Synopsis of Toy
Oh, the drama of a good Hot Potato game: “Quick, man, don’t dilly-dally! That potato is scalding your hands even as we speak! Throw it! Throw it!!” The mounting pressure—knowing that the music was about to stop, the timer was about to ding, etc.—made Hot Potato more than a game, but a matter of life or death (kind of like “Don’t step in the molten lava,” but with more formal rules).
Nobody knows when the first proto-Hot-Potato game was played (possibly by 18th-century Irish kids with real scalding potatoes—we’re just guessing), but by the 1950’s, manufactured Hot Potato games were already on store shelves. This was a game that even the very young could understand: A group of kids stood in a circle, somebody played some music or whistled a tune, and the potato got passed around as quickly as possible. Whoever ended up with the potato when the music stopped was kicked out, and the potato elimination match continued.
To encourage parents to shell out cash for a game they could actually play for free (plus the cost of a single potato), inventive toy manufacturers dreamed up ways to make their own versions of Hot Potato unique and irresistible. Remco’s late 50’s version used small plastic pans for each player, covered up so that the loser-to-be wouldn’t be revealed until the proper time. The majority of Hot Potato sets, however, went the more traditional route. The potato itself was passed around the group, but here’s the kicker: this was no ordinary potato.
In the 1960’s, there was “Spudsie,” a cute little fellow who had to be wound up before every game. When the wound-up power wound down, Spudsie gave off a “DING,” metaphorically torching the hands of one unlucky player. The 1980’s brought battery-powered “Chip O’Grattin,” along with a slight play alteration. Getting stuck with the potato meant drawing a card with a letter on it. Once a player spelled H-O-T, he or she was out of luck and out of the game. The most recent Hot Potato is a battery-powered talker who shouts out a jubilant “Yahoo!” when his timer’s up (sure, he’s happy—he’s not the one left holding a volcanic spud).
Hot Potato remains a must-play at preschool parties, teaching kids hand-eye coordination, catching skills, and the valuable lesson that hot things should quickly be given to somebody else.