How to Build a Rube Goldberg Machine

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As Professor Louis Gorgonzola Butts, engineer/artist Rube Goldberg created many fictitious machines noted for a large number of complicated components and steps to perform simple tasks. In his honor, competitions have sprung up to create real-life Rube Goldberg inventions. Here's how to build your own Rube Goldberg machine.

  • Determine what simple task for which you wish to build a Rube Goldberg machine. If you are entering the official Rube Goldberg machine competition, this task will be listed on the official Rube Goldberg website (see Resources), along with the minimum number of steps the machine must execute.

  • Study other Rube Goldberg machines, either those from Rube Goldberg's cartoons or actual contest inventions for inspiration and ideas.

  • Analyze the steps involved in the actual procedure. Determine which steps can be broken down into smaller steps and how far.

  • Design methods to handle each step in the process and devices to implement these methods. If you're building the Rube Goldberg machine for a contest, the overall size of the machine must fit within the specified dimensions, run for no longer than the specified maximum time and include or exclude components as directed by the contest rules.

  • Gather the materials needed to build the Rube Goldberg machine and assemble it.

  • Test-run the machine to make sure it performs as expected and within the contest guidelines. Identify and fix any mechanical problems, and then test it again.

Tips & Warnings

  • Envision the process as similar to setting up an array of dominoes to knock down or playing the game of Mousetrap.
  • Allow sufficient time to construct your Rube Goldberg machine. A 47-step machine to turn on a blue light and reveal a hidden message took its creator 4 months to build.
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