What Is a Rube Goldberg Machine?


Quick Answer

A Rube Goldberg machine is a machine that complicates a simple task, such as flipping a switch to turn on a light, by adding additional steps and materials for comedic effect. The eponymous machine was named for Reuben Lucius Goldberg, a Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist originally from San Francisco, CA. Some of the famous cartoons produced by Goldberg, who was trained as an engineer at the University of California, Berkeley, include the "Self Operating Napkin," "Portable-Movie-Talkie Camera" and "A Simple Device for Taking Your Own Picture."

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Full Answer

Goldberg's machines satirized complex technologies embraced by American society by depicting a combination of pulleys, rods, wires, live animals and simple household items being used to accomplish a seemingly simple task. Each year, Purdue University holds a contest for Rube Goldberg machines at its campus in West Lafayette, IN. Contestants must build a Rube Goldberg machine that uses a minimum of 20 steps to accomplish a simple task. Adding more steps increases the complexity of the machine and the contestant's chance of winning. At the 24th Annual National Rube Goldberg Machine Contest, a team of engineering students won not only first place, but also a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records for a machine that had 244 steps.

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