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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    UA engineers build elaborate contraptions to do simple tasks

    Savannah Douglas / The Daily Wil
    Savannah Douglas / The Daily Wildcat Phillip Gotobed, the president of the UA Rude Goldberg club, explains the clubs current invention, contained in the Civil Engineering Building, on Wednesday. The clubs task this year was to create an invention that would shine a shoe while focusing on a kitchen theme. In order to incorporate the goal and the theme, different contraptions center around the kitchen counter and a stove find their way down to shining the shoe. If you need it: Phillip Gotobed, junior, third year in club, electrical and engineering major

    What takes over 20 different steps in order to shine a shoe? Nothing, in a world other than the one created by the Rube Goldberg club.

    For the fourth year, several UA engineering students are working to create their annual Rube Goldberg machine ­— a contraption designed to perform one simple function through a mind-boggling series of chained events.

    In previous years, the club was challenged to inflate and pop a balloon, hammer a nail, and zip a zipper. This year, the team’s daunting task is to shine a shoe.

    While the central action required of the UA’s Rube Goldberg machine seems simple enough, the team took up the spirit of Rube Goldberg himself, and made the process of a simple shoe shine into a series of succinct, creative steps built around a theme of their choice, usually housed within a 6-by-6-by-6 open cubicle.

    The zipper challenge spawned an outdoor camping scene in which a quirky guide caused mayhem by losing his campers; the hammer-nail challenge brought forth a company called Hindentech, based off a company notorious for selling inventions that never functioned quite right.

    “This year, the idea behind the scene was that our invention was going to be the kitchen of the future — the kitchen that did everything for you,” said Phillip Gotobed, president of the UA Rube Goldberg club.

    Gotobed, an electrical and computer engineering junior, described some of the basic functions of the team’s machine.

    “You just have to pour yourself a glass of coffee in the morning,” Gotobed said, “and it makes your toast, whips up your smoothie, opens the windows, cooks some eggs, finishes your dinner in the oven and, eventually, even shines your shoes and feeds your dog along the way.”

    Each year, the group takes the machine apart after ensuring its functional success, packs it into a van, and drives it 30 hours to Colombus, Ohio, where the team competes in the National Rube Goldberg Competition at the Center of Science and Industry.

    When members set up shop, they incorporate a creative skit combining the groups’ members and the machine, making the entire display into a living, breathing, baking Rube Goldberg comic.

    “The skit this year will be a salesperson selling the kitchen — hyping it up infomercial-style,” Gotobed said. “We’ll see what we end up with. It could be completely different. Usually, we will end up writing the script just the night before we’re supposed to do it.”

    Since its inception four years ago, the UA Rube Goldberg Club has twice taken home the Legacy Award, which is given to the club that embodies Rube Goldberg’s clever spirit and crisp humor.

    While the club has seen many glory days at the national convention, this year might not turn out to be such a success.

    “At the beginning of the semester, Rube Goldberg changed the rules without really alerting anyone,” Gotobed said.

    Gotobed said the national corporation is trying to expand its reach and changed the guidelines governing the machines in secrecy.

    “The only way you could have found out was if you happened to be signed up to their newsletter,” he said, “but that’s not even a communication to the teams. It’s not telling the people who actually depend on it.”

    In a stroke of luck, club member Grace Ritchey found out about the change in rules by simply keeping updated on the new guidelines. All the same, the UA Rube Goldberg Club will likely not be attending the upcoming national convention, Gotobed added.

    “Luckily, one of the world’s only professional Rube Goldberg machine makers is looking to host his own competition around the same time in the same area,” he said.

    Zach Umperovitch, a graduate student at Purdue University and two-time designer of the Guinness World Record-breaking Rube Goldberg machines, is planning to host a makeshift convention in lieu of the national.

    Gotobed said this perfect timing is no coincidence. Umperovitch was the corporate event director for Rube Goldberg Inc., but quit earlier this year when he found out about how the company made the changes in its rules.

    “We will definitely go to that one once we have more details on it,” Gotobed said, “because if anyone knows how to make a good Rube Goldberg competition, it’s him.”


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