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Hot Potato

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Jumba: Five potato!
Stitch: Six potato!
Jumba: Seven potato, more!

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 other's 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, which is its own subtrope.

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.

Supertrope of Grenade Hot Potato. 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 the song by The Wiggles.


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  • A literal hot potato appears in a spot for PBS. 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 PBS television station.

    Card Games 
  • 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...
  • There's a game called "Kill the Overlord" that's basically a cross between Hot Potato and King of the Hill (the game where you're trying to take the place of whoever's in the lead, not the TV show). During a round, an executioner card is passed to someone, and they need to use cards or special abilities granted by their role card to pass the executioner to someone else, or else they're out of the round. The round continues until the person with the Overlord role card is executed, at which point roles are redistributed based on who survived and the order in which executed players were killed, or everyone else is, in which case the Overlord wins the game automatically.
  • The card game BANG!, based on Spaghetti Westerns, has a dynamite card that rotates from player to player. When it goes off, the current holder takes heavy damage and is often eliminated outright; playing it can result in being hoisted by one's own petard.

    Films — Animation 
  • Incredibles 2 has a moment in the beginning where Jack Jack is the proverbial potato to the entire family. It starts off with Dash shouting that he will take the perimeter, dumping the responsibility on Violet. The game gets interlaced with the Underminer attack. After saving an elderly lady, Dash is the next to get Jack Jack. It goes on until the whole family is together with him.
  • Lilo & Stitch: Jumba and Stitch with a plugged Plasma Cannon 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 she 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!!
  • In The 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 the potato to Gus, who quickly passes it to Richie. Richie quickly throws the potato to Clark—who still holds on, while letting out pained whimpers and groans. Eventually, Clark flings the smoldering 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.
  • Carry On Behind: This happens with a beach ball, which two young women are playing with on the caravan site. Fred interferes in their game, and casually kicks the ball away; it lands in somebody's bowl of washing up. That person throws it away; it lands in somebody's salad bowl, knocking it off the table. They kick it away; it lands in Barnes's wheelbarrow. He spears the ball with a garden fork, and throws it on his bonfire, to Fred's dismay.
  • Dr. Lamb have one of these performed with... a severed human breast, in a scene that borders on Black Comedy. The police, led by Danny Lee's superintendent, are investigating the apartment of Simon Yam's titular Villain Protagonist - a necrophiliac Serial Killer who collects severed breasts of women he killed - and at one point a rookie officer tries checking a shelf filled with bottles of liquid formaldehyde containing body parts from Lamb's personal collection only to accidentally spill it on the head of Sergeant "Fatty" Bing. For a few seconds "Fatty" Big is oblivious to what just hit him, until he realize he's clutching on a severed breast, which he then throws across the room and accidentally lands it on the back of a lady cop. Said breast actually stays on the lady cop's back for a few seconds before hitting the floor as well, followed by a pointless debate among the officers on "whom should pick up the decomposing titty", before Lamb himself - then handcuffed and being watched by another officer - suddenly stood up and volunteers to pick it up. It's seriously that kind of movie.
  • At the end of The Greatest Showman, during the Triumphant Reprise of "The Greatest Show", the performers of P. T. Barnum's circus pass the ringmaster hat around before Barnum finally claims it. Barnum then presents the hat to Philip Carlyle, naming him the new ringmaster.
  • Delusions of Grandeur: When Blaze barges in the throne room during Don Salluste's Insignia Rip-Off Ritual and yells that the cushion contains a bomb, Salluste throws it to the King by reflex, who throws it away back to Salluste, then into the arms of the Grandees of Spain who keep throwing the smoking cushion to each other, until it falls at the feet of the Queen, who screams and faints. Then Blaze rushes in to kick it out the window, where it lands in the arms of the man who made the bomb.

  • 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.
  • Bored of the Rings, a The Lord of the Rings parody, features the Council of Orlon, where several characters attempt to palm the One Ring off on someone else by citing some reason the recipient would be a better custodian: wizards know about magic, the Elves were the first Ring Makers, and so on. It ultimately winds up with the Ring Finder's heir, the guy who started the buck-passing in the first place.
  • In Heaven Official’s Blessing: Tian Guan Ci Fu, during the Autumn Festival, the gods play a similar game called Drummed Flower Passing with a cup of alcohol. The player left holding the cup when the drumming stops has to drink the alcohol, and the party then watches a play made about that player by mortals, which is usually inaccurate and embarrassing.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The "Dream Curse" plotline in Dark Shadows was an immaterial example: anyone suffering the curse would experience the same disturbing dream, and telling someone else about the dream caused the curse to jump to the person they told. Each time it was passed to a new host, the curse became more powerful and dangerous, such that the final transfer would make it fatal to the recipient.
  • The 1984 NBC game show Hot Potato has two teams naming seven subjects from a list of ten in given category. If a team member chooses, they pass their turn—passing the "hot potato"—to an opposing team member. If that team member is unable to name a subject, he/she is eliminated from the round. Naming all seven subjects or eliminating all three members of the other team wins the round.
  • Mr. Bean: In "Mind the Baby, Mr Bean", Mr Bean disposes of the baby's dirty nappy by leaving it on a fairground ride. When the ride starts moving, the nappy flies off, hitting somebody in the face, who throws the nappy away. It then ends up in the face of two more people on different rides, finally ending up over somebody's ice cream.

    Puppet Shows 
  • 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, Lew Zealand remarks, "Hot Potato, keep away!" as they chuck the rock around.

    Tabletop Games 
  • 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.
  • Two Rooms and a Boom has a hot potato card, where the carrier of the card loses at the end of the game. For this social deduction game, players can share showing each other's cards to build trust, but the hot potato forces anyone sharing with them to swap the card, and thus the receiving player needs to find another person to share cards with.
  • Catch Phrase has two teams pass each other a disk within a time limit. The player currently holding the disk gives out clues to their teammates relating to the word or phrase on the disk's display. The disk is passed to the opposing team once the word is guessed correctly. The team not holding the disk when the buzzer rings gets one point and a single chance to guess the word for an additional point.

  • The filmed broadcast of The Rocky Horror Show has the cast doing this during the dinner scene with Eddie's gory remains in a bag.
  • 1776: In the song "But, Mr. Adams", the job of writing the Declaration of Independence is the hot potato. Visually lampshaded in the Broadway production and film version, with the Declaration Committee actually passing around a quill pen in classic hot-potato style.

    Video Games 
  • Hearthstone: The legendary card Elite Tauren Champion gives the opponent a Molten Pick of ROCK that deals 8 damage to them at the end of their turn. However, if they spend all of their mana that turn, the pick passes back to you and deals an additional two damage. This can go back and forth indefinitely until one player can't spend all of their mana anymore.
  • 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.
  • It's possible to invoke this in the mainline Pokémon games as of the fourth generation with the Sticky Barb hold item. A Pokémon holding this item in battle will lose one-eighth of its HP total at the end of every turn, unless another Pokémon that isn't already holding an item makes contact with it,note  which causes the Barb to transfer to them.
  • Super Mario Bros.:
    • Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island: There's a minigame 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 has a code to play a 2-player version of it (with no prizes regardless of who wins).
    • Mario Party 5: The minigame Head Waiter has two dueling characters toss mutually a Bowser-shaped bomb. In the eyes of the bomb, there's a countdown that goes down by one each time a character tosses the bomb at the other by pressing A, or by two if they toss it by pressing B; whoever attempts to toss the bomb when the counter reaches zero will be blasted away by it and lose. The biggest caveat is that, after the first few tosses, the eyes' numbers will be replaced by question marks, so each character will have to guess the current number on the counter (as neither can guess what button is being pressed by the other when tossing the bomb) and then decide whether to press A to reduce the counter by one or B to decrease it by two. Lastly, each toss must be done in under 5 seconds, or else the bomb will explode instantly regardless of the current timer in the bomb, making the player holding it lose.
    • Mario Party Advance: The minigame Volleybomb is a variation. Two dueling characters are using hammers to play volleyball against each other with bombs instead of traditional balls. Each character has three hearts of energy, and whenever a bomb falls onto a character's surrounding ground or explodes next to them after enough time passes, a heart will be depleted for the affected character. Whoever manages to make the other lose all their hearts wins.
    • Mario Party 7: In the minigame Bob-ombic Plague, there are eight people (four teams of two) dealing with a Bob-omb this way, 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.
    • Mario Party DS:
      • The minigame Short Fuse has all players blowing at the igniting fuse of a black Cartoon Bomb with Bowser's face. The blow is done via the microphone of the DS, and the harder a player blows the quicker the fuse will run its course. Each character blows for three seconds, and if the bomb hasn't exploded yet by then the current character will return to the top so the next one's turn begins. The caveat is that, once the fuse gets into the bomb's interior, or if the current character refuses to blow at all, they will set off the bomb and make it explode, resulting in their elimination. Therefore, strategy is key to decide how much to blow at the fuse to avoid getting caught by the explosion. After a bomb explodes, another falls down for the remaining characters to repeat the process. The last player remaining wins.
      • The minigame Boo Tag has all players standing atop a huge amount of treasure within an open chest. A Boo appears and begins to chase the character who is closest to it. If that character is taught, a timer associated with them will start and the character will have to touch another to get rid of it, prompting to that character to have their timer run and look for someone to pass the Boo to them. Near the end of the minigame, another Boo will appear, further complicating things. After 30 seconds, whoever got attached to a Boo for the least amount of time wins. A unique trait is that the character tagged with a Boo can phase through solid objects (including the gold ingots), allowing them to get into another character more easily.
    • Mario Party: Island Tour: The minigame Bob-omb Aplomb has the four players stand respectively on four rocky platforms erected over a sea of lava. Bob-ombs will begin falling from above, and each character has to kick away the ones landing onto their platform, whether aiming at the lava or at the other characters' platforms. If a Bob-omb standing on a platform explodes, it will destroy it and the character onto it will fall onto the lava. The last player remaining wins, though more than one can win if they can resist for 60 seconds.
    • Mario Kart Wii: The Thundercloud item 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 lightning bolt.
  • 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 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.

    Web Videos 
  • Flander's Company: Happens at the beginning of Season 4 with the spatio-temporal "egg" about to go off, which Reed Richards first throws to Hippolyte, who passes it to Caleb, and which finally ends up in Damien's hands.

    Western Animation 
  • 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 others 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 the Tom and Jerry cartoon "Trap Happy", where a second item was introduced in this "game": a bowler hat which fell off the head of another cat (not Tom). Of course, the bomb eventually 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.
  • In the Donald Duck short Beezy Bear, beekeeper Donald catches Humphrey the bear siphoning honey from one of his hives with a hose, so he sticks it into a faucet and tries to pull a Garden-Hose Squirt Surprise on him. However, the Ranger appears and gives Donald back the hose, leading to a round of hot potato that ends with all three soaked.
  • My Gym Partner's a Monkey: In "Nice Moustache", Adam and Jake do this when it turns out that Jake's new mustache turns out to be a fuzzy caterpillar.
    Adam: That's so disgusting!
    Jake: Tell me about! It's was livin' on MY lip!
  • The Dick Tracy Show: "Bomb's Away" had Stooge Viller and Mumbles with a volatile bomb they use to blackmail the city. When Hemlock Holmes arrives, the bomb is activated and the three find themselves playing hot potato with it.
  • SpongeBob SquarePants: In "Escape from Beneath Glove World", SpongeBob, Patrick and the Animatronic Hieronymus Glove end up playing an impromptu game of hot potato with Patrick's severed head during the climax...which turns out to be a ploy on SpongeBob's part to get the animatronic to release the toddler.

    Real Life 
  • Obviously the game Hot Potato.
  • A variant children's game, Kill the Man With the Ball, has one player grab a football or soccer ball and run while everyone tackles and roughs them up until they surrender it by throwing it in the air for the next kid to grab. Rinse and repeat; there is no score, almost no rules, and usually quite a few bumps and bruises on the way. School administrators ban it immediately, which makes it even more attractive to children. It has some worse names not to be repeated here.


Video Example(s):


Short Fuse

In this minigame, players take turns blowing into the DS microphone to whittle down the fuse of a bomb to the point that it can knock another player out, without going so far as to knock themselves out. Not blowing on the fuse at all causes the bomb to instantly detonate.

How well does it match the trope?

4.83 (12 votes)

Example of:

Main / HotPotato

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