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Rube Goldberg Ideas: Tasks and Materials to Make Your Own Machine

Looking for Rube Goldberg Machine™ Tasks and Materials Ideas?

This article is written entirely to encourage ingenuity, creativity, critical thinking and problem solving.

The very best way to do all of those things at once is to give your kids some materials and let them create a Rube Goldberg Machine™.

Rube Goldberg: a comically involved, complicated invention, laboriously contrived to perform a simple operation. ~Webster’s New World Dictionary

A Rube Goldberg Machine™ is silly, and thoroughly enjoyable, to take a look at.

What I love so much about these machines is that they are all about learning in a non-traditional manner and they are just so much fun!Build your own Rube Goldberg Machine™! Use this great list of task ideas to choose the type of machine you want to build, gather some of the materials on our big list and make your own machine. Super fun learning opportunities throughout the whole process. Click to get the lists.

This post may contain affiliate links which means we may receive a small commission, at no cost to you, if you make a purchase through a link. All opinions are our own and we share things we think would be of interest to boys.

Rube Goldberg Ideas

There are Rube Goldberg competitions where the task is pre-chosen. Each team has to perform a very specific task.

It appears the contests are now going commercial. In 2017 the competition task is to apply a Band-aid and in 2018 it is pour a bowl of cereal (Cheerios.)

If you are interested in the official contests go here for more information.

There are a few criteria to keep in mind when creating your machines.

  • They should be funny.
  • They should tell a story.
  • They should use everyday objects and/or recycled objects.
  • They should be well-constructed.

If you are not familiar with these contraptions be sure to take a look at the resource links below before you get started. They will help you learn more about the process and give you a lot of great ideas.


Rube Goldberg Machine™ Tasks

Here are a variety of tasks from Rube Goldberg Machine Contests® in past years. Some of them were really challenging!

Rube Goldberg Activity Idea:

  • Talk about the different tasks listed below and and ask your kids how they would accomplish them.
  • Even if you don’t want to try to make them, talking how you might go about doing so really gets the wheels turning .
  • Work together to think of some crazy contraptions that would work.
  • You can even sketch them out – after all, that is what Rube did. He didn’t actually build the creations though, he just drew the comics.

Tasks from Past Rube Goldberg Contests

  • Apply a Band-Aid®
  • Open an Umbrella
  • Erase A Chalkboard
  • Zip A Zipper
  • Hammer A Nail
  • Inflate A Balloon and Pop It!
  • Assemble a Hamburger
  • Squeeze the Juice from an Orange
  • Shred 5 Sheets of Paper
  • Change Batteries and Turn on a 2-battery Flashlight
  • Select, Crush and Recycle and Empty Soft Drink Can
  • Select, Raise and Wave a U.S. Flag
  • Select, Clean and Peel an Apple
  • Set a Golf Tee and Tee Up a Golf Ball
  • Shut Off An Alarm Clock
  • Insert and Then Play a CD Disc
  • Put Coins in a Bank
  • Turn on a Radio
  • Make Cup of Coffee
  • Screw a Light Bulb into a Socket
  • Unlock a Combination Padlock
  • Toast a Slice of Bread
  • Put the Lid on a Ball Jar
  • Put Toothpaste on a Toothbrush

Easy Tasks for You to Try

If you want to try to build a crazy chain reaction yourself the first thing you need to do is choose a task.

We have listed a few easy Rube Goldberg tasks for you but feel free to come up with your own ideas.

  • Put a bottle in a bin
  • Water a plant
  • Shut a door
  • Turn something on or off (a light, a radio, an alarm)
  • Ring a bell
  • Break an egg
  • Sort coins
  • Make a ball go into a hole
  • Pop a balloon
  • Fire a projectile

Rube Goldberg Machine™ Materials

There are so many materials you can use when creating your invention.

Use things you already have around the house to start and add in items as you need them.

Here are our favorites.

THIS is the Coolest Item Ever to Add to Your Rube Goldberg™ Machine – Love it!

Some good material choices are:

    • LEGO Bricks – you can make things to knock down or build contraptions
    • paper tubes
    • funnels – use several for best effect
    • piping (clear is a great choice so you can see the ball go through!)
    • pvc elbows – for turns in tubing or to use to catapult a ball out of
    • tubing – flexible tube is a good idea for having liquid, marbles or other objects go through

Polycarbonate Tubing, 1 7/8Polycarbonate Tubing, 1 7/8LEGO Angry Birds 75824 Pig City TeardownLEGO  Pig City TeardownNopro Plastic Funnel, Set of 3Nopro Plastic Funnel, Set of 3

&

  • pulleysget a few of these and have elements of your machine drop onto other things
  • dominos – perfect for a long chain. These are used quite often.
  • butterfly nets – drop things into them and balance them to spin into something

300-piece Wooden Domino SetWooden Domino SetsStanley National Hardware 3203BC 1PulleyKOVOT Set Of 3 Telescopic Butterfly Nets - Extends From 15Set Of 3 Telescopic Butterfly Nets

&

Minions, 10 YardsMinions, 10 YardsBest Deal - 100 YardsBest Deal – 100 YardsPaint Splatter, 10 YardsPaint Splatter, 10 Yards

  • marbles and other small balls are perfect for knocking things over or rolling along a track.
  • string or twine – for tying things together and for swinging things into something else. I really love this twine by OXO. It comes with a holder and cutter and is a bargain for what you get.
  • gears! You are more than likely going to want to add some gears to your machine. They are super useful, plus they look cool.

Plastic DIY Gear KitPlastic DIY Gear KitPlastic Gear KitsPlastic Gear KitsGear Set Single DoubleGear Set Single Double

  • cardboard – so many uses! Use if for everything.
  • paperclips and binder clips – great for holding things together
  • pipe cleaners or chenille stems << best deal – hold things together, make things out of them or use them to drop onto another item.
  • bottles – plastic bottles of all sizes for dropping, rolling and even cutting apart
  • boxes (cereal, other)
  • cans – good for rolling or attaching a string to and swinging into something else.

Deli Smiling Binder Clips ,19mm ,Assorted Colors ,40 Clips per Tub (8487)Binder ClipsDarice 10843-99 350-Pack Chenille/Tinsel and Bump Chenille Stems, 12-Inch, Assorted350-Pack Chenille/Tinsel/Bump BAZIC Jumbo Color Paper Clips, 50 mm, Assorted, 100 Per PackJumbo Color Paper Clips, 100

&

  • cups – same purposes as cans and also for using liquids or for stacking a high pyramid to knock over (impressive!)
  • straws and jumbo straws – various uses, these make a colorful addition to your machine.
  • books – great for stacking either to make a tower to set other things on or domino style for knocking over.
  • balls (ping pong, tennis, golf, other) – perfect for any type of rolling through tubes, knocking things over or bouncing onto a target.
  • shoelaces – for tying things together or swinging things into something else

Kizmos Jumbo Flex Straws, Assorted, 125 CountJumbo Flex Straws, Assorted, 125WINOMO 12 Pairs Shoelaces 4512 Pairs ShoelacesBlue Sky 100 Count Plastic Cups, 5 oz, Clear100 Count Plastic Cups, 5 oz, Clear

&

  • Hot Wheels or Matchbox cars – for rolling along a track into another object or rolling into another object on a slanted surface.
  • hot wheel track has many uses.
  • game pieces (Mousetrap is great for this) – Game pieces are colorful and great for so many things.
  • rubber bands – for holding tubes together, and you can also set them to shoot into something else.
  • wooden train track – use the same way as Hot Wheels and Hot Wheels track
  • wooden trains – you can try a motorized train such as this to run into something

Mouse Trap Game (Amazon Exclusive)Mouse Trap (Amazon Exclusive)BAZIC Assorted Dimensions 227g/0.5 lbs. Rubber Bands, Multi ColorAsstd Dimensions & Colors 0.5 lbs. Hot Wheels Track Builder LoopHot Wheels Track Builder Loop

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  • marble run tracks – perfect, just perfect! These wonderful toys can add so much to your machine. They are both colorful and fun to watch. Use to trigger another reaction.

Marble Genius Marble Run Starter Set - 60 Translucent Marbulous Pieces + 10 Glass Marbles60 Translucent Pieces +  10 MarblesMarble Run - Deluxe 85 Piece Marble Track Game - Plus 50 MarblesDeluxe 85 Piece – Plus 50 MarblesMarbulous 48 Piece Marble Run with 16 marbles48 Piece Marble Run with 16 marbles

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  • craft or “popsicle’ sticks – try making a craft stick bomb like this one.
  • clothespins – great for holding things together. I like the mini clips the best.
  • thread spools – good for rolling into something or for tying and swinging
  • aluminum foil – ideal for creating any bits you need really. It can be shaped and wrapped around things to make them work better
  • wax paper – we have used this to rub against something when we couldn’t quite get it together.

Simply Art Wood Jumbo Craft Sticks 300 ct.Wood Jumbo Craft Sticks 300 ct.BAZIC Mini Colored Clothespin, 50 Per Pack, total 100Mini Colored Clothespin, 100Simply Art Wood Round Doll Pins 30 ct.Wood Round Doll Pins 30 ct.

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  • wooden blocks – build and topple or hold things up. You can also stack in a pyramid or gradations
  • Tinkertoys – so many useful pieces!
  • pull back toys – we like to use these to start off machines.
  • Slinky! – of course you have to include a slinky in one of your machines! For fun it’s a wonderful toy 😉

100 Blocks, 4 Colors and 9 Shapes100 Blocks, 4 Colors and 9 Shapes12 Pull Back Racer Cars12 Pull Back Racer CarsOriginal Slinky Brand SlinkyOriginal Slinky Brand Slinky

    • walking wind-up toys – these are another great way to get things started. Try this retro robot or this old-school walker.
    • woodpecker toy is a classic and is great for getting something going. 1st have something bump into it to get it started, then have it trigger another reaction
    • motorized toys (think Zuzu Pets) – for starting or ending

Kikkerland Sparklz Wind Up Gear BoxSparklz Wind Up Gear BoxSchylling Woodpecker ToyWoodpecker ToyToy Cubby Wind-Up Colorful Flipping Bugs - 6 piecesWind-Up Flipping Bugs – 6 piecesZhu Zhu Pets Hamster Toy RockyZhu Zhu Pets Hamster Toy RockyHEXBUG Nano , Colors May VaryHEXBUG Nano , Colors May VaryBits and Pieces - Wind Up Racing 4 Mice-Realistic Looking Mice, Carefree pet - Set of 4: black, gray, white and brown. Each Measures 4-1/24 Wind Up Racing Mice

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Here are a few additional things we use in our Rube Machines. Click pictures to view items.

Making a Rube Goldberg contraption can be as complicated as you wish to make it or it can be delightfully simple. Kids of any age can participate in building one.

These are just some ideas for you – the sky is the limit.

Have your kids think up a mundane task and see if they can build a Rube Goldberg Contraption to complete the job.

Give it a try. I guarantee that Rube Goldberg Machines™ will provide an opportunity for fun and learning.

Enjoy!

See more Rube Goldberg Ideas:

6 Rube Goldberg Machine Videos to Inspire You

Rube Goldberg Ideas: Open a Door With a Rube Goldberg Machine

Play and Learn with Rube Goldberg Machines

Are you looking for a super fun way to boost learning? Try these 10 incredible Rube Goldberg style toys. They are perfect! Click to see what toys will get your kids thinking and learning.

These Rube Goldberg Styles toys will help you create a wonderful RG Machine.

Check out the different track options and be sure you take a look at the Chaos Tower too!  Very cool.

Click through the link as it will give you additional ideas for the types of things you can use to make your own machine.

 

We will be adding more Rube fun to our site so be sure to stop back or subscribe to our newsletter for all the fun things we share.

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Pearl

Monday 21st of October 2019

Hi Sheila,

This is a great site! My son has a task to create a Rube Goldberg style device where his end result is to get a golf ball onto a tee that is fixed in place. Do you have any suggestions for a final action that would be good to accomplish this finale?

Appreciate all your help!

Sheila Rogers

Wednesday 4th of December 2019

Hi Pearl, I'm so sorry I didn't see this until now. I was ill. I suppose you have already figured out how to do this but just in case you have not, I'll give you an idea. If I had to get a golf ball onto a golf tee, I would try to have the ball roll down a tube or inclined plane and land on the tee. I'm not sure of the rules they set forth for this but if possible, I would have the tee positioned near walls or have something surrounding it so when the ball lands it stays on the tee. Thanks for stopping by and for your nice comment.

Patience

Friday 29th of December 2017

This is interesting. I have created multiple Rube Goldberg machines at school: for the G&T program and science class. I am doing the project again this year in science class, and I think that this was certainly helpful as a refresher. I have a suggestion for people in general: this is a kind of thing that is the most fun in groups. How I have done it in the past is that each person (or pair, in big groups) gets a section of the machine to work on, and do whatever they want in that part of the machine. It builds teamwork for each person to have to coordinate what they are doing with the person in front of and behind them.

Sheila Rogers

Monday 8th of January 2018

Hi - Thanks for the great suggestion! I know a lot of homeschool groups who do these together as well.

memebigboy

Sunday 5th of March 2017

Oh my god Sheila this helped me soooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo much!!! Thank you for everything you do big girl!

Sheila Rogers

Sunday 12th of March 2017

Memebigboy,

This is by far the most enthusiastic comment I have ever gotten and you are most welcome :)

SEth

Wednesday 1st of March 2017

What materials can we use for a lever??

Sheila Rogers

Thursday 2nd of March 2017

A simple lever can be made with any straight item such as a ruler and a pivot of some sort. So place the ruler on a block or a thick dowel and you have a lever. If you need something bigger, try a piece of board over an oatmeal container.

SEth

Wednesday 1st of March 2017

What are materials we can use for a pulley?

Sheila Rogers

Thursday 2nd of March 2017

You can purchase a pulley to use in your project and I have linked to a good one in the article. If you prefer to make your own pulley system try a hanger with a spool on it (you have to cut the bottom of the hanger to insert the spool) and use it with a piece of rope to pull your item up/down.

There are many different ways to make both levers and pulleys. Google them or google "simple machines" to learn more.