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 annual Wacky Contraption Challenge was super fun, but sadly won’t be happening in 2021 or beyond!

Teams came 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!

Check out our FREE curriculum and host your own mini Wacky Contraption Challenge.

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. 

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!

Now go on… start building!

Download links:

Simple Machine Curriculum

Simple Machine Workbook

Wacky Contraption Challenge Guidelines