Rube Goldberg

With all this talk of ScavHunt, I feel the need to declare that you shouldn't need an excuse to be creative and off-the-wall. However, considering how daily life will conspire to suck you into routines, it never hurts to have one. That was one of the key motivating observations behind the founding of the Scavenger Hunt -- the idea that University of Chicago students get so enmeshed in studies and other forms of directed thought, that they desperately needed an outlet, to be prodded into completely unproductive (from the viewpoint of academics, anyway) wild creativity.

This is hardly controversial, and this need is also hardly limited to college students.

Here in Minneapolis, there is an outfit called Leonardo's Basement that has been around for a while, doing K-12 enrichment-type programs aimed at, basically, getting kids to imagine things, and then make them. ("Mixing art, science and technology," as the website says. Hey, that's kind of my childhood in a nutshell, except more tax-exempt.) They have (as the name suggests) a delightful basement space under a coffee shop, which, when I first saw it, struck me as the template for the ultimate ScavHunt team headquarters. I may, in fact, have drooled a little. Also, immediately reverted to about age twelve for a bit.

More recently, they spawned an offshoot project for adults called Studio Bricolage. This takes the form of themed art-and-technology project parties once a month. Frequently the theme has been a material -- plastics, ice, pumpkins -- accompanied by area artists showing off what you can do with the medium; attendees are encouraged to make something of their own with some help from the Studio. However, my favorite one so far (and not just because I actually managed to show up that night) was the Rube Goldberg Party.

I rather liked this one because it was so open-ended and ambitious in scope -- breaking up into groups of two or three, each group set out to build a component of a Rube Goldberg machine, using whatever came to hand from among the Studio's considerable supplies. The only real requirement was that each segment could be activated by the piece before, and could activate the piece after; thus the only coordination needed was that you talk to your neighbors.

While I did notice some glitches that wouldn't fly in any real Scav team's headquarters (for instance, they had several drills but almost no bits; or the shelf full of staples and staple-guns, but none that matched the other), in true Scav form we managed to get everything to come together and work at the last possible moment. The video above shows the final run, which actually did work from end to end, even though the footage has been spliced a bit to show some bits more clearly. Below, check out some raw-er footage of the test run about twenty minutes before that.

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This page contains a single entry by Milligan published on May 22, 2008 12:00 PM.

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