A 36-step pencil sharpener devised by the home team won the Rube Goldberg Machine Contest in West Lafayette, Ind., on Saturday by making a simple task hard.
Goldberg, who died in 1970, was a cartoonist famous for his humorously complicated machines to perform simple tasks. In keeping with his spirit, student teams from three universities invented machines designed to sharpen a wooden pencil in less than five minutes, with at least 25 steps.Purdue University engineering students won with a contraption called "Watch-N-Ponder," in part because, unlike the entries from the University of Detroit and the University of Wisconsin at Madison, no one had to nudge and prod their machine to the finish line.
The Watch-N-Ponder was set in motion by placing a test paper in the hand of a doll dressed like a student, which activated a panic sign. Thirty-some-odd steps later, a newly sharpened pencil fell through a series of guides into the arms of the doll, who then exclaimed with a cartoon-style caption, "Whew, Thanks!"
A $100 second-place prize went to the University of Wisconsin team for "Bucky Badger's Hydro-Electro-Mechanical All-Purpose Pencil Sharpener." The badger is the Wisconsin school symbol.