The Alphabet Game

I love being in the car.  In fact, I’ve always preferred driving to flying.  I’ve taken long road trips with my family since I was an infant, so being in the car is quite soothing to me. There’s something unsettling about being trapped in a pressurized cylindrical tube with complete strangers who may or may not have airborne germs, hurtling across the sky at ridiculous speeds.

I was rarely bored in the car when we took vacations.  My mom would make little travel activity bags with plenty of fun stuff to keep me and my brother busy.  I couldn’t read books in the car, since I get motion sickness faster than anyone else I know, but I loved playing license plate bingo, travel Scrabble, MadLibs, and all the puzzle games in those books with the “magic pens,” like the Yes & Know invisible ink books.  
Also, I could play my Sega Game Gear for hours.  I only had two games: Sonic the Hedgehog and Columns.  I got really good at both of them.

These are all great things to do when riding in the car, especially when you’re a child, or a childlike grown-up.  But what do you do to amuse yourself when you’re the one driving?  This is a particularly difficult conundrum when one is driving alone for hours on end. I’ve found that a fresh bag of cheddar Goldfish and a newly-synched iPod help tremendously.  However, even with three straight days of music at my fingertips, I need more to keep my mind occupied.

The Alphabet Game was introduced to me sometime last year by a friend who takes a lot of road trips.  The concept is fairly simple: one goes through the alphabet by finding words that begin with the next letter.

For example, I might get off at the exit for Atlanta, drive by a Bed Bath & Beyond, and pass a Toyota Corolla.

Any printed word is valid, whether on a sign, a store, a car, a license plate… the options are really quite vast.

There are a couple of rules/guidelines to this game:

  • The word cannot be printed inside or on your own car.
  • The word you spot must begin with that letter.
    (For example, if you are looking for the letter V, a CVS Pharmacy would be invalid, but a sign for Mount Vesuvius would be valid.)
  • Two consecutive letters would be valid if they are in order alphabetically.
    (For example, the word “State” would count as S and T because they occur in the correct alphabetical order, directly next to each other.)

Several letters are easy to find, but sometimes letters can be very difficult. You know how at the end of Wheel of Fortune they give you R, S, T, L, N and E?  There’s a reason for that: they are the most common letters, and it is very easy to spot them on the road.

For me, K, X, Y and Z are the most difficult to find.  I would have included J in that list, but living in New Jersey, all one has to do is look at the license plate of the next car over, and chances are J will be taken care of.  In fact, New Jersey license plates are a pretty decent source of hard-to-find letters: they usually begin with letters, and oftentimes that letter is a K or an X.

Then there’s Q.  Rotten Q.  Not very many words begin with Q that are placed on road signs. During my last trip to West Virginia I got stuck on Q for so long that I forgot I was even playing the game until, hours later, I passed a billboard for the latest James Bond movie.  On a different occasion, whilst crawling through Baltimore, I was lucky enough to be behind a car from Quebec.  Looking for Q can be tricky, and it makes me glad I live close to Quakerbridge Road.  (I can knock out Q and R in one go.)

I’m curious to know what other people do to pass the time while driving long distances.  As much as I like the Alphabet Game, I can get a bit obsessive about finding elusive letters and forget where I was driving in the first place. I’m sure I’ll always keep it in my repertoire, but perhaps it is time to try a new game.

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12 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Joy
    Jan 31, 2009 @ 11:17:19

    I don’t travel a whole lot anymore. I don’t fly though. I can’t even stand to think about that. I love this game. It sounds really fun.

    I guess I daydream and sing a lot. I talk to myself and solve all the worlds problems in only the way I can 😉 I guess that I reflect on things that I don’t get the peace and quiet for at home. I fantasize and just….well….have my own little daydreams.

    Reply

  2. that girl
    Jan 31, 2009 @ 11:50:36

    I listen to music and sing along… and that’s for pretty much any trip. 🙂 If I find myself getting drowsy, I switch to a comedy channel. That usually keeps me interested. Laughing wakes me up I guess.

    If I’m not driving, I’m out–as in, asleep. Sometimes I don’t even make it to the highway before I get sleepy.

    Reply

  3. curlywurlygurly
    Jan 31, 2009 @ 16:01:39

    well, i’m pretty much the queen of the highway…husbandito and i drove cross-country for the last two summers and i’ve driven to my parents’ house in florida a bunch of times. toss in raleigh, nc six or seven times, vermont (tons of times) and there you go.

    to pass the time…we’ve played ‘i’m going on a picnic…'(add a item alphabetically AFTER repeating all the items that came before.) i listen to audio books when i travel alone, and when i was a kid, my sister and i would have marathon silent fighting sessions. (ie. pinching and harming while trying not to make any noise. difficult, at best.

    car trips don’t bother me a drop. tonight i’m hopping in the car with a friend to go to atlantic city to see a show…it’s a 110 mile round trip, but i don’t mind.

    Reply

  4. Molly
    Jan 31, 2009 @ 20:23:07

    Great post! I never thought about what I do while I’m driving. I think I spend a lot of time mentally scolding all of the other bad drivers on the road, tsk tsking them like an angry grandma.

    Reply

  5. megan
    Jan 31, 2009 @ 21:13:54

    Joy: Daydreaming works for me if I’m in the passenger seat. If I daydream whilst I drive, I tend to veer a little too far to the left.

    that girl: I am so totally asleep if I’m not driving, especially if I’m in the back seat.

    CWG, Highway Queen: I’m not familiar with the picnic game. Does it work with just one person? I do remember the fighting game with my brother. We were never very good at that one.
    Have fun in AC!

    Molly: Thanks for stopping by! I’m with you in the scolding lane – but usually I’m tsking the little grandmas who don’t know how to drive!

    Reply

  6. maleesha
    Jan 31, 2009 @ 21:56:38

    This is cool. I am always looking for new ways to pass the time on long drives, especially since I have a boy who is in the “Are We There Yet” phase. We often play “Guess what I see?” and those sorts of things. He’s not old enough to do the license plate bingo or anything like that.

    Reply

  7. chadhend
    Feb 01, 2009 @ 08:40:00

    It seems like something got messed up on your latest entry, on shaving. When I click on it directly it disappears and I get an error message…

    Anyway, it was good stuff – love the “whilst dragging a piece of metal designed to slice open solid objects over my exposed skin,” haha.

    I hate shaving, too. And now it has been almost a month or more since I’ve done it with a blade – now I use my electric head shaver on my face, giving me that stubble/beardy look, haha.

    Your post totally reminded me of this article from The Onion:

    http://www.theonion.com/content/node/33930

    The scary thing this was written as a joke BEFORE five blades came out, haha.

    Reply

  8. megan
    Feb 01, 2009 @ 09:30:02

    Maleesha: Maybe that’s what my mom was secretly trying to do for years – prepare me with as many car games as possible so that I can entertain my own kids in the car.

    Of course, now with these newfangled DVD players that seem to come in every minivan nowadays, car games like License Plate Bingo and the Alphabet Game will probably be obsolete by the time I have kids.

    Chad: Hmm…everything seems fine on my end. From where are you clicking to get this error message?

    That was a really funny article – exactly what I figured they were thinking. I only noticed when I was finished that it was written in 2004. That guy must be some sort of prophet.

    Reply

  9. Amy Hunter
    Feb 01, 2009 @ 10:04:08

    I’d forgotten about those Magic Pen games. I always loved those on road trips! I don’t take long road trips anymore. 2 1/2 hours is about my limit, and I can keep myself plenty amused by singing and looking for hawks and other wildlife. When I was a kid, though, we did lots of road trips, and we played a game similar to your alphabet game. You go through the alphabet and look for an object that starts with each letter. So if you see an airplane, that’s A. A bus would be B. Etc.

    Reply

  10. In10Words aka "Galileo"
    Feb 02, 2009 @ 10:42:12

    Have you ever played “Spot The Car?” If anyone here is a fan of Tiny Toons, you would know exactly what I’m talking about. 😉

    I still play the License Plate Game. If anything, it helped me become more observant. I’ve never been west of Ohio, but I’ve seen plates from all 50 states and 4 Canadian Provinces.

    Megan, I also have another blog, here: http://galileo908.blogspot.com

    Reply

  11. megan
    Feb 02, 2009 @ 15:19:19

    Amy: Magic Pen games are the best! I still buy them every once in a while to appease my inner child. They have really made some improvements, mainly eliminating the yellow residue from the pen. But I’m sure that’s where all the magic was…

    Galileo: My brother and I played Spot The Car not long after that episode was aired. My dad put a stop to that pretty quickly.

    I’ll check out your other blog and let you know if it’s as good as the one I’ve been reading.

    Reply

  12. In10Words aka "Galileo"
    Feb 03, 2009 @ 00:34:28

    Thanks, Megan. Beaming for Bunnies is my main blog, which In 10 Words was a spin-off from. Hooray, a fellow Spot The Car fan!

    “Oops…Truck.”

    I miss the Magic Pen books. They kept me occupied on my many trips to Lake George. I agree, the magic did come from the yellow residue.

    Reply

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