In the world of contests, there are grand prizes, consolation prizes, honorable mentions and even certificates of participation. One type of prize, however, is not quite as welcome as the others. This dubious honor is often called a booby prize. A booby prize is usually meant to be taken as a joke by the recipient and the audience, although some contestants may feel a bit insulted by the nature or presentation of a booby prize. Not all contests feature the awarding of a booby prize, and those that do often present them to contestants who are in on the joke.
A booby prize could be related to the theme of a contest, such as the awarding of a dozen rotten eggs to the loser of a chicken-plucking contest at a county fair. The sponsors of a pizza-eating contest might offer a giant bottle of antacid tablets as a booby prize. Game show contestants may be offered the chance to win a new car, or a booby prize of an oversized hitch hiker's thumb. The point of a booby prize is not necessarily to insult the recipient, but to inject some levity into the proceedings. Some competitions can become very heated, so the presentation of a booby prize can help to remind contestants not to take things too seriously.
The booby prize most likely takes it's name from the slang use of "boob", meaning someone who is a little slow on the uptake. Some contest sponsors may avoid using the term "booby prize" in a sentence, but recipients usually understand the difference between a consolation prize of some value and a booby prize with little to none. Many contest sponsors have stopped offering booby prizes, since there's no guarantee certain recipients might not fully appreciate the humor behind the gesture.
In at least one case, the presentation of a booby prize has backfired on the contest sponsors. The sponsors of one local contest ostensibly offered the winner a new Toyota automobile. The contest required employees to raise as much money as they could within a month, and the employee with the highest total would win the Toyota. When the winning employee came to claim her prize, the contest sponsors presented her with a toy action figure of the Star Wars character Yoda. It was intended to be a booby prize, a "toy Yoda", not an actual Toyota automobile. The employee successfully sued the contest sponsors for not disclosing the true nature of the prize.