Car Games

random trip report

Here are some games you can play in a car on a long trip (e.g., driving between Berkeley and the Sierras).


One player thinks of a famous person and says the first letter of the last name. The other players try to guess the person by "defining" people with that initial. If the first player can think of someone X matching the definition, he says "no, I'm not X". If he can't, then the guesser says who they're defining, and is entitled to ask a yes or no question.


A: I'm thinking of a person starting with "P".
B: Are you a Greek philosopher?
A: No, I'm not Plato.
B: Are you a French composer?
A: (pause) I give up.
B: Poulenc.  Yes or no: are you living?
A: yes
   (two hours later)
B: Are you a somewhat depressing female poet?
A: Yes!!  I'm Sylvia Plath.

Some fine points:

Any number can play Botticelli. The longest game on record (spanning the state of Montana, with me guessing and Matt Ginsberg answering) was "Casper Milquetoast".


Like Botticelli, but played with geographical names (names of natural or political entities). The entity must be larger than a single structure. The longest game on record was "Temescal" (a neighborhood in Oakland, CA) by Richard Kraft.

This game was proposed by David Gedye.


Like Botticelli, but played with names of foods and beverages. Ingredients are OK.


Like Botticelli, but played with names of living things from any kingdom. Typically only the common names at the species level are used, but if the knowledge of the group permits you can use kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, or genus names, including Latin names.

Guesses can be speculative, and can be corrected by anyone. Dissemination of biological knowledge is encouraged.

This game was proposed by Richard Kraft.

The Five-Letter Word Game

Played by two people only. Person A thinks of a five-letter word. Person B guesses it by naming five-letter words. For each guess, person A answers by saying how many letters match in the right position, and how many letters are in the word but in a different position. Example:

(person A is thinking of "table")
B: otter
A: zero and two
B: offer
A: zero and one
B: taper
A: two and one
B: table
A: five and zero

Note that any given letter is "matched" at most once: i.e. even though "otter" has two T's, only one of them is counted (since "table" has only one T).

Under no circumstances can the guesser write anything. Strategy suggestion: vary one letter at a time. Once you find a letter, find its position. Iterate. It's not that hard.

The hardest words on record are "khaki" and "xylem", both used by David Weinberg, "equus", used by Lynne, and "jihad", used by me on Lynne. The latter two were acrimoniously disputed.

I've played the six-letter word game; it's doable. If you are methodical, the difficulty increases linearly, not exponentially.

License-plate game

When you see a license plate with three letters, try to think of the shortest word that has those letters in the same order (not necessarily adjacent).

If you have other favorite games, or if you have questions about the above games, please mail me.

Copyright 2019 © David P. Anderson