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The concept of a Rube Goldberg is not new; the term was coined in 1928 by an American cartoonist whose illustrations involved doing simple tasks in overly complicated ways.
What is new is Tiktok – in 2022 the app amassed over 1 billion monthly active users worldwide. Currently, #rubegoldberg has over 527 million views of people intrigued by the craft moving around people’s homes, often involving ping pong balls.
However, creating a Rube Goldberg is often much easier seen than done – the machine involves a great deal of planning and testing to ensure that the task it sets out to perform is actually done.
So instead of picking out a new Netflix show for your child, why not get them involved in an interactive project using household objects that might even teach them some physics along the way?
Here are 11 different household items you can use to create a Rube Goldberg machine with your kids, and maybe keep them busy for a few hours.
Toilet paper rolls or toy train tracks
Ultimately, building a Rube Goldberg actually starts at the end of the machine, and you’ll need to figure out what kind of goal you want to achieve with your machine. After that, it’s a matter of figuring out how you’ll get from point A to point B, which will usually involve some type of trail. If you don’t have train tracks around your house, you can build your own!
Leftover toilet paper rolls are perfect for a Goldberg rube machine; they can carry a marble or ping pong ball just about anywhere with enough tape. Cut off the top half of the toilet paper roll if you wish to see the action – this will also double your amount of usable stock.
If you’re using something small like a marble or even a ball of foil, a tape measure is another option for a smooth roll. Some machines even use chopsticks or slinkies.
Old building blocks, tissue boxes or books
If you want your Rube Goldberg track to really shake things up, you’ll need to place the track on a slope. A great way to do this is to use old building blocks, tissue boxes, or even a stack of books to stack a decline for the track.
On TikTok, some creators have used the stairs in their homes to lay the track, but if you’re not looking to build your machine to that kind of scale, anything you can stack to build a slope should work just fine. Other designs have also implemented a rail for rolling over a table, dresser, or even your stair railing.
The options are virtually endless.
Baseballs, ping pong balls, marbles or just about anything that rolls
Once you’ve built your track, put it to the test! You’ll need something to navigate it, and you might want to experiment with a few options to see which move around the easiest. Hot Wheels cars have proven to be a very effective contribution to a Rube Goldberg machine, but you don’t have to limit yourself to just one!
You can use a ping pong ball for the first half of the machine to trigger dominoes, then switch to a tennis ball if you’re looking for something to move faster and hit your next point a little harder; it’s really a matter of planning.
This TikTok uses a ping pong ball to bounce off the bottom of kitchen pots and pans; which makes for a pretty satisfying sound if that’s something you’re looking for. another user itself is part of the equation.
The beauty of a DIY machine is that you can make it as simple or complicated as you want, or tailored to your children’s safety and learning level.
Dominoes, a toaster or a fan
One of the most important elements of a successful Rube Goldberg machine is constant movement. How you trigger motion is totally open, but the creators use everything from charged toasters to household fans and robot vacuums.
Others have used string to create either a swinging motion (formally known as a pendulum if we’re making this project educational) or a type of rocking motion (a counterweight system). Even a user mailed a ping pong ball to his friend to continue the movement.
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Image credit: Getty Images