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The rules for building a perfect Rube Goldberg machine

Hannah Yi
By Hannah Yi

Video Journalist

This article is more than 2 years old.

Joseph Herscher’s foolproof way to roast turkey involves an ax, a back massager, various magnets, catapults, and a small dog. His Rube Goldberg machines to facilitate power napping and to remove milk mustaches are similarly elaborate. And that extreme complexity is really the point.

“A Rube Goldberg machine does a simple task in an overly complicated way,” said Herscher, who has been building these machines since he was 5. Rube Goldberg was an American cartoonist famous for his drawings of these convoluted devices in the first half of last century. 

“Like a ball rolls, then it hits over some dominos, and it’ll knock over a vase, and usually they do something very important in the end,” the New Zealander-turned-New Yorker told Quartz.

“Important” is often a simple task, like turning the page of a newspaper or decorating a Christmas tree in 10 seconds using a power drill and bicycle wheel.

Herscher’s latest machine aims to plate a slice of cake (with a cherry on top) right after he takes the last bite of his dinner.

“It’s one of the most complicated machines I’ve ever made. It’s got a baby in it. It’s got a chandelier. It’s got 16 potted plants and a slice of cake.”

Watch the video above to learn Herscher’s rules for building Rube Golberg machines, and how you too can automate your life—in the most brilliantly complicated way possible. To see more of his machines, check out his YouTube page, Joseph’s Machines.

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