Time Waster Tuesday: The Alphabet Game and Variations

Abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz … it’s the most remarkable word I’ve ever seen …

As mentioned previously, we used to take very long driving trips as kids. We had many ways to pass time, but one of my personal favorites was the alphabet game. You might have played this game in the car as well. The basic idea is to find each letter of the alphabet, in order, on something that you see outside the car, such as road signs and license plates. Of course, nothing is that simple with our family …

Typically, the basic variety of the alphabet game was over far too quickly, so we had a number of variations to make it last longer. Here is a quick list of the major ones.

One Sign, One Letter

During this version, you can only use a single letter off any given sign. This made the game last a little longer, and sometimes quite a while if you were looking for Q or J and had mistakenly used a sign containing it for the previous letter.

First Letter Only

During this version, you can only use the letter if it is the first letter of the word you see. This quickly eliminates the use of the “Exit” signs for X on the highway.

No License Plates/License Plates Only

Both of these varieties are quite simple. For one, you cannot use any license plates (and that really hurt for J, New Jersey is a common plate!). For the other, you only use license plates. That second one can be quite random, and involves a lot of shouting at Dad to slow down or speed up to see a specific car’s plate more effectively!

Forward and Backward

In this version, once you reach Z, you reverse and go all the way back to A before being done. This variety doesn’t slow us down too much because my entire family can say the alphabet backwards (although I think I still hold the speed record. Imagine if I ever got pulled over for drunk driving!). However, if you can’t say the alphabet backward, it can slow you down. If you want to learn the alphabet backward, I suggest jumping to 5:47 in this video to see how we learned it!


This version requires the honor system, as each person is meant to find the letters on their own, silently, not helping anyone else, and then shout “Z” at the end to win. Yeah, we always like a game you can win. Oh, if you are going Forward and Backward, you shout “A” to win.

As you might have guessed, these can all be combined in various ways to make the game more or less interesting and to account for the level of your players. By the end of the car trips, we were all pretty much hotshots waiting on that J or Q or Z that only came by once in a while.

Did you play The Alphabet Game? What rules did you play with? Can you say the alphabet backwards?

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June 2010
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