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On the off chance you've forgotten, Hot Potato is a children's game in which kids toss a beanbag around as fast as possible while music plays, trying not to be the one holding the bag when the music stops.

This happens a lot in fiction, where characters end up passing something they definitely don't want to be holding among themselves, sometimes even shoving it into each others hands. This is, surprisingly often, a bomb, but can also be a baby with a dirty diaper (handled gently, of course), something sticky or gross, or any kind of unpleasantness. Can also occur with something intangible, like a responsibility, a leadership role, taking point on a patrol, or volunteering for a duty. In extreme cases, this may be a Refusal of the Call.

Occasionally, the situation is reversed, in which all parties actually want the object in question, and constantly attack each other to grab it, or at least knock it out of the others' hands. For example, the bridal bouquet at a wedding, or a golden apple.

Compare Keep-Away (where characters pass the thing around because they don't want someone else to get it) and Clingy MacGuffin (where the thing works more like a boomerang).

Not to be confused with the Game Show Hot Potato, or with one of the earliest ear worms by The Wiggles.

See also Grenade Hot Potato.

Examples of Hot Potato include:


  • A literal hot potato appears in a spot for public television. A young man throws a potato at a local board meeting. The board members toss it around, and the potato makes its way in and out of the hands of various corporate executives and politicians. Finally, a young man catches the potato, puts it into his pocket, and calmly walks into a public television station.


  • Lilo and Stitch: Jumba and Stitch with a plugged plasma gun about to overload. Jumba eventually loses track and shouts "I win!" when he's saddled with the gun.
  • Often used in The Three Stooges, normally it was something explosive like a grenade or a stick of dynamite.
  • The blutwurst in The Assassination Bureau. Dragomiloff and von Pinck play hot potato until the wurst lands on Archduke Ferdinand's plate. Hungry, the Archduke cuts into the wurst. Ka-BOOM!!
  • The Great Muppet Caper's battle for the fabulous Baseball Diamond involves the Muppets tossing said diamond around and away from Nicky Holiday's gang. In the beginning someone yells, "Hot Potato, keep away!" as they chuck the rock around.


  • The Douglas Adams novel The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul has a legal contract that's called (and metaphorically acts as) a hot potato: It gives you incredible wealth, as long as you can manage to sign it over to someone else before it becomes due.
  • In the Robert Louis Stevenson short story The Bottle Imp the demon trapped in the bottle grants wishes, subject to three rules:
    • Wishes cannot extend your natural lifespan.
    • The bottle can only be sold for a cash amount strictly less than the amount for which you bought it. Otherwise it comes back to you.
    • If you die with the bottle in your possession the demon carries you straight to hell.
  • Kim Newman's short story "Mother Hen" is about a group of people all trying to avoid ending up with a cursed statuette, in a reversal of The Maltese Falcon.

Real Life

Tabletop Games

  • One official adventure for Paranoia is called "Hot Potato". It turns out to be an antimatter bomb big enough to destroy all of Alpha Complex, and a non-trivial chunk of the earth's crust for that matter.

Video Games

  • The Thundercloud item from Mario Kart Wii, which can be passed along by other racers. The racer that holds onto the thundercloud for a long period of time and can't pass the item to a nearby racer will get zapped by the cloud's lighting bolt.
  • One of the Mario Party games has a four-player mini-game in which players toss a Bob-omb among themselves, trying to avoid holding it when it explodes.
    • Another involved eight people (four teams of two) but not only is the person holding the bomb but the people next to the bomb holder also are taken out till either the partners are left or if only two opponents then the bomb only takes out one.
    • Preceding the Mario Party example is a minigame from Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island, where the player (Yoshi) and an AI-controlled Bandit pass an inflating balloon back and forth. A random button sequence is displayed onscreen and must be entered quickly to pass the balloon. If the Bandit is holding the balloon when it bursts, you win one or more extra lives. The SNES version also had a code to play a 2-player version of it (with no prizes regardless of who wins).
  • Any halfway decent match of Super Smash Brothers Brawl with Smash Balls enabled will invoke the Bouquet Toss reversal.
    • Not to mention the sticky bomb, which sticks to a player, but switches place upon physical contact, turning matches into a game of "run away from the imminently exploding player".
  • Super Mutants happily play this with you.

Western Animation

  • A special case in the Ed, Edd 'n' Eddy episode Sorry, Wrong Ed involving Rolf's cursed telephone. Eddy takes the phone off Rolf's hands, and gets cursed. After "testing" the phone, the Eds go back to Rolf's and try to give it back. Ed says the trope's name, and then Edd gets tossed around along with the phone.
  • The reverse situation occurs in the Phineas and Ferb episode "Vanessesary Roughness" between Perry the Platypus, Vanessa Doofenshmirtz and Ferb, Baljeet and Buford, and Candace to get a tube of "pizzazium infinionite".
  • Seen It a Million Times in Looney Tunes and MGM cartoons (such as Tom and Jerry), usually with bombs or lit sticks of dynamite. Often, a character will pull a Duck Season! Rabbit Season! and trick his nemesis into giving the object to him or taking it away.
    • There was an interesting variation in a Tom and Jerry cartoon, where a second item was introduced in this "game": a bowler hat which fell off the head of another cat (not Tom). Of course, eventually the bomb ended where the hat should be: on the second cat's head.
  • On The Penguins of Madagascar, Skipper likes to play hot potato... with a live bomb.
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