sealPurdue News

April 10, 1999

Purdue technologists claim
national Rube Goldberg crown

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- How many different kinds of sports equipment and electronic games does it take to tee up a golf ball?

Six teams of college students from around the country answered that question in a variety of ways at the 11th annual National Rube Goldberg Machine contest at Purdue University today (Saturday, 4/10).

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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 featured a miniature alpine skier crashing in a spectacular fashion reminiscent of the opening of the ABC Sports television program of the same name. It used 54 mechanical, electrical and fluid dynamic steps to tee up a regulation golf ball with the least amount of human intervention and within a time limit.

About 500 spectators watched the contest in Elliot Hall of Music. The machines were judged based on the completion of the task, creativity, number of steps involved, and Rube Goldberg spirit. The winning team received $250 and a trophy.

The contest, sponsored by the Phi Chapter of Theta Tau fraternity, honors the late cartoonist Rube Goldberg. He specialized in drawing whimsical, yet complex machines to perform very simple everyday tasks.

Second-place went to the two-time defending champion team from the University of Texas at Austin with a Texas-themed machine that portrayed a round of golf that Rube Goldberg himself might have played in the Lone Star State. A team from Oakland University in Rochester, Mich., claimed the third prize, while the People's Choice Award went to Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y. That machine resembled the fictional town of Springfield in the popular television show "The Simpsons." Vanderbilt University and the University of Toledo also competed.

In a nod to the irreverent golf film "Caddy 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 helium balloons, cornstarch packing peanuts, Erector Sets, model trains, mousetraps and several small putting greens made from artificial turf.

Members of the winning team, all technology majors from Indiana, are: Ryan 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; Jim Maxwell, a senior from Alexandria; Alan Morrison, a senior from Lafayette; Steve Schrock, a senior from Goshen; and John Spitzer, a senior from Lafayette.

The winners spent nearly 1,400 hours and about $500 putting their machine together, according to team spokesman 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 causing an eight-ball to roll down it and fall into a pocket. This force turns a set of gears that pulls 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 crossbow, 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 paddlewheel.

The paddlewheel 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 that 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.

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 the climber reaches the top, a supporting rod is pulled from under a platform, which lowers it. This sets Woody the Cowboy from the film "Toy Story" in motion, and he trips a lever arm that pulls a pin that releases the kicking leg on a toy football player who attempts and extra point. The ball flies through a goalpost, and when it lands it 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 that starts the motor on two 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 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 a little trouble with the suspended stage floor here in the Elliott Hall of Music, because it had just enough give to put the machine off-level."

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

Wesley Kitchen, (765) 746-2227;

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

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


Three of the nine members of Purdue's winning Rube Goldberg Machine Contest team reset their entry today (Saturday, 4/10) in preparation for its final run at Elliott Hall of Music in West Lafayette. The team members, representing Purdue's Society of Manufacturing Engineers, are Ryan Buzanowski of Valparaiso, Wesley Kitchen of Martinsville and Steve Schrock of Goshen. (Purdue News Service Photo by David Umberger)

Color photo, electronic transmission, and Web and ftp download available. Photo ID: Rubenat99.winner

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