Sitting each morning in cruiser 622, four District police officers assigned to guard the protesting farmers on the Mall play the newspaper obituary game.

The officer who most inaccurately guesses the number of people who died of cancer and heart failure is the loser and must pick up the tab for their next coffee break. The game, the police say, is one of the most exciting aspects of farmer duty.

"We are suffering from total boredom," Sgt. Chester J. Hildreth said from the cruiser yesterday.

Besides the obituary game, Hildreth and his fellow officers, hundreds of police who sit on 12-hour shifts in cars and buses around the Mall, engage in other pastimes. They eat peanuts, study for college courses, sleep, figure out how much overtime they are making and rate passing women on a scale of one to 10. Few female officers are assigned to the Mall.

District officials estimate that each day of guarding the farmers and their tractors, which are surrounded by a barricade of Metro buses, tow trucks and police cars, costs the police department about $125,000. About $100,000 of that daily cost is for overtime pay to police, according to Dr. William H. Rumsey, chairman of the city's Special Events Task Force. The exact number of police at the Mall is kept secret.

Police estimate that only about 100 of the 625 tractors that rolled into Washington and clogged the morning rush hour on Feb. 5 have left town. The tractors, many of them too cold to start, remain parked, incongruously, near the East Wing of the National Gallery of Art. Police say their officers will be there until the tractors leave.

"The size of the problem has not diminished greatly since the beginning. The farmer's leaders are unclear about what their plans are from day to day," said District Deputy Chief Robert W. Klotz, who came up with idea of barricading in the tractors.

Klotz, who works out of a police command trailer parked on the Mall, said he has no idea until he gets to work in the morning what the farmers plan to do that day. In the past three days, the farmers have done little but attend hearings on Capitol Hill and rally at the Lincoln Memorial.

"While it appears that my men are sitting around with nothing to do, I have to have the manpower," Klotz said. "I am trying to keep the men fed and trying to keep them warm. So far, there is no mutiny. They are quietly bored."

In cruiser 622, the quiet boredom begins at 7 a.m. when one officer walks to a newsstand, puts 15 cents in a machine and takes three copies of The Washington Post.

"It takes us about one and a half hours to read the paper, concentrating on the sports pages and the crossword puzzle," said Sgt. Hildreth. "Then it's time for breakfast."

Breakfast, usually eaten in a restaurant at the corner of 14th Street and New York Avenue, takes about 1 1/2 hours, Hildreth said. "Then we pray that the gas tank is empty." If it's empty, they drive off to 23rd and L Streets to fill up -- a drive that takes about half an hour.

The rest of their day is filled with waiting for lunch, waiting for the late editions of the Washington Star, waiting to get off work at 7 p.m. and, as the consuming test of patience, waiting for the farmers to figure out when they are leaving town.

"Although you're just sitting here, you are exhausted at the end of the day," Hildreth said. He and other policemen interviewed at the Mall said they don't talk much to farmers. The farmers are inside the barricade; the policemen are supposed to stay out.

The long hours make it difficult to carry out family responsibilities. "I haven't seen my kids since Feb. 5," said Officer Dave Proulx. Another officer said he is living on the cash in his pocket because he hasn't had a chance to go to the bank.

The tedium is tempered, according to the four policemen in cruiser 622, by thoughts of how they will spend their overtime money. Hildreth and Officer Jim Conlon said they are saving for their children. Officer Jack Curtis said he plans to buy a car, and Officer Danny Hodge said he is going to join a health spa with his money.

Larry Kennedy, a policeman who sits in a squad car parked near a bronze Henry Moore sculpture in front of the Hirshhorn Museum, spends his days figuring out exactly how much money he's making.

As of yesterday, Kennedy, who has a yearly salary of $18,860, had made $1,274 in overtime. He has worked 12 hours or more every day since Feb. 5. In his present two-week pay period, which began last Saturday, Kennedy could earn more overtime than he will be paid for.

This is because of a D.C. law that says that no policeman can make more in any pay period than the police chief. This amounts to $1,892.92

The policemen around the Mall call the overtime limit "the max." On the barricade buses, where police gun belts hang from the commuter straps, there is a good deal of talk about "maxing out" and "having to work for free."

Police officials said few policemen will end up working for free, except for the more highly salaried sergeants. Police lieutenants and highranking officials receive a straight salary.

Mayor Marion Barry has said he will ask the federal government to foot the bill for police expenses incurred in barricading the farmers.

U.S. Park Police, who estimate $270,000 in farmer-related costs thus far, are now spending about $7,500 a day to police the Mall according to spokesman Sandra Allev.