy food and crumbs from a thousand lunches…with your tongue?”

Fun-ness Rating: SUPER FUN, because it’s sheer nastiness, and it’s enjoyable to try to come up with the absolute grossest thing to hypothetically make your friend do. Bonus! Lots of parents/adults hate this game, and will try to tune you out once you start playing.

Mental Four-Square

This is my favorite game, because I made it up (no I didn’t—it’s a real game; I just thought I made it up and that I was a genius) when I was 13 and was seriously proud of it. It’s served me well on long drives ever since. Here’s how you play: You pick a category, like “States in the U.S.” or “Countries in Europe” or “Kinds of Candy” or “Things That Will Shatter If You Drop Them,” and you and your road partner rapidly take turns naming anything that would go into the category. Anyone who can’t add to the list after a 10-second pause loses. Get it? So if the category is “Diseases,” you and your partner would fire back and forth, going, “Leukemia. Crohn’s Disease. Osteoporosis. Lupus. MS. Gout. Macular degeneration. Syphilis. Umm…diabetes.”

Fun-ness Rating: Fun! If you make up weird categories. The weirder the better. It’s hilarious to see what someone’s mind comes up with when they’re panicking and trying to think of anything that might work.


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  • laurenniee August 20th, 2012 7:09 PM

    Guess the Pokemon is a no-brainer for me and my friends, which has led to us sending texts to each other saying “I’m thinking of a Pokemon…” and also nearly resulted in the death of somebody who chose one outside of the original #150.

    • bugaleeto August 21st, 2012 1:08 AM

      That sounds amazing! Loveeee Pokemon

  • Pollyana August 20th, 2012 7:15 PM

    I know this is off-topic but I was just perusing through the past months and reading the articles and I was just overcome with a sense of admiration and itchiness( not related to you guys, my grandma is in the room, she makes me itchy) and I just wanna say how AWESOMELY AWESOME you guys are, and that from the bottom of my tummy I love your website cuz’ its informative, funny,insightful and just full of cheese-flavored awesomesauce. KEEPS IT REAL BROS, ‘KAY? :D

    Oh lordy, I dont think there is even one period in all of that……oh well, grammar is for non-lazy people. >:>

    • lelelikeukulele August 24th, 2012 4:40 AM

      “my grandma is in the room, she makes me itchy”

      HA i am in love with this comment

  • ravenflamingo August 20th, 2012 7:17 PM

    This is so fun! Thank you Rookie!!!!

  • lylsoy August 20th, 2012 7:26 PM

    Haha- the quiet game is fabulous.

  • katrinaexplainsitall August 20th, 2012 7:44 PM

    Yayay! Too bad I won’t be able to use these on any long road trips until spring break D: Make Out, Marry, Push Off a Cliff (or as I like to call it F***, Marry, Kill) is my favorite n_n Especially when you use really unattractive people or inanimate objects as the options. People’s answers always surprise me!

  • rayfashionfreak August 20th, 2012 7:51 PM

    This is such a great list of games! My favourite is this on called Are We There Yet, its a pack of cards which have got things you would see when you’re driving with points. Its especially fun when you get super competitive and start screaming out things like “haha! i just saw a traffic cone! 2 points to me! Now I’m beating all of you!” Its also brilliant when you’ve just been travelling for so long and you just get so giggly at everything, and the card with “Find a driver with a beard” with a little picture of Santa in a car just sets you off into a half hour fit of laughter (sometimes I wonder if we have a leaking canister of laughing gas in the boot, we always seem to go absolutely mental on road trips)

    Another good one is Consequences, although its probably more suited to a train or plane journey, where you write down a girls name on a piece of paper, fold it over to hide the name, then pass it round. You then take the piece you’ve been given and write a boys name, fold it and pass it round again. You continue doing this, writing down what the girl said to the boy, what the boy said to the girl, where they met, and then what happened (or the consequence) The random combination of things you get means endless hilarity, especially if you’ve got some crazy or sick minded friends. Me and my friends have played this every week for about 7 years now and have never been bored!

  • SarahCat August 20th, 2012 8:05 PM

    The Would You Rather choices… *shrudder* Thanks for implanting those visuals into my head, Rookie! But, yeah, these are going into use on whatever my next car-trip is! When I was at camp and we were stuck on a bus, we would play 20 Questions, only the answer was always a musical.

  • noquierodecir August 20th, 2012 8:16 PM

    GHOST is one of my all time favorites! It has led to many a family fight. Usually they are enjoyable fights, though. It is a seriously clever and hilarious one.

  • I Have The Universe Reclining In My Hair August 20th, 2012 9:17 PM

    Ya know, it’s hilarious that you should post this after me and my whole family moved across country. Haha!

  • cleobea August 20th, 2012 9:22 PM

    I just got back form a long car trip to Lassen, and my family plays Alphabet *religiously*. We just play that every one competes to get from A to Z faster than everyone, using words form cars and sings around. We are so competitive about it, it becomes so much fun. Our other game is Contact, which is too had to explain here, but is so much fun! That, and songs to sing at the top of our lungs to, are what makes me love road trips

  • stefx August 20th, 2012 9:43 PM

    This list rules! Thanks!

    My favorite (because I am a loser) is the picnic game.

    “I went on a picnic and brought… Adam Sandler.”

    “I went on a picnic and brought Adam Sandler aaaand… a Bat with which to beat him senseless.”

    And each person has to list the preceding items every time for the rest of the alphabet!

    Come on, Rookies, I know you’ve heard of this one!

  • Adrienne August 20th, 2012 9:48 PM

    I love Ghost!! It’s the best game ever. Here’s another random game my family plays: you go through the alphabet and make up a person who has to have a job, pet, spouse, hobby, and live in place that all start with the same letter. For example, with A, Anna lives in Antarctica with her husband Andrew and has a pet aardvark. She enjoys arithmetic. Yeah it’s kind of stupid, but at least it’s somewhat entertaining. :P

  • Jes August 20th, 2012 10:41 PM

    A really fun, easy, two-player word game:
    On the count of three, both players say a random word. Then both of the players try to anticipate which word the other player would think of as a result of the two words said previously. The two players keep each saying a word on the count of three until they eventually say the same word.

  • Whatsername August 20th, 2012 11:33 PM

    My friends and I’s tactic for KFM {Kill, Fuck, Marry} is to pick three really annoying and awkward-looking people and laugh our asses off when the chosen one finally decides which to fuck.

    Also, 20 Questions isn’t 20 for us. We just keep throwing out questions.
    {Questions that must be asked at one point include:
    “Can you smoke it?”
    “Is it a phallic symbol?”
    “Could you kill someone with it?”}

  • FlaG August 21st, 2012 1:34 AM

    I played the Celebrity Game with some friends from uni, except we used band names. We gained some momentum and went on for a while, but eventually came to a halt after we went through all band names/singers that began with ‘A’. Super fun though.

    Did I mention we were in the student lounge, and not in a moving vehicle?

  • Susann August 21st, 2012 2:38 AM

    Love this! I really feel like playing “Would You Rather” right now..!

    Fashion in Pepperland

  • marmella August 21st, 2012 3:20 AM

    When I’m in the car I like to look out the window and pretend I’m rolling everything up into a katamari.

  • A girl called Alex August 21st, 2012 5:14 AM

    There is something almost magical about roadtrips, that sort of wild abandon and sense of discovery.
    But man, car sickness is the pits

  • sneakybacon August 21st, 2012 5:39 AM

    if you have paper, then MASH?! you write MASH at the top (Mansion, apartment, shack, house) and then in a rough circle you list 5 names, 5 numbers, 5 cars/pets/jobs/hairstyles and then pick a random number which you start from M in mash and count round in that number, crossing off everything that falls under 5, then when one is left in each category, that becomes your future

  • ivoire August 21st, 2012 7:26 AM

    omg what i love to do is stare out the window and pretend a skate boarder is jumping over things and riding the electrical lines omg im so weird

    • karastarr32 August 30th, 2012 12:54 PM

      OMG I thought I was the only one!

  • Marguerite August 21st, 2012 8:14 AM

    When I’m in the US I try to see license plates from all the states even Hawaii and Alaska, I actually found them all on my trip to Yellowstone.

  • NickyLarson August 21st, 2012 8:41 AM

    I love that you imagine cutting everything in half along the road, I do it all the time! In fact sometimes I have trouble stopping it.

    I remember playing a version of the celebrity game with songs instead and words instead of letters (hmmm is that even the same game now?), you sing a part of a song and your travel-mate has to sing another song that contains a word from what you just sang, and so on. It’s quite funny because my friends and I were all terrible singers.

  • wallflower152 August 21st, 2012 9:55 AM

    The license plate acronym game is the best! It kept me and my bf entertained while stuck in traffic for an hour. It gets even funnier if you try to make phrases out of words on signs or names of businesses. Saw a sign for 35 SOUTH–Sometimes Ostriches Undress Their Homies. A game I played when I was younger was: when you first get in the car make a list of random/crazy things you could possibly see on the road, cross them out as you see them. Me and my sister like making funny faces and smashing our faces at other cars and seeing their reactions. And of course f* one, marry one, kill one.

  • lilghostie August 21st, 2012 11:26 AM

    ok, super weird but my best friend and i were able to combine would you rather and marry bury fuck to create this really weird game called triple wheelchair!! basically the point of the game is which combination of two people would you rather be in a triple wheelchair in which you have to sit in the middle for the rest of your life. the game isn’t very p.c. but it can be really fun making up weird combinations of people you know. for instance would you rather be in a triple wheelchair with kim k and paris or a triple wheelchair with both of your parents. obviously these examples are lame but the possibilities are endless!!

  • Lucille August 21st, 2012 12:10 PM

    OH, thank you so much! Now I’ll never be bored in car ever again.
    True, I try to make my long trips shorter by taking pictures of my feet and face and sis(who always freaks out when she take my camera and see herself sleeping with her mouth open) but after taking so many pics I feel sick, so dad always has to stop the car just to let me out to vomit.
    I’ll try all of these!

  • Alex S. August 21st, 2012 1:07 PM

    I love to do riddles to pass the time. My favorite one to play is “I love coffee but hate Tea”.

    You basically can say you love anything as long as it DOESN’T have the letter ‘T’, and you can hate anything as long as it DOES have the letter ‘T’. It’s fun to try making what you say compare to each other in some way so the person trying to solve the riddle doesn’t notice.

    Examples: “I love bugs but haye insecTs”, “I love laughing but hate laughTer”, “I love sex but hate sex educaTion”, you get the gist.

    Warning: This game may cause uncontrollable feelings of power among the game starter while watching people playing suffer and has potential to annoy/frustrate them. Have fun!

  • Yayo August 21st, 2012 7:15 PM

    I love these (:

    I’m also desperate to know more about Dylan’s yelling at people game is. Sounds great.

  • Pashupati August 21st, 2012 7:47 PM

    Jamie Foxx -> Xavier Naidoo
    You’re welcome! I just screwed your winning plans, though, but it made me feel smart.

  • LeatherStuddedFae August 22nd, 2012 2:12 AM

    Ugh! I totally need this. I can’t stand a long-hour drive with my whole family squeezed into an average-sized car while I could feel my butt heating up. XD

  • EmmaAmerica August 22nd, 2012 7:04 AM

    ‘imagine you have a giant scythe or a big laser sword and that you’re cutting everything you drive by neatly in half.’

    OH MY GOODNESS. I totally do that. All the time. So many hours of road trips have been spent doing that. And I’m super happy that I’m not the only one, cause everyone always looks at me funny when I explain it… :) :) :)

  • allycat927 August 22nd, 2012 12:28 PM

    OMG. i thought i was the only one who imagined the giant knife cutting everything in half!

    • Me August 23rd, 2012 9:12 PM

      Me too! Then I read that bit and my jaw dropped. I’m glad I’m not completely weird!

  • Ivory August 24th, 2012 9:02 PM

    OMG! I thought I was the only one who did the cut-in-half thingy when I was driving! How funny!

  • Rae0320 August 25th, 2012 7:49 AM

    I played a game on my road trip across America that involved caravans and trailers with cheesy brand names (they always have names – ‘Storm’, ‘Crusader’, ‘Rapier’, ‘Voyager’, ‘Finesse’, ‘Radiance’ etc etc.)

    Basically whenever you see one on the road you have to shout out the name. And put Anal in front of it.

    Anal Storm, Anal Crusader, and so on. Its childish. There is no point to it. There are no winners. But its fun. It gets even more fun if you are in a camp site full of them.

  • karastarr32 August 30th, 2012 12:52 PM

    Omigosh just got back from holiday. My friend Maddie and I played Make Out Marry Push Off a Cliff- only we played the Geordie version: Tash, Bang, Avoid. Great fun, except for when your 8 year old cousin asks what Bang and Tash are…. :)