Rube Goldberg Machines

Reuben Garret L. Goldberg (July 4, 1883 – December 7, 1970) was a cofounder and president of the American National Cartoonists Society. He is one of the most famous cartoonists in history, who earned lasting fame for his "Rube Goldberg machines" (exceedingly complex devices that perform simple tasks in very indirect and convoluted ways). He was posthumously awarded the National Cartoonist Society Gold Key Award in 1980.

Goldberg graduated from Lowell High School in 1900 and earned a degree in engineering from the University of California, Berkeley in 1904. Out of college, Goldberg was hired by the city of San Francisco as an engineer. However, his fondness for drawing cartoons prevailed, and after just a few months he left the city to employ for a job with the San Francisco Chronicle as a sports cartoonist. The following year he took a job with the San Francisco Bulletin, where he remained until he moved to New York City in 1907.

He drew cartoons for several newspapers, including the New York Evening Journal and the New York Evening Mail. His work entered syndication in 1915, beginning his nationwide popularity. A prolific artist, Goldberg produced several cartoon series simultaneously; titles included Mike and Ike, Boob McNutt, Foolish Questions, Lala Palooza, and The Weekly Meeting of the Tuesday Women's Club.

While these series were quite popular, the one leading to his lasting fame involved a character named Professor Lucifer Gorgonzola Butts. In this series, Goldberg would draw labeled schematics of comical "inventions" which would later bear his name. In 1995, "Rube Goldberg's Inventions", depicting Professor Butts' Self-Operating Napkin, was one of 20 strips included in the Comic Strip Classics series of commemorative U.S. postage stamps.

He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for his political cartooning in 1942.

Later in his career, Goldberg was employed by the New York Journal American, and he remained there until his retirement in 1964. He also became a sculptor and an artist. During his retirement, he occupied himself by making bronze sculptures. Several one-man shows of his work were organized, the last one of his lifetime being in 1970 at the National Museum of American History (then called the Museum of History and Technology) in Washington, D.C.. Shortly after, he died at the age of 87; he is buried at Mount Pleasant Cemetery in Hawthorne, New York.

In addition to his Pulitzer Prize in 1948, he received the National Cartoonist Society Gold T-Square Award in 1955, their Reuben Award for 1969, and was given their Gold Key Award (their Hall of Fame) posthumously in 1980.

A Rube Goldberg machine or device is any exceedingly complex apparatus that performs a very simple task in a very indirect and convoluted way. Rube devised such pataphysical devices. A Rube Goldberg machine usually has at least ten steps. The best examples of his machines have an anticipation factor: the fact that something so wacky is happening can only be topped by it happening in a suspenseful manner. One story about Rube Goldberg holds that, while sleep-walking barefoot in a cactus field, he screamed out an idea about a self-operating napkin.

The term also applies as a classification for a generally over-complicated apparatus or software. It first appeared in Webster's Third New International Dictionary with the definition, "accomplishing by extremely complex roundabout means what actually or seemingly could be done simply."

In the United Kingdom, such a device is known as a Heath Robinson contraption, named after the British cartoonist who also drew fantastic comic machinery, which in his case were tended by bespectacled men in overalls. See also Roland Emett, who created many actual working machines of this type, such as the Breakfast Machine in the film Pee-wee's Big Adventure.

In Denmark, they are called Storm P maskiner, after the Danish cartoonist Robert Storm Petersen.

In Spain, devices akin to Goldberg's machines are known as Inventos del TBO (tebeo) named after those which Catalan cartoonist Ramón Sabatés made up and drew for a section in the TBO magazine, allegedly designed by some Professor Franz from Copenhagen.

The Norwegian cartoonist and storyteller Kjell Aukrust created a cartoon character named Reodor Felgen who constantly invented complex machinery. Though it was often built out of unlikely parts, it always performed very well. Felgen stars as the inventor of an extremely powerful but overly complex car Il Tempo Gigante in the Ivo Caprino animated puppet-film Flåklypa Grand Prix (1975).

In Turkey, such devices are known as Zihni Sinir Proceleri, allegedly invented by a certain Prof. Zihni Sinir (Crabby Mind), a curious "scientist" character created by İrfan Sayar in 1977 for the cartoon magazine Gırgır. The cartoonist later went on to open a studio selling actual working implementations of his designs.

Another related phenomenon is the Japanese art of useful but unusable contraptions called chindōgu.

The French writer Raymond Roussel, in the second chapter of his book Locus Solus, describes a similar machine: an aerial pile driver automaticaly constructing a mosaic of teeth.

In the TV animation show ReBoot they appear in "Rocky the Rabid Raccoon" games which appear to be based on Warner Brother's Road Runner cartoons.

In Nick Park's "Wallace and Gromit" series of shorts and features, Wallace's inventions are clearly Rube Goldberg-esque. A recurring joke throughout A Grand Day Out, The Wrong Trousers, A Close Shave and Curse of the Were-Rabbit are the absurd contraptions that Wallace invents. Good examples are Wallace's "Knit-O-Matic machine" or the device that catapults a dollop of jam onto a piece of toast as it springs out of a pop-up toaster. However, it is more likely to be compared to the works of Heath Robinson, as Rube Goldberg is comparatively little known in the UK.

In the cartoon show The Perils of Penelope Pitstop, the villain called "The Hooded Claw" used, in every episode, a Goldbergian machine in order to kill Penelope, the protagonist. Ironically, the needless complexity of the traps often gave the Ant Hill Mob enough time to save Penelope.

Rube Goldberg devices frequently appear in the films of Jean-Pierre Jeunet, with or without partner Marc Caro. A recurring theme in Delicatessen is the character Aurore attempting to kill herself using such devices, which backfire and force her to live another day. In The City of Lost Children, similar machines abound, including a famous set piece in which a little girl's teardrop triggers a chain of events that ultimately causes a shipwreck. The films Amélie and A Very Long Engagement expand this theme further, moving from the physiological to the metaphysical. As noted by Philadelphia City Paper's Sam Wood, fate itself operates as a Rube Goldberg device, "an endless chain of tricky coincidences whose final result is utterly beyond prediction."

In the film Final Destination, as well as its sequels Final Destination 2 and Final Destination 3, the way "death" tracks down and kills its victims resemble deadly Rube Goldberg machines.

Bernard Werber also used a metaphorical Rube Goldberg machine to "correct" a problem in The Thanatonauts.

In the 1999 book Florida Roadkill by Tim Dorsey, the main character, a serial killer named Serge A. Storms, uses a Rube Goldberg device involving a length of wire, an electric motor, a beer can, and the shock wave caused by a rocket launch to kill a man with a shotgun. In a later book in the series, Triggerfish Twist, he uses another such device involving wire, gasoline, two floodlights, and a hula hoop to burn someone to death.

Rube Goldberg machines are often used by "Tom" in the "Tom and Jerry" cartoons.

The Looney Tunes short "Hook, Line, and Stinker" ended with the Wile E. Coyote character attempting to use a Rube Goldberg machine to capture the Road Runner. Many other Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies shorts employ such devices.

The 1985 movie Back to the Future features a Rube Goldberg device which the character Dr. Emmett "Doc" Brown (Christopher Lloyd) uses to prepare his breakfast and feed his dog Einstein. A similar device is seen in the 1990 sequel Back to the Future Part III this machine is more primititive as the setting of the movie takes place in 1885. Another example featured in the same film is an enormous steam-powered machine. The machine is easily 3 to 4 metres tall, with no immediate clue as to its function. When put into action, it shakes, groans and emits whistles and steam sounds (think of a loud steam engine) for about 20 seconds. When it falls silent, it produces two small irregularly-shaped bits of ice; it is an icemaker.

The 1990 film Home Alone and its three sequels include many scenes where the protagonist, Kevin (Macaulay Culkin), employs Goldberg-esque devices to trap and/or slow down the progress of burglars attempting to ransack his home.

Swiss artists David Weiss and Peter Fischli produced a film in 1987 entitled The Way Things Go (Der Lauf Der Dinge), which documents the motions of a large-scale Goldberg-style kinetic art installation. This installation was then re-worked in the Honda television commercial Cog, which featured a Rube Goldberg machine made from the parts of an Accord.

Tim Fort, a kinetic artist from Minnesota, creates chain-reaction gadgets that are reminiscent of both domino tumbling and classical Rube Goldberg gadgets. His gadgets are capable of doing simple tasks such as playing music with water-filled bottles or performing animation with a device resembling a flip book. He is currently exploring the idea of making a working digital computer using nothing but kinetic-art techniques.

In the 1985 film Pee-wee's Big Adventure, Pee-wee uses a Rube Goldberg device to make his breakfast, and this same device was later featured in Big Fish as the main character's science fair entry. Another 1985 film, The Goonies, also prominently featured several Rube Goldberg devices, both as performing practical applications (opening the front gate to let someone inside), and springing traps. The 2005 film Waiting... also featured a Rube Goldberg device as part of the set for the restaurant. It was shown in action after the credits of the film and was used to fill a glass from a glass bottle.

In the cartoon series Family Guy, Peter Griffin uses a Rube Goldberg machine (one almost exactly like the breakfast machine in Pee Wee's Big Adventure), that comically shoots Peter with a gun rather than make breakfast; followed by a complaint from Peter that "What was the point of all that? All it does is shoot you, it doesn't make breakfast at all!".

In the 1968 film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Professor Caractacus Potts uses a Rube Goldberg device to make breakfast for his family. This device is similar to the device shown later in Pee-wee's Big Adventure and in Big Fish.

A Rube Goldberg machine is featured in the Broadway musical Hairspray; it is used to close up Wilbur Turnblad's joke shop in Baltimore.

The music video for An Honest Mistake by The Bravery features a Rube Goldberg machine that fires a flaming arrow that ironically misses its target and leaves the band members in a confused state.

In the 7th season X-Files episode "The Goldberg Variation" Mulder and Scully meet a man who has a great amount of good luck that manifests as a sort of Rube Goldberg device, with improbable events combining to effect a certain outcome.

In an episode of the cartoon series Taz-Mania the Platypus brothers created a Rube Goldberg device, the final purpose of which was to alert one of the brothers to perform an action that the machine itself could easily have done.

In a sketch of The Andy Milonakis Show, Andy creates a Rube Goldberg device to turn on his reading lamp (a meter away from him). The machine incorporated balloons, various toys, bowling balls, and his friend Larry.

In a short segment in an episode of Animaniacs, titled "Wakko's Gizmo", Wakko creates and sets off an elaborate Rube Goldberg machine in order to flatten a whoopie cushion.

The satirical Mad Magazine features a comic strip entitled, "Spy vs. Spy", in which Cold War spies from opposing countries take turns trying to eliminate each other with improbably-designed traps.

The children's picturebook series Mechanical Harry by New Zealander Bob Kerr features a boy who makes Goldberg like machines, with long and convoluted steps. These include a pancake machine, dishwashing machine and firewood splitter among others.

At the end of Jackass: The Movie, there is a humongous Rube Goldberg machine involving humans. It doesn't work, but someone cheats at the end to make it work.

The Walt Disney movie The Great Mouse Detective features a Rube Goldberg device meant to crush Basil and Dr. Dawson under a large anvil. This device also includes a record player as the time limit, a marble on a ramp, a mousetrap, a crossbow, and a photo camera.

The 1990s version of the children's educational show ZOOM included science segments in which the child stars had to create a Rube Goldberg-style process to do a simple task such as putting toothpaste on a toothbrush or turning out a light. At least one episode explicitly discussed Goldberg and his machines; in other episodes, actors simply referenced Goldberg without further explanation.

A car commercial for the UK version of the Honda Accord features a large, Rube-Goldberg style machine made entirely out of parts from the Honda Accord. It used no CGI and took more than 600 takes to complete.

In 1993, Sierra Entertainment released the computer game The Incredible Machine, designed around the Rube Goldberg concept. Three more games were also released in the series, The Even More Incredible Machine, Return of the Incredible Machine: Contraptions, and The Incredible Machine: Even More Contraptions. None of these software titles are still sold: however, they are available via

In Germany the video game company PepperGames is still producing and selling games that have the Rube Goldberg concept. Their names are "Crazy Machines" "Crazy Machines - Neue Herausforderungen" and "Crazy Machines - Neues aus dem Labor".

There was also a Commodore 64 game from the mid-80s called Creative Contraptions, similar to The Incredible Machine, but much simpler, shorter and easier.

One popular function of Garry's Mod, A mod for the computer game Half-Life 2, enables players to manipulate objects and characters within a physics-based environment. It is one contemporary example where Rube Goldberg machine principle is common. Elaborate traps or machines can be built by the player using a range of in-game objects. The resulting inventions are often recorded and are downloadable from gaming websites.

In Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge's acid pit scene, LeChuck tied Guybrush Threepwood and Wally B. Feed in a Rube Goldberg style trap.

In 2005 the video game TЯAPT used various Goldberg themed elements used to protect a homicidal princess; they usually all lead to a horribly gruesome death through uses of many little nonsensical things. These traps are used in the entire Tecmo's Deception franchise that spawned the game, which is also from Tecmo.

In Donkey Kong 64, Snide Fox awards Golden Bananas for recovering Blueprints to the Blast-O-Matic. The Golden Bananas are presented by the Rube Goldberg machine in Snide's various lairs—the length, complexity, and elements of these machines vary by level.

The restrictions on editing tools released with computer games sometimes necessitate complex constructions to achieve changes in the game envirnoment which are otherwise controlled by some inaccessible device within the game (for example, scripts). These "Rube Goldberg" set-ups can get very complicated and weigh heavily on game resources, but they often remain the only way to obtain an effect in an intransigent game editing system.

In early 1987, Purdue University in Indiana started the annual National Rube Goldberg Machine Contest, organized by the Phi Chapter of Theta Tau, the National Professional Engineering Fraternity. The Rube Goldberg Machine Contest is sponsored by the Theta Tau Educational Foundation. The contest features US college and university teams building machines inspired by Rube Goldberg's cartoon. The contest is judged by the ability for the machine to complete the tasks specified by the challenge using as many steps as possible without a single failure, while making the machines themselves fitting into certain themes.

The Ideal Toy Company released a board game called Mouse Trap in 1963 that was based on Rube Goldberg's ideas (this game is currently made by Hasbro).

LambdaMOO contains a working The Rube Goldberg Contraption, which can generally be found on the Pool Deck.

In the Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game, the tinker gnomes of the Dragonlance setting are well-known for their propensity to create goldbergesque machines and tools.Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, with no Front-Cover Texts, and with no Back-Cover Texts.
Virtual Magic is a human knowledge database blog. Text Based On Information From Wikipedia, Under The GNU Free Documentation License. Copyright (c) 2007 Virtual Magic. Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.1 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts and no Back-Cover Texts. A copy of the license is included in the section entitled "GNU Free Documentation License".

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