intersection 11.27.12

Rube Goldberg
Every Person in New York

THE MORNING LINE "Quite a traffic jam we got going on, all of civilization's wrong turns lead us here, without insurance or title."
The Colossus of New York by Colson Whitehead

A Rube Goldberg machine, according to Webster's, is "a comically involved, complicated invention, laboriously contrived to perform a simple operation" – for example, to unfold a napkin.

We started thinking about Goldberg after seeing this video on YouTube. There are lots of Goldberg-inspired videos there, but we like this one because it's a R.G. Voting Machine, and it strikes us as reliable as any by Diebold.

Goldberg was born in 1883 in San Francisco. He moved to NY as a young man, getting a job as a cartoonist for the NY Evening Mail and the NY Evening Journal, later at the NY Journal American. Some of the 'inventions' that Goldberg drew were attributed to Professor Lucifer Gorgonzola Butts, a name that can not be improved upon. Goldberg won the Pulitzer Prize in 1948 for an editorial cartoon called "Peace Today" about the atom bomb.

You can find his influence in many places. In Brooklyn, for instance, where Joseph Herscher does delightful Goldberg variations. Two recent examples: The Page Turner and Man Against Machine.

In music videos: OK Go's This Too Shall Pass, would, we think, have made Sir Rube smile.

On television: One of our all-time favorite commercials was the Honda Cog in which a small cog launches a crazy chain reaction, using mostly car parts of all sizes. The Honda Cog was inspired by Goldberg, but also by The Way Things Go, the work of Swiss artists Peter Fischli and David Weiss. You can see an abbreviated version here.

Sculptor Mark Perez built a Goldberg-vibed Life-Size Mousetrap that went on tour in 2011. And on the subject of mousetraps, you'll find Rube inspiration in the closet where you store your old board games: Mousetrap was introduced by Ideal in 1963 (it's now made by Hasbro). Or build a better mousetrap, with RG kits, out of print but available on eBay.

There's a whole category of sculpture called rolling ball sculpture you can find online. They're not exactly Rube Goldberg machines, but they are kinetic, fun to watch, and you can detect a Goldberg influence in many of them. One artist we like is Mark Bischof from the Netherlands. See his creations here.

Even on college campuses: There's an annual machine contest—the 2013 task will be to hammer a nail.

And finally, the LEGO Great Ball Contraption by Akiyuki. Awesome.

Jason Polan started Every Person in New York in March of 2008. He plans on working on the project until it is finished. Look for Every Person in New York on Tuesdays in MUG and daily at Jason's site.

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