Rube Goldberg competition sets record for inefficiency

Michigan university takes the prize for creating the most roundabout way of carrying out a simple process. Photos: College students the picture of inefficiency

A team of college students from Ferris State University in Michigan took inefficiency to new heights over the weekend with a machine that needs 345 separate procedures to make a glass of orange juice.

The group's Toy Factory beat out seven other student groups at the annual Rube Goldberg competition at Purdue University. Named for the cartoonist who drew fanciful machines, the idea is to make ornate, complex devices to conduct simple tasks.

This year's challenge involved taking an orange, squeezing out the juice into a pitcher, then pouring it into a glass using 20 or more steps. In previous contests, machines have had to peel an apple, toast a piece of bread or put a stamp on an envelope, among other tasks.

The Ferris students hooked up a variety of toys--a slinky, an Operation game, a jack-in-the-box, a bunch of dominoes and a hobby horse, among others--in constructing their machine. The team spent 3,000 hours building it, but the effort showed in the results. The 345 steps that Toy Factory required to complete its task set a new record.

"We've come to the competition for the past four years, and after last year's disappointment when our machine had a malfunction, we really wanted to come back and win this year," Tom Sybrandy, a senior at Ferris State and captain of the team, told the Purdue News Service. "We were worried because the competition is fierce, but when we did the first run without any problems, we just had a sigh of relief."

The old record was set by the Purdue Society of Professional Engineers last year with a machine that needed 215 steps to shred five sheets of paper.

Second place went to Purdue for its "00J: The Orange is Not Enough" device. The machine included a secret agent who broke into a casino, drove a miniature Lotus and then took off on a parachute to help the orange reach its destination. It took 155 steps and also took about 3,000 hours to build.

Texas A&M took third place with a machine that squeezed the orange in 59 steps. The machines have to go through their routines twice, and points are deducted for any human assistance.

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