University of Wisconsin-Stout wins Rube Goldberg contest

March 27, 2010

University of Wisconsin-Stout team captain Andrew Behnke hoists the Rube Goldberg Machine Contest trophy as co-captain Ian Billings looks on. In the background is Purdue University student Keegan Klauke, chairman of the national Rube Goldberg contest. (Purdue University photo/Mark Simons)

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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — A team from the University of Wisconsin-Stout won the 23rd annual Rube Goldberg Machine Contest on Saturday (March 27) at Purdue University.

Wisconsin-Stout located in Menomonie, was competing in the national competition for the first time. The team's machine was called "Valley of the Kings" and had an Egyptian theme, telling a tale of events following the death of King Tut.

The task for the Rube Goldberg machines this year was to dispense sanitizer into a hand. Wisconsin-Stout's machine dispensed the sanitizer into a mummy's hand.

The Rube Goldberg competition, sponsored by Phi Chapter of Theta Tau fraternity, rewards machines that most effectively combine creativity with inefficiency and complexity.

Machines must use at least 20 steps to complete the task in no more than two minutes. Teams have three tries to complete two runs. Points are deducted if students have to assist the machine once it has started.

The Wisconsin-Stout machine has 120 steps. The team completed two perfect runs with no interventions in about a minute and a half each.

This year is the first time the university has had a Rube Goldberg team. But its co-captains, Andrew Behnke and Ian Billings, competed in a high school Rube Goldberg contest out of their hometown, Loyal, Wis.

The Wisconsin-Stout team came to the national contest after winning a regional at South Dakota School of Mines & Technology.

Co-captain Andrew Behnke explains the complexities of the University of Wisconsin-Stout Rube Goldberg machine. It was the university's first ever Rube Goldberg team. (Purdue University photo/Mark Simons)

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St. Olaf' College of Northfield, Minn., last year's national winner, took second place with a medieval-themed machine. Pennsylvania State University placed third with an "Indiana Jones" theme.

This year's national contest, with 12 teams, was the largest in Rube Goldberg history. Also competing were teams from the Purdue Society of Professional Engineers; Ferris State University, Big Rapids, Mich.; University of Texas; University of Illinois; State University of New York at Buffalo; Michigan Technological University, Houghton; Black Hawk College, Moline, Ill.; Texas A&M; and University of Toledo.

Thorp (Wis.) High School won the national high school Rube Goldberg Machine Contest, also held at Purdue Saturday. Thorp also won the 2009 contest.

Kimberly (Wis.) High School took second place, and Cornerstone Christian Homeschoolers of Urbana, Ill., came in third.

Also competing were Highland Senior High School, Anderson, Ind.; Brandywine High School, Niles, Mich.; St. Catherine's High School, Racine, Wis.; Jones College Prep, Chicago; Stephen F. Austin High School, Sugar Land, Texas; Gilmer High School, Gilmer, Texas; and Maine South High School, Park Ridge, Ill.

Sponsors for this year's competition were BP, Lockheed Martin, Omega Engineering, Priio, Rockwell Collins, BAE Systems, Alcoa, Ethicon Endo-Surgery and Ingersoll Rand.

Goldberg specialized in drawing whimsical machines with complex mechanisms to perform simple tasks. He earned a degree in engineering from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1904. He worked as an engineer for the city of San Francisco for less than a year before becoming a sports cartoonist for the San Francisco Chronicle. He received a Pulitzer Prize in 1948 for his political cartoons published by the New York Sun.

The Rube Goldberg Machine Contest dates back to 1949 when it began as a competition between two Purdue fraternities. It was held until 1955, then revived in 1983 and opened to all Purdue students. The first national contest was held in 1988.

Writer: Judith Barra Austin, 765-494-2432,  

Sources: Keegan Klauke, national contest chairman,  

                  Alex Gaul, high school contest chairman,

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