Pure Simplicity.note As you raise spoon of soup (A) to your mouth it pulls string (B), thereby jerking ladle (C) which throws cracker (D) past parrot (E). Parrot jumps after cracker and perch (F) tilts, upsetting seeds (G) into pail (H). Extra weight in pail pulls cord (I), which opens and lights automatic cigar lighter (J), setting off sky-rocket (K) which causes sickle (L) to cut string (M) and allow pendulum with attached napkin to swing back and forth thereby wiping off your chin. After the meal, substitute a harmonica for the napkin and you'll be able to entertain the guests with a little music.
Spencer: Hey, come check out my automatic fish feeder! I'm making it a lot more complicated than it needs to be! Freddy: Why? Spencer: Because it's fun!
— iCarly explains how 90% of all these contraptions come to be
One small thing happens, causing something else to happen, causing something else to happen, causing something else to happen, and so on until after all of that, something (usually quite trivial, like turning on a shower) happens. The joke is that it would have been easier to just turn on the shower than set it all up. Essentially it's a Zany Scheme performed by a machine.
The name is taken from the drawings by American cartoonist Rube Goldberg, which had a ridiculously complicated sequence of events to do something as trivial as giving someone a back scrub. Obviously, this is different from a traditional invention in that it gives a complicated solution to a simple problem, not the other way around. This device is also known as a Heath Robinson contraption in Britain (after cartoonist William Heath Robinson whose ideas came before Goldberg), or a Pythagoras switch (ピタゴラスイッチ) in Japan, among other terms used around the world.
As with the Unspoken Plan Guarantee, the efficacy of a planned contraption is generally inversely proportional to the amount of its workings known to the audience.
Necro Non Sequitur is often an example of this. Compare Disaster Dominoes, and Butterfly of Doom. The Chessmaster is often responsible for these, either for fun or as part of the plot. Gambit Roulette is the using the same principle when compared to plans of some kind. If the contraption is lethal, then it's safe to say that Rube Goldberg Hates Your Guts.
Awesome, but Impractical is in full play here since many things they do are easily done by hand but They look damn cool!
You can read more under Rube-Goldberg Machine on That Other Wiki.
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This commercial for the Honda Accord: Apart from merging footage from two shots, there's no CGI involved. Three Accords were cannibalized for the commercial.
In an issue of Exiles, the titular team's mission was to buy a danish. Buying said danish led to a sequence of events that thwarted an alien invasion.
If any character in The Beano or The Dandy invents a machine, it will invariably be made out of bits of 2x4 sloppily nailed together, knotted together bits of string, old bicycle wheels and anything else that was lying around in the shed. A Wellington boot on a stick is often part of the design, regardless of the machine's intended function.
In the Italian comic book Cattivik once was published a story that consisted of just the workings of a gargantuan Robinson Goldberg Contraption.
It was the basis for a "Spy Vs. Spy" episode in issue 506 of Mad (published in 2010).
In the Final Destination series of films, a number of characters escape Death's original design due to a premonition. In an attempt to restore order, they are killed one by one by a series of seemingly unrelated events in this fashion, with some sort of malfunction leading to another and so forth.
The even less effective breakfast machine in Brazil.
Also from Disney, the various inventions of Belle's father Maurice, in Beauty and the Beast. They actually do what he wants them to do, but some of them (e.g. the wood-chopping contraption) are rather overly convoluted.
The log chopper borders on Not an Example, since from a technical standpoint it does work like a traditional invention: chopping wood into logs by hand is a very labor-intensive and time-consuming job. And since the movie is apparently set in an unspecified time where saw mills don't exist, any machine capable of speeding the process up considerably is a technological improvement.
At the very end of Waiting, it turns out the seemingly random items adorning a wall of the restaurant comprise one of these.
The director merely wanted it to look like it might work, going for the "random crap" look the restaurant was based on. It was the set designers who went out of their way to make sure the thing actually worked.
Ernest's house in Ernest Goes To Jail is full of these types of machines. They're all even synchronized to Ernest's walking speed.
The automatic gate opener at Mikey's house in The Goonies was one of these.
Not to mention all the "booty traps" they encounter...
The Way Things Go, by Swiss artists Peter Fischli & David Weiss records a giant, 100 foot long Robinson Goldberg Contraption as it slowly destroys itself with fire, gas, gravity and chemistry. The entire process takes 29 minutes, 45 seconds. Unlike most examples, this machine does not actually accomplish anything outside of a chain reaction of moving, melting, popping and exploding.
One such contraption is seen at work at the beginning of The Rock. Characters don't pretend it's anything but way to fight boredom.
The same filmmakers (Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet) go even more heavily into Rube Goldberg situations in their later film, The City of Lost Children (Jeunet even says so on the DVD's commentary track), most notably in an elaborate sequence in which a single tear drop causes a chain reaction of events happening all around the city, ultimately leading to a barge crashing into a dock.
The destruction sequence of the One-Eye's War Machine in The Thief and the Cobbler, more so in the recobbled cut. The full version from the recobbled cut can be seen here, starting at about 2:45.
In Edward Scissorhands there is a highly-stylized contraption used to prepare and bake cookies by the Inventor early in the film.
In The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, the Dwarves use one where the end result is dipping Smaug in molten gold. Unfortunately, this doesn't faze the dragon and only pisses him off even more.
Shoot 'em Up. In order to get into the Abandoned Warehouse he's using as a home, Smith takes a rat out of a cage, removes a brick from the wall and pushes the rat inside. The rat runs down a tunnel into a wire basket on a pulley which drops from the rat's weight, pushing down a latch to open the door.
A device in Hatari! is identified as a "Rube Goldberg."
Charlie Chaplin's film Modern Times: In the eating machine scene, a device that makes people eat without using their hands is tested on the factory worker played by Chaplin. Due to a malfunction it ends up rubbing a corn in Chaplin's face and pouring soup on his shirt, among other things.
Many of the machines created by Professor Branestawm (the first book, The Incredible Adventures of Professor Branestawm, was illustrated by Heath Robinson).
One of the pages of I Spy: School Days had an elaborate Rube Goldberg puzzle to pop a balloon.
Not set up or planned by any of the characters (unless you take the viewpoint that God counts, the text is ambiguous on this point), but the sequence of events which lead up to the final resolution of Adam Felber's comic novel Schroedinger's Ball fits the trope perfectly. The book even comes with a helpful diagram. One could argue this results in a Necro Non Sequiturhowever, the only one who actually died was dead anyway, only nobody had observed that he was dead, so the possibility of him being alive existed until somebody actually looked in the basement ... which just happened to be the exact same time the truck hit him. It Makes Sense in Context, really. At least as much as anything does.
Andrew Henry's Meadow by Doris Burn is a children's book about a young boy whose contraptions drive his family crazy. Feeling unappreciated, Andrew Henry runs away and builds himself a house in the titular meadow. Other local children who also feel unappreciated by their families (for various reasons) soon follow and Andrew Henry builds specialized houses for each of them. http://www.amazon.com/Andrew-Henrys-Meadow-Doris-Burn/dp/0970739923/ref=ntt_at_ep_dpt_1
Live Action TV
The deaths in Dead Like Me were frequently caused by things like this.
The Movie started with a textbook example. Naturally, it was a suicide machine. The man was an engineer, and was more pleased that it worked than anything else.
iCarly: Spencer builds one so that he won't forget to feed his fish. It works until Carly tells him that he has to remember to reset the machine every day, thus rendering the device pointless.
MythBusters built one of these for their Christmas special.
The X-Files had an episode called "The Goldberg Variation" involving an extremely lucky man who would be prevented by attempts to kill him via absolutely ridiculous coincidences that were usually caused by these Goldberg/Robinson sequences. He also constructs Goldberg-type devices, just for fun.
The Japanese educational TV show Pythagora Switch featured quite a lot of these.
In Not the Nine O'Clock News, the sequence starts with Rowan Atkinson as a bored policeman turning a handle. The camera follows the linkage from the handle, until it ends up at the rotating "New Scotland Yard" sign.
In an episode of the 80s revival Twilight Zone ("The Curious Case of Edgar Witherspoon") an old man has built an incredibly complicated device made of dangling interwoven parts made out of junk, claiming it needs to be maintained carefully or disasters will happen. A man sent to investigate him realizes that because the old man failed to add a part requested of him by an unseen and unheard guide, a small Pacific island was swallowed whole by a tidal wave, just as the old man said it would. It turns out that he was fated all along to take the old man's place, rushing to a dumpster at the invisible guide's request to look for a broken doll and a tambourine, wondering how he'll find those before next Thursday...
An episode of Sesame Street had Oscar the Grouch creating such a device for opening his trash can lid. An animated short also displayed the alphabet using one of these.
Kermit the Frog demonstrated one in the early days, but none of the components of the machine worked.
Pob's Programme had a segment set in the garden where a series of rotating umbrellas, swinging poles, winding windlasses and so on would result in a display of colors or similar. The creator would then ask "again?" before the whole thing magically reset itself for another go.
In Modern Family, Luke and Manny prepared one to get even with Lily (whom they were jealous off for everyone else thinking she was so cute), triggered by picking up a cookie to make a mess in the kitchen. Cameron takes the cookie instead and ends up slipping on spilt milk and breaking his back.note In reality, he was only pretending to have a broken back so that he can search for a Tupperware mold he claimed Claire never returned.
Elementary's title sequence follows one whose end result is to drop a cage on a figurine. It's probably meant as a metaphor for how Sherlock Holmes ties together seemingly meaningless scraps of information to catch criminals.
An episode of the Hulu original series Deadbeat has the ghost of Rube Goldberg himself trying to set up one of these on a metaphysical level. Once set into motion, it triggered a series of events that resulted in Goldberg's long-lost descendants finally meeting each other.
Supermarioglitchy4: One of these is featured in "Cooking with Bowser and Mario 2!", all just to get a pack of Yoshis for use in an omelet (here called "Yoshi Omelette").
The music video for "An Honest Mistake" by The Bravery uses one of these.
OK Go's music video for "This Too Shall Pass" features a quite complex and blissfully pointless contraption. That eventually includes the band members themselves.
X-Press 2 feat. David Byrne's "Lazy" features a man who stays on the couch all day, doing things like combing hair, getting food and doing chores by many of these. Worth watching for when one of his things fails.
Jason in FoxTrot sometimes designs these. See here for an example.
A spiritual successor, Crazy Machines, was released, which seems to use roughly the same concept with more of an emphasis on not only physics, but also element-based reactions.
Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge had LeChuck capturing Guybrush and putting him in one of these, whose ultimate goal was to lower him into a pit of acid. There's no actual reason for it, as opposed to just dropping him into the pit, other than to give Guybrush a chance to escape.
In the Interactive Fiction game Rematch the protagonist is stuck in a "Groundhog Day" Loop where he and his two friends are killed when an SUV crashes through the front window of the pool hall. Each cycle allows you one move before disaster strikes: undoing resets the world to just before the accident, but with some things slightly rearranged. So while the given solution will not work on every cycle, eventually you learn that Ines will do anything Nick dares her to do, that she can hit the loudmouth with a page from her Far Side calendar if it's wrapped around the cueball, that the loudmouth will yell out pretty much anything that has a number in it, that the distracted girl behind the counter will repeat the number the loudmouth yells when she calls time on one of the tables, that one particular table has an irate player who nearly strikes the ceiling fan control switch with his cuestick before someone tells him that it's not their table being called. Accomplishing this will in turn cause a ceiling fan to fall, meaning everyone's attention is on the front window when the SUV crashes through and react in time to avoid it.
In order to get a Babel fish in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy computer game, you have to set up a completely absurd series of events that will ultimately cause the fish to land right in your ear.
Lucasfilm Games' Night Shift essentially is about keeping a Rube Goldberg machine running smoothly.
Nancy Drew's friend Bess has to build one in Legend of the Crystal Skull (Mystery #17). This is justified because the beyond-improbable setup keeps its victim enthralled long enough to catch him off-guard.
Evil Genius allowed you to create chains of traps that trigger one another. The more traps an enemy agent triggers in rapid succession, the more bonus cash you are awarded. A single trap triggering does not offer any reward (other than dealing with that pesky, pesky agent).
Similarly, Trapt gives you large bonuses for setting up traps in such a way that a victim will fall into several in quick succession before getting flung into one of the mansion's in-built hazards.
No love for Trap Gunner? There's very little that's more satisfying than watching your opponent flying around the room through 6 different push traps, before landing in a pitfall right next to 3 bombs and a remote detonator.
Myst III Exile's Age of Amateria is one giant relay puzzle.
Garry's Mod users are fond of constructing these, usually relying on little more than Source's physics engine, spawned props, and some ropes. Andhigh explosives.
While Minecraft's physics do not seem to allow the construction of many mechanical devices, this video will show you how it's done.
Puzzles are often solved by tweaking seemingly unrelated objects until they react to each other and set each other off in just the right way.
A more traditional application is the murder machine in the junkyard basement, which was based on the one Kamila built for her mother that 'accidentally' killed her. It was only supposed to light the candles on her birthday cake. However the Big Bad used his powers to make it so it killed her out of revenge. One of the side characters spent years finding out how the 'murder' happened and concluded that it shouldn't have.
There's the Gold Ribbon Grocers in Fallout 3, where an entire Rube Goldberg Device has been set up as an Easter Egg. Upon entering, painted arrows on the floor lead you to a pressure plate to deliberately set off so you can watch it go off (it includes a domino effect using a row of boxes of detergent and several small explosions) and get several goodies when it's finished.
A few levels in Angry Birds have Goldbergian layouts, especially the Golden Egg levels - fling a bird at a pebble or TNT pack and watch as it sets off a chain reaction of flying stones and TNT explosions.
There used to be a game for early models of Apple PC, called "Those Amazing Reading Machines", that was all about this.
LittleBigPlanet, to the extent that they can make music with their devices.
The bizarre door puzzles in Mystery Case Files: Ravenhearst (and some of the other Ravenhearst-arc games) are very much like this, to the point where The Other Wiki makes the direct comparison between the two.
This is basically what R.O.B. the robot is. To move a column in Gyromite, you have to get it to pick up a gyro, place it in the spinner, and then lower the spinning gyro onto a lever to push a button on the second controller. This could be much more quickly and easily accomplished by simply pressing the button yourself.
The Surprising Adventures of Munchausen includes several sequences where you have to manipulate objects to perform a chain of events resulting in such feats as shooting a duck and then having it land on your plate fully cooked or filling all of the glasses in a tavern with beer within a minute.
Rube Works, the official game of Rube Golderg's cartoons, combines the concept of The Incredible Machine with faithful conversions of the cartoons. Rather than rewarding elegant solutions, the game rewards inelegant solutions, awarding the player more points the more parts are used, all the way up to the original design. Since the engine includes pre-programmed interactions between certain pairs of objects, there's even some cases of The Dev Team Thinks of Everything.
Johny: Rob will smell the biscuits and gravy on the plate and come to try and eat it, tugging on the rope which'll pull the needle and the bowling ball will roll down and hit Abraham Lincoln, who'll get pissed off and throw his top hat, pressing the button that'll set the mice loose that'll stampede on the gunpowder that'll ignite on the hot oven which will set the smoke alarm off and make Rob get up. My elaborate plan cannot fail!
"Don't Sleep, Robby!":
Johny: Haha! Rob will smell this burrito on the plate and come to try and eat it, tugging on the rope that'll pull the thumb tack so the tennis rack will fall and hit George Washington in the face, who'll get pissed off and throw an axe that'll release the gerbils that'll chew through the string that'll trigger the catapult that'll shoot the golfball at the button that'll turn on the...
A one-shot gag in AH.com: The Series had the ship's reactor's control rods triggered by a complex system of events including falling dominoes, fans powering sailboats and candles burning threads. At the end, chief engineer Dave Howery remarks on how he's glad they've managed to simplify the process so much compared to what they had before.
This video is an interesting case as it combines this trope with a variant of Brick Joke. A Super Mario World romhack that plays itself and its own special music that starts off from a special stage called "you!!!". The next stage plays entirely by itself, and at the end the world after that is called "Thank".
On July 4, 2010, Google commemorated both Independence Day and Rube Goldberg's birthday by displaying a special logo on its homepage, in which a Goldberg-style contraption hoisted a U.S. flag and shot off a skyrocket. Watch it in action on YouTube.
The Ghost in the Machine episode of "Deadbeat" features the ghost of Rube Goldberg setting up a metaphysical Rube Goldberg Device.
SCOOBY DOO!!! It doesn't matter what version it is, it is a GUARANTEE a Robinson Goldberg Contraption is going to show up at LEAST once an episode, and quite a few times in each movie. Unfortunately, they seldom work as planned. For example, in one incarnation, Fred's overly complicated plan successfully traps himself and the gang, leaving the monster standing there.
One later episode of Dexter's Laboratory began with Dexter trying to create "free energy" with his highest-of-high-tech new invention. It fails. The plot quickly shifts to an unwanted visit to his grandfather's house... where the old man succeeded in creating free energy with one of these.
It's only discovered after Dexter leaves.
Several Looney Tunes shorts make use of this trope, usually accompanied by a version of Raymond Scott's "Powerhouse" music.
And all Road Runner cartoons. All of them.
Of course, they (nearly) all backfire. Acme must have outsourced all their manufacturing to the lowest bidder.
Tom and Jerry: In "Designs on Jerry", there's an entire blueprint worth of this - and the blueprint Jerry asking for the real Jerry's help to rewrite the trap so it gets Tom instead.
On an episode of Family Guy, Peter orders a breakfast-making machine that works just like this. After going through the sequence, all it does it shoot him, causing Peter to wonder what the point of it all was.
Another short included a Rube Goldberg machine which was powered by a man in a shed named Rube Goldberg..
In an episode of The Simpsons ("Rosebud"), Homer is in a dungeon at the plant, manually turning a massive gear around while a masked man whips him. Pan up past a complicated series of gears, and we find Lenny and Carl in the cafeteria... wondering what makes the dessert sampler rotate.
In another episode, an out-of-control soccer riot leads Homer to build a Goldberg-like device involving a flashlight, a magnifying glass, an alarm clock, and a fish, for the apparent purpose of alerting them when someone tries to open their front door. Since he and Marge were watching the door to see if the device would work, it's kind of pointless. Then someone steals the fish.
Wallace's devices in Wallace & Gromit (especially the whole system for arranging breakfast). Justified, sorta, in that Wallace is an inventor by trade.
Also sort of applies to when Wallace gets ready to wash someone's windows in A Close Shave. Wallace goes through a Thunderbirds-esque sequence of going down slides and having machines put his helmet on and sitting him on his bike, and then has Gromit just walking through a door next to the bike and climbing into the sidecar. Wallace then uses a mechanical foot to start his bike for him, which involves moving his OWN foot out of the way.
Likewise, the similar sequence in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit that involves a mechanical hand cranking the van for them. He probably had to modify the van to use a hand-crank instead of an ignition key to begin with.
In first episode of Darkwing Duck, Darkwing has a invention to make breakfast while training. Dodging knives, catching cereal shot from a gun, karate chopping juice, dodging flames to heat his eggs. He always misses the milk, which is from the refrigerator being launched on top of him.
This is used in the comic, too, where it becomes a hybrid of Chekhov's Gun and Running Gag. Goslyn actually uses this to combat the bad-guys coming after her. (This doesn't stop them that much, until the fridge flies on them.)
Leonardo Da Vinci's spaceship launcher in the Futurama episode "The Duh-Vinci Code".
Parodied in "The Tip of the Zoidberg" with the Murdolator. About halfway through it gets damaged and the whole thing falls apart catastrophically. Bender calls for a reset.
Two of Disney's Three Little Pigs shorts have Practical Pig build elaborate machines to punish The Big Bad Wolf. "Three Little Wolves" has a "wolf pacifier" that hits the Wolf with every item imaginable before tar and feathering him and launching him out of a cannon. In "The Practical Pig" it's a lie detector that when it detects a lie restrains and either spanks the liar or washes his mouth out with soap. Or both.
The James clones build a rather large one in "James II" as a trap for the Banana Guards. It topples under its own weight.
The climax of The Thief and the Cobbler includes an impossible Rube Goldberg device-like sequence resulting in the destruction of a highly advanced war machine. The sequence was started by the Cobbler of the story shooting a tack at the main villain and missing.
What really killed the machine, however, was the giant vats of molten lava that were tipped over by the Rube Goldberg sequence, setting the machine on fire.
In American Dad!, Roger is planning a steak dinner for Francine and Stan, and wants to get an expensive bottle of wine, which isn't made anymore. They show a montage of one, then the power goes out. Roger's intent is to wait for Greg and Terry (who have the last bottle) to notice and steal the bottle. Francine is annoyed and simply takes it from the two. Roger's plan wasn't finished; Francine grabs a cord and gets cannonballed out. Roger wanted both of the steaks.
Subverted in the Phineas and Ferb episode, "I, Brobot". After Phineas explains his plans to build robot versions of himself and Ferb, you see a ridculous contraption, which includes a tuba, a plunger, and a banana peel. When Phineas and Ferb activate the robot building device, they turn away from the ridiculous contraption towards a simple box which the robots walk out of.
Phineas: I'm so glad we used our new android building device instead of that old dinosaur.
Ned's Newt: Ned and Newton do a short one at the start of "Jurassic Joyride".
In The Wrong Trousers, there is a device that drops a person out of bed, dresses them, shoots a bit of jam that collides with a toast and then lands the toast on the plate. Later, Grommit drops from the bed, but he facing the wrong way. The clothes are put on backwards, and when the drop of jam shoots out, there's no toast to intercept it, so it lands on his face.
Obviously, the drawings of Rube Goldberg and Heath Robinson were the inspiration for this trope.
The Danish cartoonist Storm P did similar drawings.
As did several successive cartoonists working for the Spanish comic magazine TBO (the inventions were credited to "Professor Franz from Copenhaguen")