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Hot Potato

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

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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.


Examples:

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    Advertising 
  • 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.

    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.
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    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 
  • The climax of Avengers: Endgame is the highest stake game of hot potato imaginable. The Avengers and their newly resurrected allies are trying to keep the full Infinity Gauntlet they created out of the clutches of Thanos. It passes through probably half a dozen hands by the end of the sequence.
  • 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 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.
  • 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.

    Literature 
  • 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.

    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.

    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, someone yells, "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.

    Theatre 
  • 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.
  • 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.

    Video Games 
  • 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 lightning 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.)
  • A common minigame found across the Mario Party series involves players tossing 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.
  • 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.

    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 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.
  • 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!

    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.

 
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Video Example(s):

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Plasma Cannon overload

Jumba and Stitch try to pass a plasma cannon that has been jammed with a carrot, before it overloads and explodes the house.

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