Hot Potato is a children's game in which kids toss a beanbag around as fast as possible while music plays, trying not to be the one holding the bag when the music stops. This happens a lot in fiction, where characters end up passing something they definitely don't want to be holding among themselves, sometimes even shoving it into each others hands. This can be a baby with a dirty diaper (handled gently, of course), something sticky or gross, or any kind of unpleasantness. Can also occur with something intangible, like a responsibility, a leadership role, taking point on a patrol, or volunteering for a duty. In extreme cases, this may be a Refusal of the Call. Surprisingly often, the hot potato is a bomb. Occasionally, the situation is reversed, in which all parties actually want the object in question, and constantly attack each other to grab it, or at least knock it out of the others' hands. For example, the bridal bouquet at a wedding, or a golden apple. Compare Keep Away (where characters pass the thing around because they don't want someone else to get it) and Clingy Macguffin (where the thing works more like a boomerang). Not to be confused with the Game Show Hot Potato, or with one of the earliest ear worms by The Wiggles.
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- A literal hot potato appears in a spot for public television. A young man throws a potato at a local board meeting. The board members toss it around, and the potato makes its way in and out of the hands of various corporate executives and politicians. Finally, a young man catches the potato, puts it into his pocket, and calmly walks into a public television station.
Films — Animated
- Lilo & Stitch: Jumba and Stitch with a plugged plasma gun about to overload. Jumba eventually loses track and shouts "I win!" when he's saddled with the gun.
- In one scene of Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island, Fred is convinced that a zombie is just another guy in a costume, like everyone they ever ran into before. When he tries to pull off the "mask," he accidentally takes off the entire head. Naturally, everyone present freaks out at this and they start tossing the head around between them until it lands on the zombie, which nonchalantly puts its head back on.
- In Frozen, Anna accidentally kicks Olaf's head off when she first meets him and her and Kristoff play a quick round of "toss the head" until it gets back on his body.
Films — Live-Action
- Often used in The Three Stooges, normally it was something explosive like a grenade or a stick of dynamite.
- The blutwurst in The Assassination Bureau. Dragomiloff and von Pinck play hot potato until the wurst lands on Archduke Ferdinand's plate. Hungry, the Archduke cuts into the wurst. Ka-BOOM!!
- The Great Muppet Caper's battle for the fabulous Baseball Diamond involves the Muppets tossing said diamond around and away from Nicky Holiday's gang. In the beginning someone yells, "Hot Potato, keep away!" as they chuck the rock around.
- in Benchwarmers, Former baseballer Reggie Jackson trains Gus, Richie, and Clark. One of his drills (for catching and quick releasing) is a literal hot potato—from the oven! Reggie tosses it to Gus who quickly tosses it to Richie. Richie quickly tosses the potato to Clark—who won't let go, thus burning his hand. Eventually, Clark flings the hot spud out the window, where it hits a robot mowing the lawn, causing it to accidentally shave the fur off the side of a sleeping dog.
- The Douglas Adams novel The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul has a legal contract that's called (and metaphorically acts as) a hot potato: It gives you incredible wealth and success, but if you fail to sign it over to someone else before it becomes due....
- In the Robert Louis Stevenson short story The Bottle Imp the demon trapped in the bottle grants wishes, subject to three rules:
- Wishes cannot extend your natural lifespan.
- The bottle can only be sold for a cash amount strictly less than the amount for which you bought it. Otherwise it comes back to you.
- If you die with the bottle in your possession the demon carries you straight to hell.
- Kim Newman's short story "Mother Hen" is about a group of people all trying to avoid ending up with a cursed statuette, in a reversal of The Maltese Falcon.
- Harry actually compares he, Ron, and Hermione taking turns carrying the Horcrux to this in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
- One official adventure for Paranoia is called "Hot Potato". It turns out to be an antimatter bomb big enough to destroy all of Alpha Complex, and a non-trivial chunk of the earth's crust for that matter. And there are two separate groups of NPCs who are actually insane enough to detonate it.
- Magic: The Gathering features a few cards like this. For instance, Measure of Wickedness must be handed off by the end of its controller's turn. Then that player has until the end of his turn...
- The Thundercloud item from Mario Kart Wii, which can be passed along by other racers. The racer that holds onto the thundercloud for a long period of time and can't pass the item to a nearby racer will get zapped by the cloud's lighting bolt.
- Konami Krazy Racers has a whole game mode, "Bomb Chasers". One player gets a Cartoon Bomb. When it blows up, the other three players win. One can pass the bomb by bumping another kart; this will raise the timer to at least 30 seconds, so the victim has a chance to pass the bomb again.
- Super Tux Kart does this with an Incredibly Obvious Bomb. If a kart picks up a bomb, racers will play hot potato. You can pass the bomb by bumping another kart, but you can't pass it back to a racer who already carried it. (Contrast Mario Kart Wii, where a Thundercloud can bounce between the same two racers.)
- One of the Mario Party games has a four-player mini-game in which players toss a Bob-omb among themselves, trying to avoid holding it when it explodes.
- Another involved eight people (four teams of two) but not only is the person holding the bomb but the people next to the bomb holder also are taken out till either the partners are left or if only two opponents then the bomb only takes out one.
- Preceding the Mario Party example is a minigame from Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island, where the player (Yoshi) and an AI-controlled Bandit pass an inflating balloon back and forth. A random button sequence is displayed onscreen and must be entered quickly to pass the balloon. If the Bandit is holding the balloon when it bursts, you win one or more extra lives. The SNES version also had a code to play a 2-player version of it (with no prizes regardless of who wins).
- Super Smash Bros. Brawl plays this straight with the sticky bomb, which sticks to a player, but switches place upon physical contact, turning matches into a game of "run away from the imminently exploding player". Any halfway decent match with Smash Balls enabled will invoke the Bouquet Toss reversal, as everyone chases the Power-Up.
- Super Mutants happily play this with you.
- A special case in the Ed, Edd 'n' Eddy episode "Sorry, Wrong Ed" involving Rolf's cursed telephone. Eddy takes the phone off Rolf's hands, and gets cursed. After "testing" the phone, the Eds go back to Rolf's and try to give it back. Ed says the trope's name, and then tosses the phone to Edd, who decides not to throw the phone because he doesn't believe it's cursed. The other then continue throwing around the phone and Edd with it.
- The reverse situation occurs in the Phineas and Ferb episode "Vanessesary Roughness" between Perry the Platypus, Vanessa Doofenshmirtz and Ferb, Baljeet and Buford, and Candace to get a tube of "pizzazium infinionite".
- Frequently in Looney Tunes and MGM cartoons (such as Tom and Jerry), usually with bombs or lit sticks of dynamite. Often, a character will pull a Duck Season, Rabbit Season and trick his nemesis into giving the object to him or taking it away.
- There was an interesting variation in a Tom and Jerry cartoon, where a second item was introduced in this "game": a bowler hat which fell off the head of another cat (not Tom). Of course, eventually the bomb ended where the hat should be: on the second cat's head.
- On The Penguins of Madagascar, Skipper likes to play hot potato... with a live bomb.
- Since The Chains of Commanding are in full effect for Supreme Leader of the Kids Next Door, the leader is decided by a game of tag, and no one wants to be It when the game ends at noon.