sealPurdue News

February 13, 1999

Technology students 'up to par' for Goldberg contest

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- In an effort that would have made former ABC Sports announcer Jim McKay proud, a team of eight technology students won the 17th annual local Rube Goldberg Machine Contest on Saturday (2/13) at Purdue University.

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The winning machine, built by the Purdue student chapter of the Society of Manufacturing Engineers, was based on the theme "Wide World of Sports" and included a miniature downhill skier crashing in a spectacular fashion reminiscent of the opening of that ABC program. The machine used 55 complex steps and a variety of sporting goods to tee up a regulation golf ball with the least amount of human intervention and within a time limit. The machine also was awarded the "People's Choice" trophy by the audience.

More than 600 people watched and cheered the seven teams that competed in Elliott Hall of Music.

The contest honors the late cartoonist Rube Goldberg, who specialized in drawing whimsical, complicated machines to perform very simple everyday tasks. The machines were judged based on the completion of the task, creativity, number of steps involved, and Rube Goldberg spirit.

In a nod to the irreverent golf film "Caddie Shack," the winning machine was activated when one of its members pushed down on the head of a gopher plush toy. All manner of sports and recreational activities were represented including downhill skiing, billiards, basketball, wrestling, archery, yachting, hockey, mountain climbing, distance running, football, auto racing, and of course, golf.

Other machines used items such as oscillating fans, squirt guns, model trains, action figures and even a Styrofoam bait bucket to accomplish the task.

Members of the winning team, all from Indiana, are: John Buzanowski, a junior from Valparaiso; Timothy Clauss, a senior from Bremen; Jacqueline Harms, a senior from Merrillville; Tina Harper, a junior from Mauckport; Wesley Kitchen, a senior from Martinsville; Alan Morrison, a senior from Lafayette; Stephen Schrock, a senior from Goshen; and John Spitzer, a senior from Lafayette.

Second place went to the machine built by the sponsoring organization, Theta Tau engineering fraternity. Their theme was "Pro Wrestling vs. PGA Tour." The third-place trophy was awarded to a independent team comprised of mechanical, agricultural and biomedical engineering students who called them selves M.A.B.E. because "maybe their machine would run." The winning machine will represent the university in the National Rube Goldberg Machine Contest on April 10 at Purdue.

The winning team received a check for $200 and a full-sized refrigerator-freezer from corporate sponsor General Electric. They spent nearly 1,200 hours and about $300 putting their machine together, according to Kitchen. Here's their award-winning method of teeing up a golf ball:

Hitting the gopher on the head closes a switch that energizes a solenoid that releases the downhill skier, who promptly crashes into a tree and knocks it over. This action releases a weight that raises the Purdue flag. As the flag rises, it pulls a pin that releases a ramp, which moves into position so that an eight-ball can roll down it and fall into a pocket. This force turns a set of gears that pull a lever, which then pulls a pin on a small catapult, launching a miniature basketball up a ramp into a plastic cup.

The cup is lowered by the weight of the basketball, releasing a moose plush toy for a "body slam" on a plush toy wrestling opponent. The "slam" flips a switch that signals the referee (Sesame Street's Ernie) to begin counting off the pin. A digital counter powered by a motor climbs to three and winds a string, which pulls the pin on a cross bow, allowing it to fire an arrow that pops a balloon. This action triggers a lever, which falls and activates the pump on a water system that forces water through clear plastic tubing onto a small paddle wheel.

The paddle wheel powers two toy boats in a race across a pan of water. The boats hit a lever that trips a mousetrap, which then pulls a pin allowing a small weight to fall. The falling weight turns a valve, which allows the water to flow into a reservoir. Once it's full enough, the reservoir lowers and triggers a lever arm that swings and pulls a pin, allowing a small toy hockey player to make a shot toward an unguarded goal. The puck (a ball bearing) rolls into the goal and onto a track, which directs it into a small cup situated on a seesaw-like mechanism.

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The cup changes position, pulling a pin that activates a counterweight allowing a mountain climbing action figure to climb to the top of the machine. As it reaches the top, a supporting rod is pulled from under a platform, which lowers it. This sets in motion Woody the Cowboy from the film "Toy Story," and he trips a lever arm which pulls a pin that releases the kicking leg on a toy football player who attempts an extra point. The ball flies through a goal post and when it lands, flips a switch that signals other magnetic football players to "run" across the field. As the players reach the end zone they close a switch which starts the motor on the miniature race cars. The cars trip a lever that releases a cue ball down a ramp and into another cup.

The cup falls and pulls a pin releasing the tee setter as well as a weighted ball which drops into a cradle. As the cradle rocks, it nudges a golf ball down a ramp toward the tee. The golf ball crosses a platform that releases a swing arm, which pills the pin that activates a series of counterweights. The fourth counterweight pulls a lever that releases a spring-loaded arm. This arm stops the golf ball on top of the tee and also releases a weight that powers a ratchet which pulls the final counterweight. This counterweight rolls down a ramp and depresses a syringe, which triggers a second syringe to raise the swing arm, leaving the golf ball balanced on the tee.

Kitchen says the most difficult steps on the machine involved the boat race.

"It got pretty complicated switching the valves and getting the water going in the right places," he said. "We also had to buy some time at the end for the ball to get settled on the tee, so we kept adding counterweights until the last minute."

Sources: Joe Martin, contest chairman, (765) 743-2461; e-mail,

Wesley Kitchen, (765) 746-2227; e-mail,

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

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

Purdue's 17th annual Rube Goldberg Machine Contest winners react after their machine performed a perfect run-through today (Saturday, 2/13) at Elliott Hall of Music. Three of the eight members of the winning team, representing the Society of Manufacturing Engineers and the School of Technology, are, from left: John Spitzer, Stephen Schrock and Timothy Clauss. (Purdue News Service photo by David Umberger)
Color photo, electronic transmission, and Web and ftp download available. Photo ID: Rube 99.SME
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Runners-up in Purdue's 17th annual Rube Goldberg Machine Contest react after their machine performed a flawless run in today's (Saturday, 2/13) contest at Elliott Hall of Music. Members of the team, representing Theta Tau Fraternity, are, from left: Chris Schnarr, Daniel McKechnie, Matt Hershberger and Justin Metcalf. (Purdue News Service photo by David Umberger)
Color photo, electronic transmission, and Web and ftp download available. Photo ID: Rube99.Theta.tau
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