Convoluted Ice Cream Toppers

A Rube Goldberg device for getting rid of a mouse.

As a kid, I was on a continuing quest to build the next great invention. Each time I came up with a new creation, I ran it by my father for inspection. His routine was always the same. He would take out his magnifying glass and scan each nook and cranny making “hmmm’s” and “ahhh’s” as he scrutinized my gadget. After his exam, he’d peer over his glasses at me and say, “Well, Harry, this is quite the Rube Goldberg.” I would leave the room beaming with pride after having been compared to, who must have been, one of the world’s greatest inventors.

I learned some years later that my father was letting me down easy. For those handful of people who aren’t familiar with Rube Goldberg, he was was an early 20th Century cartoonist, sculptor, author and inventor who was famous for drawing elaborate contraptions that do very simple tasks.

Carnegie Mellon students top an ice cream sundae.

The truth is that I don’t have the aptitude for engineering. I decided long ago to leave that to those astute individuals who grace the hallowed halls of our nation’s universities. That was until I got wind of a robotics competition at Carnegie Mellon University.

The rules for the competition were simple. Each team of three was required to create a machine that made an ice cream sundae in less than three hours. I’m no genius, but I’m thinking some type of spoon would knock out the job in way under three hours. Of course, this solution was far to simple for the Rube Goldberg Ice Cream Competition. Hosted each year by Carnegie Mellon’s Robotic Club, the Rube Goldberg Ice Cream Competition pits teams against each other as they create elaborate machines to execute the very simple task of making an ice cream sundae.

This year’s winning entry, “Balls Dropping from the Sky,” was a two-story invention that successfully topped a cup of vanilla ice cream with sprinkles, M&Ms and a cherry.

After reading this story, I’m heading back to my workshop to build a new device that ties shoes. I really think I have something with this one.

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