Build a Rube Goldberg machine

Actually, it’s not so much a machine as a contraption. Building a Rube Goldberg “game” can be an incredibly fun and educational project. As shown on the official Rube Goldberg site, a Rube Goldberg (I’ll refer to them as “RG” for simplicity) is “a comically involved, complicated invention, laboriously contrived to perform a simple operation.”

For instance, the “machine” could be built to accomplish something like flipping a switch or closing a door. However, the type my nephews usually make have as their purpose simply knocking down a domino tower or getting a ball into a cup.

If you want to see one of the most fantastic RGs ever devised, check out this Honda commercial:

It’s hard to believe that it was done with no help from computer animation; it’s all real and made completely with parts from a Honda Accord. Evidently it took over 600 takes to get it right, going from start to finish without a hitch.

It’s unlikely that you’re going to want to get that carried away, but it might spark some ideas and rev the kids’ enthusiasm to make their own smaller RG using common household items.

Here are some very clever RGs made from common materials by a couple of high school students:

There’s almost no limit to the number and types of items you can use to build a RG. The children can make use of many of their toys for this purpose in addition to some other things you can gather:

Paper towel and cardboard tubes: Cut in half length-wise and taped together, these make great marble chutes. Or leave them intact if you don’t mind not being able to see the marble.

Marbles: These usually play a big role in the ones we’ve built. A marble may run the length of the course if you build everything with the purpose of moving the marble along. Or it may just serve as the catalyst, starting things in motion over the rest of the course.

Legos: These are extremely useful since you can custom-build all kinds of contraptions to serve as supports or actual components that convey the marble or propel forward whatever energy is being generated.

Dominoes: A section of the RG can consist of dominoes standing on end, set off by something that bumps the first one and then the last one can trigger whatever follows.

Small balls: Depending on what you use them for, they generally need to have some weight or they may be too light to transfer the energy. Small heavy rubber balls work well.

Matchbox cars: These can race down a chute and/or across a hard surface to set something else off.

Game pieces such as checkers, dice, or figurines: The challenge here is to make sure they find their way back into their respective game boxes afterwards!

Margarine or Cool Whip containers and covers: These can be used as is or cut and shaped into various structures.

Cardboard: Create flat surfaces, troughs, or walls.

Rubber bands: Useful in holding things together.

Tape: We go through lots of Scotch and masking tape, so I recommend buying some cheap stuff at the dollar store; otherwise, it can really get expensive.

A few other things that might come in handy:

Playing cards
Styrofoam cups
Paper plates

and the list goes on. I hope these simple Rube Goldberg ideas are helpful. Please feel free to comment if you have ideas to share!

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