24 December 2023

Spotto! The yellow car game that makes road trips merrier

| Vanessa Hayden
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A yellow convertible Volkswagen Beetle

Who saw it first? Call ‘spotto’ and the point is yours. Photo: Sue Thatcher.


Have you ever played ‘Spotto’? You know, the game where if you see a yellow car you’ve got to be the first in the car to shout it out, declare your superior powers of observation to the other passengers and claim the point?

It’s a game you might have played to keep the kids half entertained in the back seat on a long or boring drive – these days it goes a long way towards them looking up, rather than down and can be played on the way to school.

It’s a lot of fun and can be quite competitive. There are various incarnations of the game that is similar to the game known as “punch buggy” and these days you can be shouting out ‘Flamingo!’ if you see a pink car or ‘Super dooper Spotto!’ if you snag a purple one. ‘Rainbow!’ is even a thing where you have to be the first to sight a vehicle in every hue of its colour spectrum to win the game.

There are extra points for the rarer colours and if you spot an actual yellow VW Beetle (hello, punch buggy!) well, you are a star. Double points coming your way.

The question is – how do you know what’s acceptable and what’s not?

Cue in the International Spotto Federation (ISF)!

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The what? Yes, it’s a real thing and its head offices are right here in Australia.

The ISF was formed in 2019 when fatigued Canberra parents Richard Czeiger and wife Alexandra Mattinson finally got sick and tired of their children arguing about what the rules were, or how many points they got, or who the winner was, etc.

The pair told the ABC earlier in the year that there were always arguments of what counted and what didn’t count and because Spotto was always on, no one could remember who was in front or what the score was.

“My wife having had enough, turned around and said, ‘Look, that’s the rule according to the International Spotto Federation (ISF)’. And that shut them up,” Mr Czeiger said. There was only one problem, they told the reporters – the ISF didn’t exist. Yet. Of course, the only rational thing for them to do was become the federation’s proud founders.

Thousands of fans of the game as well as hundreds of other beleaguered parents joined in the rallying cry and the ISF was born.

Since then, the ISF has grown from strength to strength with a huge cohort of loyal devotees, said Mr Czeiger.

They have even created an app to make the game even more fun and bring it into the 21st century.

The origins of Spotto, or the ‘yellow car game’ can be traced back to Britain as early as the 1600s when dock workers would punch each other in the arm in appreciation of the yellow harvested rapeseed arriving safely into port after surviving a journey fraught with risk. In Australia, it can be traced to a holiday card game marketed by BP service stations in the 1950s where spotto was called every time you found something listed on your card.

Spotto card game from the 1950s

The Spotto card game made famous by BP service stations in the 1950s. Photo: Facebook/Australia Remember When.

So, what are the rules? According to the ISF you need to follow these guidelines, but you are allowed to have your own unique or differing aspects, as long as everyone agrees.

  1. The vehicle needs to be mainly yellow: at least 50 per cent. The yellow pinstripe on a black sports car does not make it yellow.
  2. Any shade of yellow is allowed, from metallic yellow to pale sunflower.
  3. Gold is not yellow. See the ISF’s FAQs.
  4. Lime is not yellow.
  5. Vehicles ‘in uniform’ do not count (like school buses and taxis in the USA). Yellow-branded company vehicles are acceptable. The DHL vans for example make great spotting.
  6. Double points are awarded for spotting a pink car and yelling ‘Super Spotto!’
  7. Triple points are awarded for spotting a purple car and yelling ‘Super dooper Spotto!’
  8. The car must either be moving or have a driver inside it. Parked and unattended cars are not allowed.
  9. If you spotto a car and it turns out it doesn’t meet the criteria, you lose a point.
  10. Cars move fast: if the spotto’ed vehicle is no longer visible to other players for confirmation, we rely on the honour system. Be trustworthy or the whole thing falls apart.
  11. Once spotted, that vehicle is not allowed to be used again during that trip.

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Some people like to spice things up and add extras to the game – like making trucks worth more than cars, or adding extra colours on top of yellow, pink and purple. Here are some ideas to alter the call-out:

Pink car: ‘Pinko!’, or even better, ‘Flamingo!’
Green car: ‘Snotto!’ or ‘Froggo!’
Orange car: ‘Taco!’ or ‘Nacho!’
Purple car: ‘Playdoh!’
Gold car: ‘Lotto!’
Black and white car: ‘Zebro!’

To find out more about the ISF visit their website or follow them on Facebook.

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