What is a Wacky Contraption?

It’s a wildly crazy machine which through a series of complicated (and hopefully really funny) steps, accomplishes a simple task, also known as a Chain Reaction machine.

rube goldberg, simple machines, maker, steam fest

Rube Goldberg (1884-1970) was a Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist who first came up with these convoluted concoctions.  If you’re not familiar with Rube Goldberg’s cartoons, go to the “Gallery” section of rubegoldberg.com. You can also find a complete biography for Rube at that site.

Wacky Contraptions, like Rube Goldberg’s comic creations, use everyday items (mostly junk!), typically tell a story and, most important of all, they make you LAUGH.  Here’s an awesome video that shows an example of one of these fantastical chain reaction machines!

Millions of makers, nerds and geeks make Wacky Contraptions. They can’t help themselves! The great news is that while they’re having fun creating wildly complex solutions to simple, everyday tasks they also happen to be incorporating elements of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (with Art and design thrown into the mix!). Building a Wacky Contraption has the added benefit of connecting wonderful DIYers together to work as a team. Then when they complete their machine, they get to link up to other team’s machines – creating a massive, and massively connected string of incredible events! We call that final event the Challenge Finale. Check out a video of the 2017 Challenge Finale here.

The 2019 Wacky Contraption Challenge

The 2nd annual Wacky Contraption Challenge will be taking place again this December 2019! Teams come together for this exciting showcase of their hand-built machines by linking them end to end with the purpose of moving a golf ball from one end to the other. A simple task made ridiculously, amazingly, wonderfully fun!

We make it easy!

Our free five-part curriculum and resources include:

    • Curriculum  appropriate for all ages (focused on 3rd through 8th graders, with tips for making it more challenging for older, advanced groups or simplifying for younger, less experienced groups. (PDF)
    • A cool Workbook (PDF)
    • Rules and guidelines (PDF) for your Wacky Contraption machine. **Want to build a machine with your group, but don’t want to be a part of the Challenge Finale? That’s fine by us! Our curriculum is free to use by anyone at any time. But, please try to come to the Finale as a spectator to cheer on the teams. 
    • Access to our free webinars in September and October to answer questions and share ideas with other facilitators.

Who Should Participate?

This challenge is great for:

    • After school groups
    • Weekend workshop series
    • STE(A)M teams and courses
    • Homeschool families/groups
    • Church Groups
    • Scouts, 4-H, etc
    • …and even ADULTS!

Why Should my group participate?

Top Five benefits of exploring simple machines:

  1. Solve real-world, relevant problems together. 
  2. Practice iteration skills and perseverance, aka F.A.I.L First Attempt in Learning
  3. Flex design thinking muscles.
  4. Supplies are low-cost and readily available.
  5. Wild, Wacky, and Outrageous ideas encouraged!

Deadlines and Events:

  • Team Registration– May – October 2019
  • $30 team registration payments due – October 31, 2019
  • Challenge Finale Event –  December 8, 2019 – afternoon- Location TBD
    This will be a fun-filled afternoon of presenting and watching the machines work together. Your team gets to meet the other Contraption builders.
  • Is your team extra-special!?  Do you want to be the “Launch” (first) group, or the “Finale” (last) group in the chain of wacky machines?  Let us know on your application!


Download links:

Simple Machine Curriculum

Simple Machine Workbook

Wacky Contraption Challenge Guidelines