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Car Ride Games

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This game of 'Punch Buggy' is about to go horribly wrong.

Characters in fiction may play various games. There are Parlor Games, Board Games, Card Games, Tabletop Games, Video Games, and Web Games. Car Ride Games are similar to Parlor Games.

When characters are on a road trip or have to get from place A to B, the people who don't drive get bored easily, and children especially can get annoying. People usually have only each other to play games with in the confined space of a car. In some cases, some basic equipment like a pen and paper may be employed. Due to the changing environment, these games often involve observing stuff going on outside the vehicle.

These games often serve for characterization. They can show how creative, competitive, or clever the players are, or how good their memory is; sometimes the characters will show their geeky side, or sometimes they'll be completely unable to grasp the concept and will be shown to be too stupid to play. The Ditz can completely spoil the game, much to the annoyance of everyone else. Some people treat even these simple games as Serious Business. If someone loses a car ride game, it can reveal they are a Sore Loser. Sometimes the winner will gloat and rub it in the loser's face.

The game can be used as an actual Plot Device and lead to something very intriguing. Perhaps they play "I Spy," notice something out of the ordinary, and decide to pursue the issue or investigate.

In Real Life this form of keeping kids entertained is generally in decline in affluent societies due to the proliferation of smartphones and other electronic entertainment devices, but they remain in vogue for poorer societies and for those who find looking at a screen while being a car passenger induces motion sickness.

Sister Trope to Something That Begins with "Boring". Sub-Trope to Parlor Games.


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    Fan Works 
  • In Code Wings 3.0, Jeremie and the others play these both under duress and out of duress. "I Spy" is played at anyone's peril since Jeremie is the champion. "90 Second Alphabet," a game from Whose Line Is It Anyway?, is played, too, even when they aren't traveling.

    Films — Animation 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Jeepers Creepers, Darry and his sister play a game of guessing the meaning of license plates, and especially vanity license plates, such as 6A4EVR meaning "Sexy Forever". They try to come up with a phrase using the letters and numbers.

  • Diary of a Wimpy Kid:
    • In "Dog Days", Manny tries to entertain his family in the car by telling increasingly nonsensical jokes.
    • In one book, Greg tries to entertain Manny in the car by making silly faces, but when Manny laughs so hard that apple juice goes down the wrong way, their mother Susan says, "You could've killed him!" which makes Manny cry.
    • In "The Long Haul", the Heffleys are on a road trip and they play two games: Alphabet Groceries where people have to think of food that begins with each letter of the alphabet, and "I Must Confess" which is similar to the real-life game "Never Have I Ever".
  • In the Dirty Bertie story "Loo", Bertie tries counting the cars to keep himself occupied, but because he has to urinate, he says "thirty-loo" instead of "thirty-two".
  • Ellen and Otis by Beverly Cleary: At one point in Ellen Tebbits, Ellen and Austine play the Alphabet Game (searching for letters on signs) in the car.
  • Harmony (2016): On the way to the camp, Iris and Tilly play That Didn't Hurt, which involves hitting and pinching each other to see who has the higher pain tolerance. Their parents hate the game because it usually ends with someone crying.
  • Paper Towns: During the 24-hour road trip, our heroes play these to kill time. One game is to make up backstories for people they see driving alongside them. Another is "metaphysical 'I Spy,'" where they play "I Spy" with abstract concepts, rather than physical objects (since otherwise the only real options would be "tree" and "car").
  • Small as an Elephant: Jack and his mom used to play the License Plate Game, where they would make notes of how many license plates they could find from each state.
  • Zoe, Ari, and Gabe from Social Queue have made a game out of guessing the motivations of the owners of vanity license plates.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Big Bang Theory: Throughout the show, Sheldon is shown as a big fan of car ride games. He doesn't drive and his friends usually have to give him a lift to work. He can be quite anal about the games, and it usually shows him as the Insufferable Genius obsessed with science and facts or an adult man who still behaves like a small child.
    • "The Euclid Alternative": Sheldon attempts to play Element Letters with Penny who drives him, but he ends up playing by himself. One player begins by saying an element, then the other player says an element where the first letter starts with the last one that the first player said.
      Sheldon: Okay. I'll say an element, and uh, you say an element whose name starts with the last letter of the one I said, okay? I'll start. Helium. Now, you could say Mercury. That would give me a Y. Ooh. Very clever, that’s a tough one. So I go Ytterbium, which gets you back to M. So you go Molybdenum, and I say Magnesium, you say Manganese, and I say Europium, and, and you're left with Mendelevium, and there are no more M's because I believe that Meitnerium should still be called Ekairidium, so congratulations, you win. Do you wanna go again?
    • "Love Car Displacement": Sheldon acts like a travel supervisor for two cars of them travelling to a conference together.
      • Sheldon insists on communicating over walkie-talkies using code names which is portrayed as annoying to the people in the other car.
      • They play a game with yes/no questions.
        Leonard: Are you an element in the actinoid series?
        Sheldon: No. Amy?
        Amy: Are you usually radioactive when found in nature?
        Sheldon: No.
        Amy: Are you in the lanthanoid series?
        Sheldon: Amy, it's Penny's turn. Penny?
        Penny: Uh, I don't know. Are you food?
        Sheldon: That’s not apropos. We’ve already established I'm found in the periodic table.
        Penny: Well, it's a table, right? I mean, why can't there be food on it?
      • At the end, Sheldon tries to play a game with people from the other car over radio, but Howard throws his walkie-talkie out of window.
        Sheldon: Red Leader to Red Five. Red Leader to Red Five. Anybody up for a little game? I spy with my little eye, a nonferrous metal.
    • "The Bakersfield Expedition": On their trip, Sheldon keeps insisting that they enable the turn-by-turn voice option on the GPS. When Leonard finally turns it on, they discover that Sheldon has downloaded his voice with "fun" trip facts and quiz questions into the GPS software. Raj thinks that it's cool, while Howard wants Leonard to drive off the next bridge. In the final scene, the car thieves are seen driving Leonard's car while listening to Sheldon's modified GPS. The two find the facts interesting and the quizzes fun.
    • In "Workplace Proximity", Amy is invited to consult on an experiment at Cal Tech university for a few months. She thinks she and her boyfriend Sheldon could carpool and have lunch together. Sheldon mentions that riding with Leonard has gotten a little tedious lately. The only car game he ever wants to play is the Quiet Game. And Leonard's terrible at it because Sheldon always wins.
    • "The Large Hadron Collision" is a Valentine's Day episode where Leonard suggests playing a car game to cheer Sheldon up. Sheldon is being a sourpuss because Leonard is going to Switzerland on a business trip and is taking Penny with him as a romantic getaway while Sheldon insists he should go with him. Sheldon thinks up a game titled Traitor. He names a group of three people, one of them being Leonard, and while Leonard is supposed to put them in order of the heinousness of their betrayal.
      Leonard: Okay, I know what'll cheer you up, let's play one of your driving games.
      Sheldon: All right. This game is called Traitors. I will name three historical figures, you put them in order of the heinousness of their betrayal. Benedict Arnold, Judas, Dr. Leonard Hofstadter.
      Leonard: You really think I belong with Benedict Arnold and Judas?
      Sheldon: You're right. Judas had the decency to hang himself after what he did.
    • In "Skywalker Intrusion", Sheldon wants to play a physics car game called I Can't Spy.
      Sheldon: Would you like to play a physics car game I invented called I Can't Spy? It's all the nail-biting tension of I Spy but the added fun of subatomic particles and waves outside the visible spectrum.
    • "The Guitarist Amplification" is an episode where Leonard and Penny fight. Sheldon wants to play a car game called Scientists, but Leonard copletely ignores Sheldon and keeps talking about his fight with Penny.
      Sheldon: It’s called Scientists. Now, I will name three scientists, then you will put them in order of the size of their contribution to their respective fields. To make this game even more compelling, you must consider only the contribution of the man to the field, not the validity of the field itself. For example, Abu Musa Jabir ibn Hayn made a greater contribution to the discredited field of alchemy than Halbert Vanderplatt made to neurobiology. Okay, ready to have some fun?
      Leonard: An old boyfriend who’s definitely not gay. That's what a guy likes to hear, definitely.
      Sheldon: All right, I’ll start with an easy one, um, Isaac Newton, Madame Curie and Niels Bohr.
      Leonard: And then I say one little thing and I end up being the bad guy!
      Sheldon: Hint, Madame Curie had her husband to help her.
    • "The Collaboration Contamination": Sheldon wants to to play an extremely annoying car game "What Siren Am I?" and later has an idea for "What Whistle Am I?" He wails and imitates a siren. Leonard guesses it's French police, but it's actually Belgian ambulance.
  • How I Met Your Mother: On road trips, the characters play a game called Zitch Dog. There is just one rule: if you see a dog, the first person to say "Zitch dog!" gets a point. Whoever has the highest score by the end of the car ride wins. Marshall easily beats anyone because he's unusually good at playing games. He beats Ted in "Arrivederci, Fiero" and he owns Lily and Barney in "Shelter Island".
  • The Partridge Family: To keep the kids entertained in the tour bus, Shirley comes up with a game called Highway Bingo. She gives them bingo cards with the names of car manufacturers on them, then calls out the name of every car she sees.
    Keith: Oh, I can't win.
    Laurie: Well, why not? You only have one space to fill.
    Keith: Yeah, but when was the last time you saw a Hudson?
  • In the Outlander episode "The False Bride," Roger and Brianna play "The Minister's Cat" while driving to North Carolina for the Scottish Highlander Festival.
  • Frasier: Daphne, her mother, Roz and Roz's daughter Alice go on a trip together. Alice decides to amuse herself by playing Punch Buggy with Daphne's mother who doesn't know the game and is very confused as to why the little girl keeps hitting her.
    Roz: Alice, honey, stop hitting Mrs. Moon. She can't take the Punch Buggy game.
    Mrs. Moon: Oh, really? Punch buggy white! (jabs Roz on the shoulder)
    Roz: Ouch! That was a Jeep!
    Mrs. Moon: I play the Jeeps. And Fords. Punch buggy Ford! (whacks Roz on the head)

  • In Cabin Pressure, Arthur is fond of a game called Yellow Car, most prominently featured in "Ottery-St-Mary". The rules are as follows: when you see a yellow car, you say "yellow car". Arthur also assumes everyone on all car journeys is playing, even when they specifically tell him they're not, until:
    Martin: Turn straight around and ... yellow car ... back on the M5...
    Douglas: Martin, why did you say "yellow car"?
    Martin: I just happened to see one.
    Douglas: But why did you say "yellow car"?
    Martin: Look, I'm not playing it, I just wanted to say it before Arthur.
    Douglas: That's what playing it is.

    Visual Novels 
  • Daughter for Dessert: To pass the time during the trip to Whiskeyville, MC and Amanda play a game of 20 Questions.

  • In Dork Tower, Igor's House Rules for 'License Plate Bingo' are so complex that by the time he has finished explaining the, the road trip (across multiple states) is over.

    Western Animation 
  • In Tiger Family Trip from Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood, Daniel and his family take a long trip on Trolley to get to Grandpere's house. Trolley is technically not a car, but all of the normal Road Trip Plot rules are in effect, including Daniel squirming and asking Are We There Yet? Mrs. Tiger reminds him of one of the show's strategy songs - "When you wait / You can play / Sing or imagine anything" and he decides to play a game with his little sister Margaret in which he asks her to point to various parts of her body. "Where is Margaret's nose? Where are Margaret's ears?" It works great until he grows bored with the game and tells her that he's done playing. Still wanting to play, she starts pointing to various parts of herself and poking him.
  • Dexter's Laboratory: In the beginning of "Ewww That's Growth", Dee Dee starts up a game of I Spy in the car on the way to the carnival and spies something brown. Dexter guesses the car door and sky, both were wrong; the correct answer was some cows in the fields they pass.
  • In a Handy Manny episode, the tools are in the car, bored, and playing "I Spy", but one tool "spies" the toolbox twice in a row.
  • The Loud House: In "The Sweet Spot", Lincoln tells the viewers that he can't sit next to Lynn Jr. on his family's road trip, and a flashback shows the reason why; in the flashback, Lynn Jr. decides to play "Auto Attack," wherein she punches Lincoln every time she sees a car. Cue a car carrier trailer with many cars in it passing by Vanzilla and Lynn Jr. punching Lincoln many times.
  • In the Nina Needs to Go! episode "Traffic", Nina, her parents, and her older brother Frank play "I Spy" in the car to pass the time.
  • The Simpsons:
    • In "Simpsons in the Wild", Bart and Lisa play "Guess That Smell". Bart wins by correctly guessing "Dad's feet".
    • In "Selma's Choice", Marge thinks it's nice that Bart and Lisa play a "counting game" when they go by car to Aunt Gladys's funeral. Too bad they count bags and suitcases that fell off the car.
    • In "Bart vs. Lisa vs. the Third Grade," Bart and Lisa play Punch Buggy on the bus in Capital City. When other nearby students ask what they're doing they explained the rules, only for the bus to immediately drive past a Volkswagen dealership. The entire class begins wildly punching each other, with even Otto getting involved ("Two for flinching!") and when they exit the bus everyone is rubbing their arms and groaning.
  • In the Teen Titans Go! episode "Road Trip", the Titans try to pass the time by playing "I Spy" and "Slug Bug". Starfire needs to be explained what Slug Bug is, so every time she sees an insect of some sort, she punches Beastboy. After being bruised enough, he questions why there are so many bugs on the road.

    Real Life 
Popular games include:
  • The Alphabet Game: Players look out the window for different letters. The first person to find all 26 wins.
  • I'm Packing Grandma's Trunk: A memory game. Each player comes up with something to put in Grandma's trunk. The next player must recite all the items that have already gone in the trunk, then come up with their own. The game is usually played in alphabetical order, ending at the letter Z.
  • I Spy: One player says, "I spy with my little eye..." and provides hints as to what they see. The other players try to guess.
  • Punch Buggy: Known as Slug Bug in certain regions of the US. If a rider sees a Volkswagen Bug, they punch the person beside them. Often with the phrase "no tag backs" or "no punch back" to stop the person from punching back. A common game played by older siblings. Similarly, "Bruiser Cruiser" for PT Cruisers.
  • Cows on Side: Sometimes played in rural areas, players call "cows on my/your side" as they pass a herd of cattle. Also works with other livestock.
  • "Bingo" or "Yellow One" (known in the UK as "Yellow Car"): Players declare the game's title upon spotting a yellow car. School buses, taxis, construction vehicles, and cars parked in dealerships may or may not count.
  • Rubberneckers is a dedicated card game where passengers (not the driver) each have a set of cards telling the holder what to look out for, such as "Trash Can or Dumpster" or "Public Phone."


Video Example(s):


DTN - Where is Margaret's...

Daniel Tiger and his sister Margaret play a game during a long trolley ride in which Daniel points to one of the parts of his face and then asks Margaret to point to it on her own. But when Daniel tires of the game and stops, Margaret starts poking him, not wanting to stop playing.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (1 votes)

Example of:

Main / CarRideGames

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