local students compete in Rube Goldberg contest
Going to Stout’s second Rube Goldberg Machine Contest on March 12 was like entering a Shangri-la of physics. Everywhere I looked, I saw dominoes falling, marbles swirling down funnels, mousetraps snapping, and light bulbs flashing. The bright idea for this year’s incredibly complicated contraptions was to replace an incandescent light bulb for a more energy-efficient one in at least 20 steps. It’d be simple enough, if you could use your hands.
Fourteen high school teams entered the contest, and the variety of machines was astounding. Each one needed a theme to earn points, and the teams let their imaginations run wild. Newcomers from Durand incorporated the Edison vs. Tesla rivalry over AC/DC power into each step of the “The Angry Edison.” One Kimberly High School team constructed an elaborate theme park, complete with sky coaster, mini golf course, and Ferris wheels. Another Kimberly team rocked a concert theme that began with pushing in a ticket stub, played instruments, and blared Crazy Train. Students from a Chippewa Falls team incorporated farm elements including a metal silo ramp and series of “startled” barnyard animals, and won third place.
Before each run, the team demonstrator scrutinized the mechanism. Clean runs were vital toadvance, and the slightest misplacement during resets made the difference between triumph and failure. Despite the fierce competition, spirits were high. The Thorp team, garbed in road construction wear, had a “foreman” telling the reset-er to “Get a move on! We don’t pay you for nothing.” Their 49-step Mine Shaft machine had inventive reverse folding stairs, sand filling buckets, and swinging metal scaffolding. They won most spirit, people’s choice, and second place awards.
Judges ultimately awarded first place to New Auburn High School’s “Super Mario World Goes Neon.” The duo (dressed as Mario and Luigi) shouted “Level Start!” as a student played the theme song on a keyboard. The 46-step machine was a gamer’s dream, featuring the Mario cast and adversaries like Koopa Troopas, a Goomba army, and Hammer Brothers. The sequence included a journey through Bowser’s Castle, an impressive inverted incline plane, and the winning glow of neon lights. Beyond long hours and weekend work, the team played Super Mario for ideas and research.
“We wanted to choose an appealing theme that’d be easy to understand,” said New Auburn’s team demonstrator. As the top two, New Auburn and Thorp will take their machines to compete at nationals at Purdue University. Win or lose, the spirit of Rube Goldberg and his ingenious inventions is alive and well in Wisconsin.