Call it a comical byproduct of modern life, our penchant for inventing overly convoluted technologies to perform the simplest tasks. Like an app that requires countless man-hours and millions to develop so you can manage your grocery list. Or that stockpile of buzzing, beeping devices now necessary for human connectivity.
Rube Goldberg, a Pulitzer-winning cartoonist and engineer by training, was perhaps the first to tap into this irony back in the early 1900s. His playful response to the rising Machine Age: a series of satirical cartoons depicting nutty, over-engineered chain-reaction contraptions designed to perform the most mundane tasks (like erasing a chalkboard or opening an umbrella). Symbols, he noted, of “man’s capacity for exerting maximum effort to accomplish minimal results.”
Goldberg never built a real-life Rube Goldberg machine, but others did. Today, these goofy gizmos continue to fascinate and amuse. The following are arguably seven of the best Rube Goldberg machines ever devised.
The Page Turner
New York artist Joseph Herscher’s wacky chain-reaction creations have been viewed by millions on YouTube. In this one, a sip of coffee triggers a series of whimsically elaborate steps that eventually turn a page of his morning newspaper.
Biisuke Ball’s Big Adventure
A Rube Goldberg machine stars in this tale from the Japanese kids’ show "Pitagora Suitchi." Follow the exploits of Biisuke, a little red ball who embarks on a multi-stage Goldbergian escapade to rescue his two kidnapped brothers (also balls) from the enemy's camp.
Students at Ferris State University in Big Rapids, Michigan, created this labyrinthine apparatus made entirely of toy trains, trucks and other playthings. Their device was featured in "Mousetrap to Mars," a documentary about the annual Rube Goldberg Machine Contest (sponsored by an educational nonprofit helmed by Goldberg’s granddaughter).
3M Brand Machine
The company renowned for its usefully simple tools like Post-it Notes and Scotch tape is behind this Rube Goldberg machine extraordinaire. Made entirely of 3M products, the multiplex mechanism required hundreds of hours to complete and input from multiple scientific disciplines, including physics, chemistry and thermodynamics.
OK Go – 'This Too Shall Pass' music video
Chicago band OK Go did Rube Goldberg proud with this enormous mechanical extravaganza featuring a falling piano, rolling globes and a full-size moving car. Built for a 2010 music video, members of the band and Syyn Labs spent months designing and constructing the mega masterpiece inside a two-story Los Angeles warehouse.
Brief history of the universe
Believed to be the most complex Rube Goldberg machine ever devised (at least when Purdue University students unveiled it in 2011 for the Rube Goldberg Machine Contest), this clever model of machine inefficiency takes 244 steps to water a plant. In the process, it also impressively details the entire history of life in the universe.
Rube Goldberg Christmas contraption
The guys from "Mythbusters" rigged up this holiday special using a nutcracker, cola, Mentos, a bowling ball and multiple other oddities. No myths were busted and the apparatus itself is fairly useless (culminating in a dummy named Buster crashing to the ground), but you can’t deny its entertainment value.