History of the Rube Goldberg machine contest


Rube Goldberg Machine Contests bring Goldberg's cartoons to life in a way that pulls students away from traditional ways of looking at problems and sends them spinning into the intuitive, chaotic realm of imagination. The resulting inventions are collections of bits and pieces, parts of now useless machines, scraped together to achieve an innovative, imaginative, yet somehow logical contraption to conquer the job at hand. The contest shows us all the need for simplicity and the pitfalls of complexity.

In 1949, at the peak of the Goldberg era, the two engineering fraternities at Purdue University, Theta Tau and Triangle, developed their own version of the Rube Goldberg Machine Contest. The contest was held as part of the Engineer's Ball, also sponsored at Purdue by the two fraternities. The competition was fierce between the two rival fraternities as raids on the machines before the contest and sabotage at the contest occurred more than once. Soon thereafter, rules were made to disqualify teams attempting such devious actions. The contest died out with the Engineer's Ball in 1955, when the two fraternities no longer sponsored the event.

In 1983, some members at Theta Tau's Phi Chapter became interested in an old trophy they found one day while cleaning. It was the original traveling trophy from Purdue's first Rube Goldberg Machine Contest. After searching out information on the contest, they revived it and produced a guide for others to follow during competition. Doug Berry organized the first competition, which required the machine to pour an eight-ounce cup of water.

The contest's popularity has grown each year that Theta Tau has hosted it at Purdue University. Winners from early years appeared in nationwide press releases and television appearances on Late Night with David Letterman and The Tonight Show, as well as NBC's The Today Show.

All of this media attention finally paid off in 1988 when Mike Barrett brought about the first National Rube Goldberg Machine Contest. The nationwide television, radio, and printed media attention has promoted the growth of the contest to make it bigger and better each year. In 1992, the contest appeared on televisions all over the world as the TV show "Beyond 2000" came to Purdue to film the contest and even spent a day filming the progress of Theta Tau's machine in the fraternity's cramped basement.

The Rube Goldberg Machine Contest has exceeded the hopes and dreams of it's founders. The contest now has the honor of being Purdue's largest media event, drawing more attention than any sport or event at the university. Because of the experience of the contest chairmen of Phi Chapter of Theta Tau at Purdue University, the world wide media attention, and the generosity of the contest's sponsors, the contest continues to grow even today.

Every year, the fraternity, Purdue, and the nation anxiously await the wild display of innovation and genius, as well as confusion and sometimes despair which always accompany the running of the contest.

Rube Goldberg - The Man

The Rube Goldberg Machine Contest is named after cartoonist Reuben Lucius Goldberg, the spirit of whose work inspires the contest's weird machines and crazy mechanism. The best-known Rube Goldberg machine contest is the national event held annually by Theta Tau at Purdue University.

For 55 years Goldberg's award-winning cartoons satirized machines and gadgets which he saw as excessive. His cartoons combined simple machines and common household items to create complex, wacky, and diabolically logical machines that accomplished mundane and trivial tasks. His inventions became so widely known that Webster's Dictionary added "rube goldberg" to its listing, defining it as "accomplishing by extremely complex, roundabout means what seemingly could be done simply."

During his life, Goldberg's drawings included sports cartoons, comic strips, and political cartoons, but he is best known today for his ridiculously complex machines.

His "inventions," drawn for our pleasure, can actually work. By inventing excessively complex ways to accomplish simple tasks, he entertained us and poked fun at the gadgets designed to make our lives easier. In his words, the machines were a "symbol of man's capacity for exerting maximum effort to achieve minimal results." He believed that most people preferred doing things the hard way instead of using simpler, more direct path s to accomplish goals.

How to build a Rube Goldberg Machine

Welcome to the wacky world of Rube Goldberg. The Rube Goldberg Machine Contest (RGMC) has come a long way from its humble beginnings as an inter-fraternity contest. By participating, you help promote the value of education to young people everywhere. The series of contests which make up the whole of the RGMC are specially designed for this purpose. Of course, the most important goal has always been to challenge students to take a few steps back from reality, gain a new perspective on how things work, and have fun making the most complicated, roundabout device to complete a simple task. This is the essence of the RGMC.

As with any ambitious venture, there are two aspects to the contest. Someone must run each contest and someone must compete. This guide will explore each side. We will address a number of questions, including: What is the contest? Why does it go on? How does one arrange a contest, get contestants, find a space to compete, and get the money to do all this? What is a Rube Goldberg Machine? What does it look like? How much time will I have to invest? How do these people come up with these off-the-wall ideas?

We will begin with the most basic component of the contest.

The Rube Goldberg machines you build are different from the machines people are used to seeing. A good Rube Goldberg machine incorporates the everyday machines people are used to seeing and connects them in ways that may seem idiotic or ingenious. It is your mission to construct a machine that uses at least 20 individual steps to complete an assigned task, which varies from year to year.

Your machine may take some time to put together. Many machines undergo months of strategy and planning; other are put together in a few days.

Over the years, the machines that have done best seem to be those that arrive at the contest site in sections, as opposed to pieces. The less work that has to be done to assemble your machine at the site, the better. Too often, things that work perfectly in the workshop break down during the trip to the contest site. Most machines arrive in two or three pieces. A platform should be constructed for the machine with a simple and secure way to fasten it together; typical platforms are made of plywood and two-by-fours. Steps that bridge machine sections should be easy to connect. The rest of the machine is up to you.

Each team plans its machine in its own way. Some teams try to plan their whole machine before starting to build it; others just dive in head first. Maybe the best way is to use a little of both approaches. In the end, you will need a detailed description of the machine for the contest judges, and as you'll see, much of your early plans for the machine will have changed by the time you finish building it.

The materials you use are the most important components of the machine. See what you have around the house, raid your old toy chest, pick up all those appliances Dad has been meaning to fix, but most importantly, USE THEM. Anything goes when you are building a Rube Goldberg machine. Rube knew no bounds when he created his machines, and you should take the same attitude. Follow the adage ''Nothing is impossible, if you try." Your imagination is your only limit.
Competing your Rube Goldberg machine

The finished machine is to be no more than six feet wide, five feet tall and five feet deep. Build your machine so you can reach all the crucial parts.

The machine has a nine-minute contest time. That means you must be able to run your machine completely through its paces once, reset it completely, and run it completely through its paces again, all within nine minutes. Only two people may touch the machine while it is being reset.

Every team must have a leader. Sometimes, during competition, your machine will fail, it is the team leader's responsibility to decide whether to continue the run by helping a step along, or to give up on the run and call a reset. Each team gets one reset without penalty. When you call a reset, the time clock is reset to zero and the run starts all over again. Sometimes calling a reset is better than accepting the penalties incurred by touching the machine. Sometimes it makes no difference, because the machine fails at the same point on the second run.

To achieve the best score possible, it is important to understand the rules and the judging form as presented in these guidelines.

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