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Purdue University students shattered the Guinness World Record for the largest Rube Goldberg machine ever in 2011 with a 244-step juggernaut that destroys the planet several times over before restoring hope by watering and growing a flower.
The Purdue Society of Professional Engineers' "Time Machine" traces world history from the Big Bang to an Apocalypse triggered by the Four Horsemen: Bob Barker, Dirty Harry, Darth Vader, and Woody the "Toy Story" cowboy. Along the way, the world is humorously destroyed by a meteor, an ice age, the Great Flood, world war and alien invasion.
"If Bruce Willis, Will Smith and Charlton Heston joined forces to build a Rube Goldberg machine, this is what it might look like," quipped Zach Umperovitch, captain of a team that has won three national championships and set two world records in the past seven years. "Of course, those guys wouldn't be as crazy as we are to invest 3,500 hours to accomplish a task a toddler can do in mere seconds."
Rube Goldberg's granddaughter Jennifer George praised the Purdue machine while attending the 2011 Rube Goldberg Machine Contest. George recently inherited the responsibility to keep alive the wry, whimsical spirit of her Pulitzer Prize-winning grandfather. His whacky cartoon machines designed to accomplish everyday tasks in convoluted but ingenious ways remain seared in pop culture lexicon.
"The Purdue contraption spoke to his humor the most," said George. "You have a smile on your face from the moment you walk in here."
Purdue's machine documents monumental human endeavors such as erecting the pyramids and flying to the moon and more frustrating modern "accomplishments" such as the LP record and Microsoft Windows.
Captain Zach Umperovitch said the 17 team members spent 3,500 man hours building the machine.
This is the fifth time Umperovitch has competed in the contest. He said he's been a fan of each of the machines he has worked on. "This year's machine may be the most aesthetically pleasing and is probably the most reliable," he said.
Machines must use at least 20 steps to complete the task in no more than two minutes. Teams have three tries to complete two runs. Points are deducted if students have to assist the machine once it has started.
Rube Goldberg specialized in drawing whimsical machines with complex mechanisms to perform simple tasks. He earned a degree in engineering from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1904. He worked as an engineer for the city of San Francisco for less than a year before becoming a sports cartoonist for the San Francisco Chronicle. He received a Pulitzer Prize in 1948 for his political cartoons published by the New York Sun.