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:

  • Definitions can be as obscure as you like.
  • You can guess people who don't conform to the information already obtained via yes/no questions.
  • The "famous person" should be someone all the guessers are reasonably certain to have heard of. The usual penalty for violating this rule is ejection from the car at high speed.
  • The use of domain-specific guesses (e.g. sports figures) is discouraged, but is OK if you're desperate.
  • Guesses of the form "Are you another X?" are not allowed. Each guess must supply additional information.
  • Any response that matches a definition is valid. It doesn't have to be the person the guesser was thinking of.
  • If you think that a particular guess is right, don't say "yes, I'm ___". Make the guesser say who they're thinking of. Half the time it will be someone else.
  • High-risk/high-yield yes/no questions of the form "are you a living American male?" are valid.
  • Yes/no questions can be "banked".
  • Fictional names can optionally be allowed; players must agree on this beforehand.

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 2024 © David P. Anderson