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For centuries, scientists, philosophers and religious leaders have labored to answer the most complex questions of our existence. But there's one question none of them have been able to answer with any patience or thoughtfulness:
"Are we there yet?"
Economic times being what they are, many of us have opted for vacations within driving distance; but let's face it, the monotony of "One Hundred Bottles of Beer on the Wall" can really wear on a driver's sanity. And most states frown on chloroform.
But fret no longer, long-distance traveler! We are here to help you with a vast array of road trip diversions for your young, fidgety cargo. Let's start off with a classic.
The License Plate Game: The object here is to spot and catalog the greatest number of states as seen on vehicle tags. You can simply assign one point per state, or (to make it more geographically exhilarating) award more points for more remote states. Extra points for Canadian provinces is fun. This game works best in a region where there's a lot of traffic and a lot of little states (like New England).
The Geography Game: This one is also a classic. Play begins by saying a place name, such as "Mystic." The next player has to say a place name that begins with the ending letter of that word — in this case, "C." Just try to avoid getting caught in the continuous loop of "A." There are an incredible number of place names that begin and end with that letter: Argentina, America, Alabama, Armenia, Albania, Alaska, Algeria, Africa, Altoona, Alberta, Antarctica, Angola, Andorra ... you see what I mean. And if you really want to end the game quickly, you can always drop a name like "Middlesex." Nobody's going to have a place that starts with "X." If you want to have one in your geographic arsenal, however, there's always (SPOILER ALERT) "Xinguara" in Brazil. But that will put you right back into the "A" loop.
The Rhyming Game: This one can be fun, particularly if you're a family who likes words. You start off by giving a two-word clue. The guesser has to come up with two synonymous words that rhyme. For example, if I said, "emotional style," the answer would be "passion fashion." If I said "deceased cranium," the answer would be "dead head." This is a game that will help hone your little one's rhyming skills for when he or she grows up to be a rapper.
Punch Buggy: When I was a kid, this was a particular favorite, mostly because it involved hitting my older sisters. Basically, whenever you saw a Volkswagen Bug, you would punch the person sitting next to you in the arm and say "Punch Buggy!" Of course, this was at the time when the Bugs were no longer being manufactured, but there were still a few on the road. Now with the New Beetle everywhere, this game could get a little out of hand. I also understand that some parents actually want to avoid having their children hit each other on long car trips, so this may not be the game for your family.
Twenty Questions: Now we all know how this works: one player thinks of an object while the other asks 20 yes or no questions to narrow it down and figure it out. For a more interesting variation, you can make it movie titles or famous people. This is a great way to demonstrate the pop culture generation gap between you and your kids.
Road Sign Scavenger Hunt: Draw or print out several common signs (stop, yield, crosswalk, etc.) and hand them to your kids (Don't duplicate. Make sure each kid has different signs). They get a point for each sign they're able to find. This works best on back roads. A favorite snack makes a good prize.
The Alphabet Game: Another word game, but they always work well in the car because anyone can play them and they require no equipment. Simply pick a category, for example, vegetables. Starting with "A" each player has to name a vegetable that starts with that letter. Asparagus, broccoli, cucumber, etc. Again, it'll get a little hard when you get to Q or X, but you can always forego those letters to make it a little easier.
Name That Tune: Each player gets a turn singing, humming or whistling a song with the others in the car trying to be the first to guess it correctly. You can limit the game to show tunes, TV theme songs or Lady Gaga if you want. If karaoke isn't your family's thing, a good variation would be to hit the seek button on your car radio. The first person to identify the song wins. And since it will keep jumping from station to station each time you hit the seek button, no one will have an unfair advantage with musical genres.
Eating The Alphabet: This is great for the 20 minutes right before you pull off the highway for something to eat. The first player begins "I'm so hungry, I could eat an ant." The next player adds "I'm so hungry, I could eat an ant and a Buick." Then, "I'm so hungry, I could eat an ant, a Buick, and a chandelier." Get the idea? Try to see if everyone's memory can make it to the letter "z."
Tell The Truth: The first player says three things about himself. Two are true; the other is made-up. For example, you could say, "I had a pet goldfish named "Slurpee." I broke my leg when I was in third grade. I love spelling bees." The other players vote on which one they think is false. The players who guess correctly get a point.
Remember that a simple jump rope, frisbee and ball are inexpensive, lightweight toys that are great for helping fidgety passengers work out their excess energy at rest-stop breaks.