Posted: March 12, 2010
I followed with great interest this week's results of the National Rube Goldberg Machine Contest at UW-Stout in Menomonie. Goldberg, who passed away at the age of 87 in 1970, was a former engineer who became a famous cartoonist. His work usually demonstrated how a simple task could be completed through the most elaborate methods.
I remember having to come up with an idea for a science fair project in the seventh grade three days before the assignment was due. Nervously, I asked my father for some advice. That was when I first heard of Rube Goldberg.
After doing the mandatory research about the famous cartoonist, I was charged with inventing a contraption that included some of the physical principles of science (velocity, acceleration, elecricity, etc.) to complete what would normally be a simple mission.
I decided my science fair project would demonstrate the easiest way to break an egg - Rube Goldberg style.
Dad and I constructed a 4' 1/2" X 6' wooden structure that would showcase my assignment. I used a small lead ball to start the demonstration and let it roll down an angular set of wood planks that gave me the opportunity to calculate velocity and acceleration. Once the ball ran its course, it would end up in a small metal bowl that was surrounded by circuits. The metal ball pushed a plunger made out of a Tinkertoy. The plunger caused an electrical reaction that illuminated the project with blinking lights and a siren.
Afterwards, the egg would ride upwards in a small wooden box via a rope-and-pulley system. Eventually, the real egg was forced down another wooden runway and into a frying pan. I received a blue ribbon for my efforts, although I ran out of real eggs before the judges visited my booth. (Fortunately, I had ping pong balls on hand as substitutes for the raw eggs).
I guess the moral of the story is that we have so many local, state and federal issues that should be resolved in a fairly simple way. There are devisive topics, such as health care reform, hunting management issues and the future needs of the Eau Claire County Courthouse that are probably a bit more complicated.
But it appears to me that we all take the "Rube Goldberg" approach to solving problems that may not necessitate so much work and debate in the first place. Congratulations to UW-Stout and Thorp High School for winning this year's Rube Goldberg Contest. Fortunately, the contestants didn't have to deal with political issues.