It’s Time for Some Rube Goldberg Contraptions!

Marbles, dominoes, and catapults. Maybe a few toy cars, a pulley, and a ramp. If you were Rube Goldberg, you’d throw in a parrot, some crackers, and a pendulum. Perhaps even a rocket.

What would you do with all of that? Build a Rube Goldberg contraption full of complicated chain reactions to perform a simple task, of course!

An outdoor Mousetrap game! This is similar to a Rube Goldberg contraption.

But wait, who is this Rube Goldberg guy? Rube Goldberg was a brilliant cartoonist, engineer, and inventor in the mid-1900s. He became famous for the crazy contraptions he invented that performed simple tasks in exceedingly complicated (and humorous!) ways. Some of his inventions include a self-operating napkin, an automatic back-scratcher, and even an elaborate plan to fish an olive out of a jar. But he never actually built a single one. Instead, the contraptions appeared in cartoons that captivated the public’s attention. People couldn’t wait to see what Rube Goldberg would “invent” next.

Thanks to engineering students at Purdue University, Rube Goldberg’s machines were finally brought to life in the form of a contest. Teams competed to see who could design and build the best contraption.

By the end of the century, the contests were wildly popular across the country. But you don’t have to be a college student and you don’t have to enter a contest to build one!


spread from Crazy Contraptions
Check out this spread from the book!


Crazy Contraptions: Build Rube Goldberg Machines that Swoop, Spin, Stack, and Swivel is for kids of all ages interested in learning a little about physics and the six simple machines, applying some engineering skills, building their own crazy contraptions, and above all else, having fun.

Watch this video about making a trick shot to get an idea of what you can create after a little practice.


Try This Fun Activity!

The activities in the book get increasingly more difficult as engineers learn, design, build, test, evaluate, and redesign their contraptions. One of the challenges toward the end of the book invites readers to build a contraption using each of the six simple machines to pop a balloon. Give it a shot!

  1. Brainstorm: Consider what you will use to pop the balloon and what supplies you might need. Then, identify how to incorporate each of the six simple machines in the contraptions.
  2. Draw: Sketch a design to show how your contraption might look. Here’s an idea:

  1. Build: Blow up that balloon and put all those simple machines in place.
  2. Test: Ready, set, GO!
  3. Evaluate: Did it work—did the balloon pop? If it didn’t, maybe there wasn’t enough force to pop it. Or, maybe whatever you used as the balloon popper wasn’t sharp enough. You might need to inflate the balloon more to make it easier to pop. How did all your elements work together?
  4. Redesign? If things didn’t go well, you may want to tweak your design to improve it. Or you may want to add more elements or even more balloons. Or you might want to just make it bigger and more complicated!


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