The simplest machines may well be the most efficient and elegant. But the most fun and inventive?
No way — as three teams from area middle and elementary schools demonstrated Saturday in the Rube Goldberg Machine Contest, sponsored by Black & Veatch.
Their mission was to open an umbrella using a machine they had designed and built in the spirit of Rube Goldberg, an engineer-turned-cartoonist known for drawing convoluted contraptions mocking the real inventions of his era.
“It was hard at first, starting with piles of random stuff,” said Ellie Hatley, 13, of Indian Woods Middle School in Overland Park. “But then we decided to work backwards, to figure out how to open the umbrella first.”
Artistry, humor and theme or story were among the contest criteria, and teammate Lauren Crain, 12, said looking at I Spy books “helped us think of things to add to make it appealing to the eye.”
“We kept adding toys and more toys so it would be fun for kids.”
Ellie and Lauren’s team won the overall prize in the contest, held at the Museum at Prairiefire, and now can compete in the finals for Division I, students ages 11-14. Indian Woods also was recognized for the best team spirit.
The team from Aubry Bend Middle School in Overland Park was recognized for having the longest-running machine. The machines had to have a minimum of 12 steps, and the Aubry Bend machine stretched across four levels of shelving.
The team members from Broken Arrow Elementary School in Shawnee were recognized for best presentation. Their setup also took full advantage of gravity, using a ladder and several shipping pallets turned up on end to create several levels for various balls to traverse on Hot Wheels tracks.
This was the first live local contest for Division I, a Black & Veatch representative said. The engineering firm signed up to sponsor the event, and Prairiefire was happy to provide a location. They’re hoping for even more entries next year.
That Division I finals will be strictly online: Teams set up a web page and submit a video entry. Division II, for high school ages, and Division III, for college and up, hold their finals live, and it’s hoped that the Division I finals will be live in 2017.
The contest, originally between two engineering fraternities at Purdue University, was revived and made national in 1988. Its past tasks have included zipping up a zipper, hammering a nail and erasing a chalkboard — in the most roundabout ways possible.