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Joseph Herscher // YouTube
Joseph Herscher // YouTube

13 Impressive Rube Goldberg Machines

Joseph Herscher // YouTube
Joseph Herscher // YouTube

A straight line may be the fastest route from point A to point B, but a 300-step contraption is considerably more entertaining. Rube Goldberg popularized the idea of completing simple tasks in the most elaborate ways possible with his beloved cartoons in the early 20th century. Since then, new generations of tinkerers have been constructing impressively absurd Rube Goldberg machines of their own. Here are 13 apparatuses that prioritize fun over efficiency.

1. THE 300-STEP MONSTROSITY // PURDUE UNIVERSITY

Every year, inventive minds gather to compete in the Rube Goldberg Machine Contest. A different challenge is presented with each competition—in 2012, participants were given the task of inflating a balloon and popping it. The winning team that year, from the Purdue Society of Professional Engineers, went above and beyond with their design. In addition to completing the charge at hand, the machine executed every challenge from the contest’s 25-year history, including juicing an orange, changing a light bulb, crushing a can, and sharpening a pencil. Their 300-step Rube Goldberg machine nabbed the Guinness World Record that year for the largest one ever constructed. In 2015, that record was crushed by a Hungarian team and their 382-step behemoth.

2. PHOTOGRAPHY-THEMED MACHINE // 2D HOUSE

It’s easy to see where Canadian photography studio 2D House found the inspiration for this epic machine. The photography-themed project, planned over the course of three months in 2011, took two months to build—and the video went viral. Since then, 2D House has built several Rube Goldberg machines, including ones made for Target and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

3. THIS TOO SHALL PASS // OK GO

OK Go is known for their insanely creative music videos, and in 2010 the band took a page out of Rube Goldberg’s book with their video for This Too Shall Pass. Engineers at the Los Angeles-based arts and technology collective Syyn Labs were commissioned to construct the set-up, which was filmed in a single shot after more than 60 failed takes.

4. MELVIN THE MACHINE // HEYHEYHEY

The Dutch design studio HEYHEYHEY described their contraption as a "Rube Goldberg machine with a twist." During each performance, “Melvin the Magical Mixed Media Machine” would take pictures and video of its audience and upload them to its blog. According to the team's website, Melvin has been out of commission for the last few years. But even without the interactive component, watching video of the machine's umbrellas, pinwheels, and parachuting toy army men is entertaining nonetheless.

5. THE STORY OF PASSOVER // TECHNION - ISRAEL INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY

Constructing Rube Goldberg machines isn’t considered a typical Passover tradition, but this project from students at the Technion - Israel Institute of Technology makes a good case for it. The chain reaction is set into motion when wine is poured into a kiddush cup. From there, a toy Moses in a basket, a burning tin foil bush, and matzo cracker dominoes illustrate the story behind the holiday. The journey ends when a lid is lifted to reveal a traditional Seder plate.

6. THE WORLD’S TINIEST // SEIKO

A Rube Goldberg machine doesn’t have to be imposing to be impressive. The Japanese watch company Seiko fabricated their miniature apparatus from 1200 tiny mechanical watch parts. The end goal? Delivering the final component to a delicately assembled watch.

7. SODA MACHINE // BERLAGAWESOME

Thankfully, most vending machines don’t take 175 steps to deliver a can of Coke. But if you have the patience, YouTube user berlagawesome’s Rube Goldberg soda machine is well worth the four quarters to set it in motion. He spent 140 hours in total putting the above video together. After all that effort, the soda must have tasted extra refreshing.

8. RUBE SLOWBERG // BOB PARTINGTON

Inventor Bob Partington pulled out all the stops when developing what he claims to be the world’s slowest Rube Goldberg machine. Growing grass, melting popsicles, a stream of molasses, and a tortoise are a few of the methods used to deliver a golf ball from one end of the structure to the other. The whole process took six weeks, three days, seven hours, and two minutes to complete. Fortunately for the viewer, the video has been sped up quite a bit.

9. THE PAGE TURNER // JOSEPH HERSCHER

As far as Rube Goldberg machines go, kinetic artist Joseph Herscher’s are surprisingly useful. The Page Turner does exactly what’s promised—Herscher triggers it by taking a sip from his coffee mug, and by the time he’s done reading the front of the newspaper the next page is turned for him. This further proves that Rube Goldberg machines and lazy mornings go hand-in-hand.

10. THE FORTUNE TELLING MACHINE // HEVESH5

This fortune telling machine doesn’t feature an animatronic psychic or require a quarter to operate it. Instead, YouTuber Hevesh5’s creation uses balls, beads, and dominos to achieve its ultimate goal. It ends when a dumbbell rolls over a fortune cookie, releasing the fortune inside.

11. DOG GOLDBERG MACHINE // PURINA BENEFUL

Dogs can be trained to do many things, including act as the components of a living Rube Goldberg machine. Purina turned to the creative agency Deep Focus to make this machine happen. The agency planned out the video with numerous sketches and tests to ensure every piece of the puzzle came together, and even created a miniature 3D model of the machine to help them catch any snags before filming. When it finally came time to shoot, tennis balls, kibble, and frisbees were used to motivate the canine stars to do their part.

12. LEGO PHYSICS // CHRISTIAN BECHINIE

LEGO blocks can be used to recreate scenes from literature, construct a fully functional caravan, and, as Christian Bechinie demonstrates, build dynamic machines. The LEGO constructor’s Rube Goldberg machine topples 200 domino pieces throughout its minute-long run. If you’re looking for something to do with your childhood LEGO collection at home, this video should provide some inspiration.

13. MAGNETS AND MARBLES // KAPLAMINO

There are some insanely complicated Rube Goldberg machines on this list, but comparatively simple structures can be equally mesmerizing. Marbles and magnets are the primary components featured in this Rube Goldberg machine, from domino artist Kaplamino. After the frustrating process of perfecting each step, we're left to enjoy the immensely satisfying results.

Know of something you think we should cover? Email us at tips@mentalfloss.com.

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NASA/JPL, YouTube
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Space
Watch NASA Test Its New Supersonic Parachute at 1300 Miles Per Hour
NASA/JPL, YouTube
NASA/JPL, YouTube

NASA’s latest Mars rover is headed for the Red Planet in 2020, and the space agency is working hard to make sure its $2.1 billion project will land safely. When the Mars 2020 rover enters the Martian atmosphere, it’ll be assisted by a brand-new, advanced parachute system that’s a joy to watch in action, as a new video of its first test flight shows.

Spotted by Gizmodo, the video was taken in early October at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Narrated by the technical lead from the test flight, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Ian Clark, the two-and-a-half-minute video shows the 30-mile-high launch of a rocket carrying the new, supersonic parachute.

The 100-pound, Kevlar-based parachute unfurls at almost 100 miles an hour, and when it is entirely deployed, it’s moving at almost 1300 miles an hour—1.8 times the speed of sound. To be able to slow the spacecraft down as it enters the Martian atmosphere, the parachute generates almost 35,000 pounds of drag force.

For those of us watching at home, the video is just eye candy. But NASA researchers use it to monitor how the fabric moves, how the parachute unfurls and inflates, and how uniform the motion is, checking to see that everything is in order. The test flight ends with the payload crashing into the ocean, but it won’t be the last time the parachute takes flight in the coming months. More test flights are scheduled to ensure that everything is ready for liftoff in 2020.

[h/t Gizmodo]

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Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
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architecture
German Nonprofit Gives $1.1 Million to Restore World’s First Iron Bridge in England
Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

The UK’s Iron Bridge is more than just a pretty landmark. Built in 1779, it was the world’s first metal bridge, a major milestone in engineering history. Like many aging pieces of infrastructure, though, it’s in dire need of repair—and the funds to shore it up are coming from an unexpected place. According to The Times, a German foundation has pledged to pay for the conservation project as a way to improve relations between England and Germany in the wake of Brexit.

Based in Hamburg, the Hermann Reemtsma Foundation normally funds cultural projects in Germany, but decided to work with the UK’s charitable trust English Heritage to save the Industrial Revolution landmark as a way to reinforce the cultural bond between the two countries. The foundation has pledged more than $1.16 million to the bridge's renovation effort, which will cost an estimated $4.7 million in total. Now, the UK charity only has to raise another $32,800 to fully fund the work.

The Iron Bridge was cast and built by Abraham Darby III, whose grandfather became the first mass-producer of cast iron in the UK in the early 1700s, kickstarting England's Industrial Revolution. It was the world’s first cast iron, single-span arch bridge, weighing more than 400 tons. In 1934, it was declared a historic monument and closed to traffic, and the Ironbridge Gorge was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1986.

“The Iron Bridge is one of the most important—if not the most important—bridges ever built,” English Heritage CEO Kate Mavor told the press.

The techniques used to erect the Iron Bridge were later adopted throughout Europe, including in Germany, leading the Hermann Reemtsma Foundation to call it “a potent reminder of our continent's common cultural roots and values.”

The already-underway repair project includes replacing elements of the bridge, cleaning and repairing others, and painting the entire structure. Since it sits above a fast-flowing river where erecting scaffolding is difficult, the project is especially complex. It’s scheduled to be completed in 2018.

[h/t The Times]

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