sealPurdue News

January 29, 1999

Goldberg contestants 'tee up' in 1999

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Purdue University students will be adding a new hazard to the game of golf in the 17th annual Rube Goldberg Machine Contest on Feb. 13.

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The competition honors the late cartoonist Rube Goldberg, who specialized in drawing whimsical machines with complex mechanisms to perform simple tasks. Each year, Purdue students are challenged to build actual working machines that Goldberg himself might have dreamed up. The everyday task for 1999 is to tee up a golf ball. Previous contests have asked students to make a cup of coffee, put a stamp on an envelope and screw in a light bulb -- in 20 or more steps.

The event, which is free and open to the public, will be held at 11 a.m. in Purdue's Elliott Hall of Music. The winner of the competition will represent the university at the National Rube Goldberg Machine Contest, to be held at Purdue on April 10.

Students will build their machines by combining the principles of physics and engineering with common objects, such as marbles, mouse traps, bicycle gears, small kitchen appliances, rubber tubing and plenty of duct tape. The goal is to tee up a standard golf ball in a complicated and humorous fashion within a specific time limit. Each machine must run, be reset and run again in nine minutes. Points are taken off if students have to assist the machine once it's started. The teams also will be judged and awarded points based on the creative use of materials and use of related themes.

The local contest is organized by members of the Purdue chapter of Theta Tau, with support from industrial sponsor General Electric. It was first held at Purdue in 1949 and ran until 1955. The fraternity revived it in 1983 to celebrate National Engineers' Week, and the university has hosted the national contest since 1988.

Last year's campus contest was won by the Purdue student chapter of the Society of Manufacturing Engineers. Its machine was based on the theme "Planes, Trains and Automobiles" and used 26 complex steps and all manner of toy vehicles to turn off an alarm clock.

The national competition, which attracts teams from across the country, has been won the past two years by a team from the University of Texas, Austin. In addition to the Purdue contest winner and the Texas team, the 1998 national event also featured machines built by students at Oakland University, Rochester, Mich.; Hofstra University, Hempstead, N.Y.; the University of Wisconsin at Madison; and Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tenn.

Rube web site contains information about the contest. There is additional information on the Purdue News Service Rube page.

Source: Joe Martin, contest chairman, (765) 743-5276; e-mail,

Writer: Sharon Bowker, (765) 494-2077; e-mail,

NOTE TO JOURNALISTS: Video and photographs of past contests are available. Journalists will not be allowed on the stage with the machines during the competition, but they are welcome on stage before and after the contest. Purdue will provide video and photo pool coverage and direct audio and video feeds. An ISDN line is available for radio interviews. Video b-roll, photos and a news release will be available the afternoon of the event. Satellite assistance is available. If you have questions, call Grady Jones, Purdue News Service, (765) 494-2079; e-mail,

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; e-mail,

A Purdue student offers a little prayer for his team's Rube Goldberg Machine during the 1997 Purdue contest. The machine built by Theta Tau, a professional engineering fraternity, recreated scenes from the "Star Wars" movies and took 28 steps to load a CD into a CD player to play the "Star Wars" theme. This year's task is to tee up a golf ball. (Purdue News Service Photo by David Umberger)
Color photo, electronic transmission, and Web and ftp download available. Photo ID: Rube.preview
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