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Posted by Katie Knight on Oct 03, 2018

How to Avoid Running Out of TOP PRIZES at Your Next Carnival...

Updated 5/23/2023

Can you imagine planning a carnival and finding that all your game prizes are gone during the first hour of a 3 hour carnival? Well, that is exactly what happened to an elementary school in Texas a few years ago (and several others, too)!

We talked with this school about their carnival that took place on a Friday evening to find out all the details. They said they only had candy as prizes and they ran out of all their candy in the first hour

Needless to say, the carnival games lost their luster without the prizes. And, as you can guess, there was some serious disappointment for the kids, and not to mention a little embarrassment for the carnival committee!

Of course, it is impossible to know exactly how many kids will play each game & the exact number of winners, but we have 4 suggestions that can help you avoid running out of your top prizes early on! Keep reading below to learn fast & easy techniques you can implement to make sure your carnival is exciting until the very end!

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nb-one.jpg Test Your Games BEFORE The Carnival  

Many carnivals run out of top prizes early for one MAIN reason: the games aren't tested before the carnival. Have volunteers test each game (dozens of times) to get a feel for how difficult the games are to win.

You should aim to make games - whether based on luck, skill, or a combination of the two - have about a one in ten (or 1 in 12) chance of winning a top prize. The rest of the kids can win consolation prizes (or a medium prize), depending on the game.

2 Liter Ring Toss Game - image of a flying tossing ring with a lot of soda bottles
The above image shows 2 liter soda bottles for the ring toss carnival game.
An example of a 2 Liter Soda Ring Toss Game with Rings that made winning too easy!

One school carnival we've spoken with used tossing rings that were too large for their 2 Liter Ring Toss game; this made the game too easy. About 1 in 3 kids won a 2 Liter Soda: this caused the sodas for the game to run low at the very beginning, even though there were a few hours left of the carnival! This school had about 500 students & only 100 Soda Bottles, so a volunteer dashed off to the store to purchase more sodas before the game was shut down.

In retrospect, it would have been easier to adjust the rules of the game. In this case, we could have moved the soda bottles a little bit further apart (to make the game a little bit more challenging, and required that they hoop 2 sodas (not just one soda) to be a top winner! 

nb-two.jpg Ensure Your Volunteers Know The 1-in-10 Rule...  

Be sure that carnival volunteers working the booths know that about 1 in 10 kids should be winning top prizes. It is a good idea to to allow them to make changes and that they're free to modify the game if there are too many or too few kids winning top prizes. Planning every game to have about 1 in 10 kids as top prize winners will allow you to easily plan how many top, medium, or consolation prizes you'll need to purchase for your next carnival.  

If too many kids are winning, there is a QUICK fix: simply make the game slightly harder. If it's a tossing game, move the "stand-behind lines" lines a foot or so further back. If it's a game of luck, give kids less opportunities to play and win.

If too few kids are winning, make the game a little easier. For example, give kids 4 bean bags to toss instead of 3 bean bags to toss if less than 1 in 10 kids are winning. 

Closeup image of the magnetic fishing game - fun carnival booth!
The above image shows the magnetic fishing game carnival game. See tips below for how to prevent kids from memorizing the "winners" in games like the Magnetic Fishing Game!

nb-.jpg Quick tip - Rotate Game Pieces 

For some games, the kids start to commit the winning pieces to memory! One of those games is the Magnetic Fishing Game. Because kids are smart cookies & figure out some carnival games quickly, some will pay close attention to the "winning fish," and will simply go after the winner alone. Your top prizes will be the one that got away!

One way to avoid this and make the game fair for everyone is to have your volunteers remove the "caught" fish out of the game (in a bucket) for a few turns. They can then add fish back in a group (consisting of all caught fish from the bucket) so that children do not have a chance to memorize which fish are the winners! Basically, rotating your fish in this game is an easy fix!

Cute toddler standing behind the lines at the pumpkin beanbag carnival game
The above image shows a toddler playing the Pumpkin Bean Bag Toss carnival game. It is also a great idea to have closer lines for very young children to allow them a chance to win too!

nb-.jpg Quick tip- Allow Young Children to Stand Closer 

Volunteers at tossing games should ask young children to stand closer so that they have a chance to win too! Most tossing games should have a few different "stand-behind lines" for different age groups! The preschool child above would not have been able to toss the bean bag to the game from the green stand behind line - but is able to have a chance to win from the pink stand behind line in the image above! 

nb-three.jpg Choose Some Games With a "Set Number" of Top Prizes

Be sure you have a few games that already have a designated number of top prizes. This is an especially great strategy for new carnivals as they are unsure of attendance numbers!

An example is the Lollipop Tree game. The Lollipop Tree is set up by sticking lollipops into a cardboard or wooden tree cut-out. Most lollipops aren't "winning" lollipops, and the kids can keep the non-winning lollipops they've selected as consolation prizes. But, before your carnival, a few lollipops are pre-selected as "winners" by the marking the bottom of the selected sticks with a bright color (the non-winning lollipops are not colored). The winning lollipops with colored sticks (not visible to kids playing) allow the kids who randomly choose them to select a top prize! The Lollipop Tree game therefore allows for a set number of top prizes, because all of the winning lollipops are pre-planned.  

Using the 1-in-10 rule, if you expect 200 kids to play the Lollipop Tree game, plan to have about 20 - 24 top prizes available. Also, do not put all of the winning lollipops on the tree at the start of your carnival! Save some of them so that kids can continue to win throughout your carnival's duration.

Fishing booth carnival game - toddler holding fishing rod
The above image shows a young girl playing the Fishing Booth carnival game.This is the "fishing booth", where kids toss fishing hooks (really clothespins) over a "wall" and volunteers clip on a prize is another example of a booth with a "planned number" of top prizes!

You can also set a predetermined number of top prizes with these carnival booths: Treasure Dig, Fishing Booth (shown above), Dino Dig Game, or Grab Bag Carnival Booth!

Again, ensure you don't put all of your top prizes out within the first hour, or you risk running out. Have volunteers distribute them evenly throughout the duration of your carnival. 

nb-four.jpg Use the Simple Formula Below to Estimate How Many Prizes You Need

It is common for carnival planners to UNDERESTIMATE the amount of small toys needed for a big event! And running out of prizes early in the first hour of your carnival can be embarrassing for the committee - and makes the games less than exciting!

Here's a ballpark starting point: 

Number of kids attending carnival multiplied by the number of games with prizes = minimum number of prizes to purchase

For example, if you expect 300 kids to attend and have 10 games, you should buy about 3,000 prizes total. Approximately 2,700 of these can be consolation prizes and 300 can be top prizes. 

We always suggest buying a few more prizes than you think you'll need! You can save them for next year or donate to teachers or charities if you do end up having extras! 

Carnival Prizes Bulk Discounted Toys

The above image shows examples of awesome prizes & toys offered by Carnival Savers.

Looking for some of our best selling carnival prizes and sets? Check out our awesome idea above! And be sure to visit our Carnival Specials webpage where we showcase our top sellers, and biggest-bang-for-the-buck deals, so that you are sure to have enough top prizes for your next big Carnival or Festival!

Thank you for reading the Carnival Savers blog! Feel free to check out the rest of our carnival hints & tips blog to save you time and money at your next carnival.