Wordplay: License to Spell

So you’re sitting at a stoplight, waiting for the light to turn, bored out of your skull. Here’s a little something I turn to whenever I’m stuck in traffic. I think of a word using the letters on the license plate in front of me, keeping the letters in the same order. Here’s one from that vacation I’ve been meaning to take to Alaska.


For this plate, etude works well, but so do perturb, restaurant, and beautiful. It doesn’t matter how many letters separate the ones on the plate. You just need to use them in the order you see them. Or, if that stumps you, try them backward or mix them up.

This game works in American states that use the three-letter license plate format. Delaware, Rhode Island, Maryland, and Illinois, however, are out of luck.

If you’re traveling or live outside the United States, you may still be able to sharpen your verbal skills this way. Several Canadian provinces, for instance, style their plates with three letters, although you may find yourself flummoxed in Ontario, which went to a four-letter format in 1997.

Ontario License

Mexico, too, uses three letters in most states, including Chiapas.


Did you know that word games help stave off Alzheimer’s and dementia?

So when you’re out and about, sitting at a stoplight, backed up on the freeway, or even walking through a parking lot, try this little diversion on for size. Word games boost the memory and keep the mind sharp, and they might just help you come up with more word choices the next time you sit down to write.



Filed under Wordplay

13 responses to “Wordplay: License to Spell

  1. Really fun. Texas has the three letter convention so there has got to be a lot of potential. The question will be traffic. Living in BFE means a traffic jam may be three cars and a turtle

  2. Kira

    Clever! My family and I used to play a similar game when we drove up to Maine every summer. This was before cell phones & portable dvd players. I would still rather play a word game while traveling than any other thing! 🙂

  3. I’m with you there! My husband and I go on road trips a couple times a year, and I prefer word games over gadgets.

  4. When I was a child, I would look at license plate numbers and multiply the numbers together to keep my mind active.

  5. That’s a great idea! I’ll try it next time I’m stuck in traffic.

  6. Too fun. Grandmother used to write down the letters and numbers from one license plate from every state every year…wasn’t satisfied until she got all fifty. An odd friend told me he asked questions to the ether and then looked at the next bumper sticker he saw. I tried it, and the next bumper sticker I saw said, “Cat – the Other White Meat.” It never caught on with me. This seems a bit more creative. Have to go through some of my GM’s lists since the license plates here are numbers only.

  7. I probably see five to ten plates from different states a year here in Oregon. The bumper sticker oracle sounds fun. Maybe I’ll give it a try, as long as I don’t have to eat my household critters.

  8. return, (to) Abkhazia (for) Dimethyltryptamine … apols… I cheated and ‘searched’ for the last two……. but enjoyed myself hugely… and in the process If I’m staving of dementia … yippee!! 🙂 xPenx

  9. What a great idea–I like to try and figure out the vanity plates-some are easy, but some take some figuring out-this is a great way to stay engaged while *parked* –

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