Rube Goldberg Machine

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A Rube Goldberg machine, device, or apparatus is a deliberately over-engineered machine that performs a very simple task in a very complex fashion, usually including a chain reaction. The expression is named after American cartoonist and inventor Rube Goldberg. Since then, the expression has expanded to denote any form of overly confusing or complicated system. For example, news headlines include "Is Rep. Bill Thomas the Rube Goldberg of Legislative Reform?" and "Retirement 'insurance' as a Rube Goldberg machine". Rube Goldberg's cartoons became well known for depicting complex devices that performed simple tasks in indirect, convoluted ways. An example on the right is Goldberg's "Professor Butts and the Self-Operating Napkin", which was later reprinted in the postcard book, Rube Goldberg's Inventions!, compiled by Maynard Frank Wolfe from the Rube Goldberg Archives. The "Self-Operating Napkin" is activated when the soup spoon (A) is raised to mouth, pulling string (B) and thereby jerking ladle (C) which throws cracker (D) past parrot (E). Parrot jumps after cracker and perch (F) tilts, upsetting seeds (G) into pail (H). Extra weight in pail pulls cord (I), which opens and lights automatic cigar lighter (J), setting off skyrocket (K) which causes sickle (L) to cut string (M) and allow pendulum with attached napkin to swing back and forth, thereby wiping chin. In 1931, the Merriam–Webster dictionary adopted the word "Rube Goldberg" as an adjective defined as accomplishing something simple through complex means. In early 1987, Purdue University in Indiana started the annual National Rube Goldberg Machine Contest, organized by the Phi Chapter of Theta Tau, a national engineering fraternity. In 2009, the Epsilon Chapter of Theta Tau established a similar annual contest at the University of California, Berkeley. Since around 1997, the kinetic artist Arthur Ganson has been the emcee of the annual "Friday After Thanksgiving" (FAT) competition sponsored by the MIT Museum in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Teams of contestants construct elaborate Rube Goldberg style chain-reaction machines on tables arranged around a large gymnasium. Each apparatus is linked by a string to its predecessor and successor machine. The initial string is ceremonially pulled, and the ensuing events are videotaped in closeup, and simultaneously projected on large screens for viewing by the live audience. After the entire cascade of events has finished, prizes are then awarded in various categories and age levels. Videos from several previous years' contests are viewable on the MIT Museum website. [READ THE REST OF THIS ARTICLE]







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