sealPurdue News

April 1999

Rube duffers will 'tee it up' in national contest

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,

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- College students from around the country will be crossing their eyes and dotting their tees at the 11th annual national Rube Goldberg Machine Contest on April 10.

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The event honors the late cartoonist Rube Goldberg, who drew whimsical machines with complex mechanisms to perform simple tasks. Each year, college students are challenged to build actual functioning machines that Goldberg might have drawn. The 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 load a compact disc into a CD player and play it -- in 20 or more steps. The 1998 national competition drew teams from Texas, New York, Tennessee, Indiana and Wisconsin.

The contest, which is free and open to the public, will begin at 11 a.m. in Elliott Hall of Music on Purdue's West Lafayette campus.

Students will build their machines by combining the principles of physics and engineering with common objects such as ball bearings, mouse traps, wooden dowels, motorized toy vehicles, funnels and yards of duct tape. Each machine must run, be reset and run again in nine minutes. Points are deducted if students have to assist the machine once it's started. The teams also will be judged on the creative use of materials and use of related themes.

In addition to cash prizes for the top three teams, a "People's Choice" award will be given to the team whose machine gets the most votes from audience members.

The contest is organized by members of the Purdue chapter of Theta Tau, an engineering fraternity, with support from industrial sponsor BP Amoco. Contests for Purdue students were held from 1949 to 1955, and the fraternity revived the idea in 1983 to celebrate National Engineers' Week. The first national contest was held in 1988.

Purdue's entry was chosen in February at a local contest. The winning machine, built by the Purdue student chapter of the Society of Manufacturing Engineers, is based on the theme "Wide World of Sports" and includes a miniature downhill skier crashing in a spectacular fashion reminiscent of the opening of the ABC Sports program of the same name. It uses 55 complex steps and a variety of sporting goods to tee up the golf ball.

Last year's national contest was won by a team from the University of Texas at Austin, whose contraption used 40 mechanical, chemical and electrical steps to turn off an alarm clock.

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

Compiled by Sharon Bowker, (765) 494-2077;

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


Society of Women Engineers (SWE) team member Leigh Ann Schildmeier, a junior in industrial engineering from Anderson, Ind., gives her machine a little nudge during the local Rube Goldberg contest at Purdue in February. Because it required human intervention to complete its task, the SWE machine did not place among the top three. A team representing the Society of Manufacturing Engineers won the contest and will vie for the national title April 10 at Purdue. (Purdue News Service Photo by David Umberger)

Color photo, electronic transmission, and Web and ftp download available. Photo ID: Rube99.SWE

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