How many miles?

What it is: A guessing game to play in the car. My family played this a ton when I was growing up because we took a lot of road trips (we were definitely a road trip rather than an airplane family). It’s a nice game to play because it can last the whole trip long, but you can be talking or doing other things in the background while you play. It’s not super concentration-intensive. And everyone can play.

Best for: As little as 2 or as many as a carful of people.

What you need: A journey in a car. A long road trip on roads you don’t drive every day works best. Then just a car and people to play! Optional: Paper and pen, or a way to keep score. (It was paper and pen when I grew up, but today it would totally be my iPhone.)

How to play: This game involves spotting and guessing the numbers on those road signs that say how many miles to a certain city, the green ones, you know? Like this:

The point of the game is to correctly guess the next mile number for a certain city, usually your destination.

So say your car is taking a trip to Dallas. Once you’ve seen one sign that says how many miles are left to Dallas (like Dallas: 215), everyone would take a guess as to the number that will be on the next sign that says how many miles to Dallas. Logically, this could be any number lower than 215. You can use your experience or knowledge or just luck to try to figure out exactly how many miles away the next sign will be placed. But I can tell you from playing this game as a kid, it’s not always what you think! It’s not like there’s always a pattern or a rule, especially as cities and landscapes vary (and this all just makes the game more fun).

So everyone puts in a guess for the number on the next mile sign – you can write them down or just have everyone remember. Let’s say a hypothetical car of people make these guesses:

  • Jamie – 200
  • Louis – 154
  • Ann – 194
  • Jeff – 172

Then everyone can go about other activities, but make sure at least one person is keeping a lookout for the next sign. Once it’s spotted (Dallas: 160), figure out who won that round. For us, the winner was simply the person who had the closest guess, whether it’s lower or higher. In the above example, this would mean Louis wins. I know a lot of times people play number guessing games like this and make a rule that the winner is the closest number that didn’t go under or something like that, but we liked to keep it simple. You can certainly play with rules as complicated as you like.

So Louis would win that round. You can keep a running score pad of who wins each round, or just play for fun and not keep score. But that round would be followed by another, and another, until you reach your destination. Even when you’re driving in the middle of nowhere, you can still play. The signs just might be really far apart, but that’s okay. Closer to cities, the signs might be only a couple of miles apart, and it’s always fun when that throws everyone for a loop. You can guess but you never know for sure, which is why it’s fun. The game is a good way, too, of tracking the distance until you reach your destination, maybe cutting down on the “Are we there yet?” questions. 😉

Another thing: Our family road trips were often so long that we couldn’t play with our final destination right away. So we’d choose bigger cities on the way to play with until we were close enough to use the final destination. (For example, Dallas, then Oklahoma City, then Wichita…) Just make sure everyone agrees on the next city as you guess.

Rules: One rule we had was that everyone had to put in their guess for the next sign before too much time passed. For example, after passing a Dallas: 215 sign and then gathering up the next round of guesses, there were always some of us who liked to delay as long as possible, realizing that the more miles we drove, the better idea we’d have of the next number on the sign. But this was considered cheating, so guesses for the next sign had to be in before a specified time (like a minute). Otherwise your guess is invalid. However, if you wanted to do away with this rule, you definitely could: Then each person can kind of gamble as to how long they want to wait to guess. Wait too long and you might risk passing a sign without guessing at all. But wait long enough and you could have a big advantage over the other players. Come to think of it, I think we played that way sometimes, too. Either way is fun.

Also, when making guesses, no duplicate numbers: if you want to guess 160 but someone already guessed it, too bad. You have to choose a different number. (It was legal to guess just one number lower or higher, which was often a good strategy.) Guesses are first-come, first-serve, which was why we always said our guesses out loud at least, even if we didn’t write them on paper.

Variations: If you’re hardcore, you could keep score by not just writing down the winner of each round, but the number of miles by which each guess was off. Then at the end you total up each person’s miles, and the person with the lowest score wins. For example, take the above list of guesses again:

  • Jamie – 200
  • Louis – 154
  • Ann – 194
  • Jeff – 172

If the right answer was 160, that means each person would be assigned a number of how far they missed the mark:

  • Jamie – 40 (200 minus 160)
  • Louis – 6 (160 minus 154)
  • Ann – 34
  • Jeff – 12

Those numbers would be the scores you write down for each player for that round. To be honest, that’s way too much math for my taste ;-), but if you like a more competitive game and your addition and subtraction, it might be a fun way to play.

However you play, happy road tripping!

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