While working on the Chicago-based Bozo the Clown show in 1962, producer Don Sandburg had a great idea for a contest. Called the Grand Prize Game, it soon became apparent that seemingly every kid in the area wanted in on the action. The stakes were high – a silver dollar and a Schwinn bicycle for any kid that had the ability meet the challenge. Today, we take a look at this memorable game, both on television, and in the arcade game that followed.
The contest was pretty simple in theory. Six buckets were lined up in a vertical row, each a little farther from the last. Two kids, one lucky boy and one lucky girl, were chosen at random from the audience each day. Standing in front of the buckets, they were given a total of six ball, one per bucket. Starting with the one closest to them, they had to successfully land the ball in each receptacle, in order of difficulty. With each successful hit, the won a small prize, but all had their sites on the coveted bike.
As the Bozo show became syndicated across the country, individual locals shows each added their version of the game to the day’s festivities. The overwhelming popularity of the game eventually caused arcade owners to raise an eyebrow and soon, Bozo’s Grand Prize Game was being played in arcades across the land, thanks to the invention of a coin-operated version of the game that spit out six balls, and if you won, redemption tickets.
The task was a bit simpler in this setting, considering that there was no studio audience to offer distraction, nor a television camera with a big flashing red light, ready to capture the thrill of victory – or the agony of defeat. Still, the game was quite challenging, for the little ones at least – older kids soon learned a surefire way to cheat by using their size to lean over the buckets. In the arcade setting, one would have to win a heck of a lot more than once to ever have a chance at a prize as lofty as a bicycle, but that didn’t stop them from giving it their all in the hopes of at least acquiring a small knickknack.
Bozo’s Grand Prize Game can still be found in the occasional arcade still in existence. In recent years, an updated version was released which allowed two players to compete simultaneously or, for even more thrills, engage in a different variation where unlimited balls were given, along with a time limit. Rack up as many points as possible before the clock runs out and win a stack of tickets, depending on which buckets were hit. Additionally, the game continued to be played every Sunday on the Chicago show, until it went off the air in 2001. A home version called Bozo’s Buckets Grand Prize Game is also available online.
If you watched this game of chance from your television, hoping that you would someday get that bike, or if you simply played at the local arcade, accumulating redemption tickets by the handful, we want to hear about your personal experiences with Bozo’s Grand Prize Game, whatever they may be, in our comments section.