Any parent knows that license plates aren't just a way for the state to keep track of cars. They provide hours of amusement for families on long road trips. Consider these license-plate games:
1. Find a license plate from every state. Print out a list of the states and give a copy to everyone in the car (or everyone who's playing, anyway; you don't want the driver getting distracted by this enterprise). This game is best played on a long, multistate road trip.
2. Find the different designs of Washington state plates. You can find samples of the plates — including those for colleges and universities, the armed services and hobbies — at dol.wa.gov/vehicleregistration/specialdesign.html. Or just give each child a piece of paper and let him or her write down — or even briefly sketch — the plate design. (Requests for tailgating during this exercise should be politely declined.)
3. For the young ones: Find the numbers 0 through 9 or the letters A through Z. This one doesn't take very long, but it might temporarily avert the meltdown of a bored 5-year-old while you hunt down a place to grab a snack.
4. Find license plates that — intentionally or not — include words. These should be real words, such as COY, AM or ORT, that pass muster in Scrabble. If you start getting into letter combinations that sound like words, arguments will ensue, as well as awkward moments when your child finds letters that sound like things you'd rather he or she not say. (The real versions of those words aren't allowed on license plates.)
The real rub with these games becomes rule-making. The 50-state game is best played with the entire family working together as a team. Otherwise, you could get into problems, such as: If three people see a license plate at once, who gets to claim it? The person who yells the loudest, the one who whines most brilliantly or the one whose sulking will destroy the rest of the day?
If the entire family is a team, then the entire family is sure to win, at which point the entire family can award itself a prize in the form of a dip in the hotel pool or perhaps a round of moon pies.
Remember: Theoretically, this should be fun.