Hot Potato

Hot Potato

Forget Musical Chairs – a game for those whose idea of “fast-paced” meant the occasional recline in a comfy chair. Hot Potato utilized many of the same rules, but that’s where the similarity ended. This was an on-your-feet frenzy of crazed spud-tossing. And if you weren’t careful, you were likely to get burned.

Hot Potato has a long and mysterious history, perhaps starting in Ireland where they would use potatoes plucked fresh from a pot of boiling water, or perhaps not. One thing is certain though; it has captured the hearts of children everywhere, even those that might not have had access to a real potato. Basically, anything remotely spud-shaped could be used as long as it could be tossed to and fro at blinding speed. The concept has always been quite simple – gather with a group of friends in a semi-circle and have one member sing or whistle a song while the potato is quickly passed from person to person. Once the song ends, the poor soul with a potato (or facsimile) in his hands loses that round and has to sit out the remaining battles. The last person left standing, his hands unscalded by the dreaded potato of death, emerges victorious.

While it might seem an easy game to market, what with its beloved stature in the childhood of millions, there was a catch (no pun intended) – this was a game that anyone could play for free, or at least for the cost of a potato. Someone had to figure out a way to get all those parents to open their wallets. The ever-innovative company, Remco, had a few ideas to hopefully entice tuber tossers to fork out their hard-earned cash. In the 50s, they introduced their version into the market which utilized small plastic pans that remained covered so that you didn’t realize you had lost until the final moment of the game. A nice twist perhaps, but one that didn’t really emerge atop the pile of competing potato games. No, what the public wanted, it turned out, was a high-tech potato – one that was a cut above the rest.

For example, the 60s introduced a version that included Spudsie, a potato with a self-contained wind-up timer that would sound a bell when the time had expired. Flash forward a couple of decades and the emerging spud-star was “Chip O’Grattin.” With a battery in his belly to power the timer, Chip also introduced a new variation to the food-tossing fun. If you lost the round, you drew a card with one of three letters on it. Once you had drawn enough cards to spell the word “hot,” it was time to take a seat. A later version did away with the bells and buzzers and proudly proclaimed “Yahoo” at the end – as if singed appendages were worthy of celebration. “Yahoo, I’ve sustained third-degree burns!”

Whichever way you preferred your potatoes tossed, it was impossible to deny the legacy of Hot Potato. For a game that took less than a minute to learn, Hot Potato provided a lifetime of memories to all that played it. Little tykes everywhere came away with hand and eye coordination but, more importantly, the knowledge that, when picking up something hot, the proper response is to rapidly pass it on to someone else before you get burned. In other words – let someone else dress their own wounds. How else will they learn the valuable life lesson that tuber-tardiness rarely pays off.

If you have fond memories of playing Hot Potato in your childhood (or less fond, if you actually used a real hot potato), we’d love to hear your recollections of this timeless game in our comments section below.

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