Rube Goldberg club sophomores win national championship

| Senior Scene Editor

Courtesy of Grace Kuo

The Washington University Rube Goldberg Club’s winning Rube Goldberg machine is displayed at the Rube Goldberg championships last weekend. The machine was designed with the theme “Rube’s Office” in mind.

Only one year after its pilot program, the Rube Goldberg Club attended and won the Rube Goldberg Machine Contest—the national championship of Rube Goldberg machine-building—last weekend. Student Life sat down with the club’s leaders, sophomores Amy Patterson and Grace Kuo, to hear about their experiences, struggles and accomplishments as a team.

Student Life: Explain the purpose of the Rube Goldberg Club.

Grace Kuo: A Rube Goldberg machine is basically a machine built to complete a simple task in a very complicated way. The way that usually manifests itself is a chain reaction sort of thing. You know, the ball rolls and hits a book off the table, and that pulls the string, etc. Every year there is a national competition where they build for a task.

Amy Patterson: The task is usually very simple, so it’s easy to do, but the rest of the machines are like, “Wow, that is such a complicated way to do that.”

Courtesy of Grace Kuo

SL: How did you find out about the Rube Goldberg Club?

GK: I found out about it through the Activities Fair freshman year. Last year was the first year the club was founded. At the end of last year, it didn’t have that much momentum. The two of us kind of took it over because we were excited about it. Looking at that video and being able to say, “Hey, we built that” is really incredible.

AP: I was dragged there by my roommate freshman year. It seemed like a really cool idea. It seemed that the club was so excited for it; we were planning out steps, and it was all really exciting. Toward the end, our previous leaders got us a room and Category I funding, so we knew we could still do stuff.

SL: How many members?

GK: Our team that worked to build the machine had four people on it: the two of us as well as junior Harison Wiesman and senior Alexa Lichtenstein. We had about four or so other people that have come in and out to give advice and such.

SL: What was this year’s task?

AP: This year’s task was to hammer a nail.

SL: Can you explain your machine?

GK: In order to do well at the national level, you have to have a theme. Our theme was “Rube’s Office.” Rube Goldberg was a comic strip artist, and he would draw these ideas for these fantastical machines—ours had all these things you would see in an office. For the final task, to hammer in a nail, our machine also hit one of those “easy buttons” that says, “That was easy,” so that was kind of ironic.

AP: We’ve been working on it since the beginning of this school year. We had a slow start.

GK: We didn’t have a budget for this year. We got a lot of materials for free—went to the trading post. After Thanksgiving, we got a lot of things from our houses.

AP: Went Dumpster diving a few times.

SL: How did you begin working on the machine?

AP: Kind of build-as-you-go thing. Look at the space. Start out building with duct tape and white string, then go back and replace it with fishing lines so it looks better.

GK: Trial and error. We like to look back at the steps that used to take us weeks and weeks whereas the steps at the end we built in two days. You ask, “What do I want it to do?,” test some things out and then when you get a model that sort of works, you go back and rebuild it again.

SL: Describe the process of getting to the national competition.

GK: The way it works is that teams compete in regional competitions, and those winners move on to the national competition. Our regional competition was that day we had the huge snowstorm. We definitely were uncomfortable driving our box truck into the storm and ended up having to cancel the trip. We contacted the people in charge of regionals and explained what happened, and they invited us to compete in nationals.

SL: What was the competition like?

GK: We had some complications getting to the competition. In the video, you can see a chair in the center of the “office” and the trash can over here. The night before, we gathered everything up but by some fluke, those two items were on the other side of the room. After we had unpacked, all our other things in the competition in Ohio, we realized, “Oh my gosh, we forgot the chairs.”

AP: I’m standing in the middle of the machine, and there’s no chair. There may have been some cursing and throwing involved. We asked the people who were running the competition if we could use one of their chairs. They were very friendly and were like, “Oh, sure!”

SL: Clearly that didn’t stop you!

AP: [Laughter.] We managed to make it work. What really helped us win was the fact that you can void one out of three runs. Our first run went really awfully, so we voided that one. Nothing seemed to work. But then our second and third runs were near perfect. Perfect runs are pretty unusual when you have this many steps.

SL: Congratulations again. Anything else you would like to add?

AP: We’ve listened to “Thrift Shop” a lot. “Sh**, it was 99 cents” has been our motto since we got so much stuff for free.

Sign up for the email edition

Stay up to date with everything happening as Washington University returns to campus.