Rube Goldberg machines are humorous, unnecessarily complicated inventions that use many steps to accomplish simple tasks. They are named after engineer and cartoonist Reuben Lucius Goldberg (1883-1970), whose syndicated cartoon portrayed extremely complex, unpredictable machines designed to complete simple tasks. Creating real-life Rube Goldberg machines requires patience, ingenuity and a great sense of humor.
Pouring a Glass of Water
The goal of one Rube Goldberg machine is to fill a glass of water. One way to accomplish this is to balance a pitcher on an edge or in a hinged frame, then create a mechanism to tip the pitcher over toward a strategically placed glass. Another approach would be to direct the water through a complicated series of troughs, pipes and buckets toward an empty glass. A more ambitious and impressive version could pierce the bottom of a container, allowing water to drip or spill into the glass.
Striking a Match
Another Rube Goldberg machine would strike a match to create fire. It could use the match to light a candle, or simply offer the lit match to the user. The key in designing this machine would be to balance the motion of the match or striking pad to create just enough movement and friction to light the match without breaking or extinguishing it. A humorous alternative could use a lit candle to ignite the match. Take extra care not to create a fire hazard when working on or operating this machine.
Launching a Paper Airplane
This Rube Goldberg machine would launch a pre-folded paper airplane into flight. One method would be to have a mechanical arm designed to hurl and release the airplane. Another possibility is to use rubber bands to slingshot the airplane firmly enough to send it flying but gently enough to keep the airplane undamaged. Other alternatives include releasing a weighted paper airplane to slide down a curved chute or using a blast of air from an inflated balloon or air compressor to propel the airplane into the air.
Initiating a Cell Phone Call
This Rube Goldberg machine would press the Call button on a cell phone, perhaps after flipping the phone open. The key to its humorous effect, as well as keeping its design feasible, is to have the user enter the phone number then engage the machine to push the final button. One approach would be to create a mechanical arm calibrated to press the button with the right pressure. A more humorous possibility would be a long, complex process culminating in the release of a small flag or sign asking a bystander to press the button.
Benjamin Twist has worked as a writer, editor and consultant since 2007. He writes fiction and nonfiction for online and print publications, as well as offering one-on-one writing consultations and tutoring. Twist holds a Master of Arts in Bible exposition from Columbia International University.