Zip a Zipper

rube goldberg stamp

Zipping a zipper is simple, right? Not if you're zipping as part of a Rube Goldberg Machine Contest. In 2014, teams of students nationwide and internationally will compete to engineer the most complicated, ingenious machine they can to zip a simple zipper. That's the prizewinning goal for contestants in the Rube Goldberg Machine Contests for high school and college and the International Online Rube Goldberg Machine contest for ages 11-14.

Who or what is a Rube Goldberg? Rube Goldberg was a Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist, whose cartoons about wacky inventions are inspiring students today to engineer gizmos that solve simple problems by the least simple means. Depending on the level of their machines' complexity, Rube Goldberg contest teams enlist all kinds of materials including gears, paper towel tubes, marbles, dominoes, string, ping pong balls, toy cars, wheels, funnels, and even flowing water. The one ingredient that's critical for all competing inventions is creativity.

At, learners can get silly, scientific and creative with Rube Goldberg-themed STEM activities. Accomplish a simple task in no less than 10 steps in Design Your Own Rube Goldberg Machine. Construct a tricky track for a ball to reach its goal in Tinker Ball. Explore force and motion to move a tennis ball in Homemade Rube Goldberg Machine. Connect virtual machine parts to complete a task in the online activity Power Play

Need ideas to build your own contraption? Watch videos of Rube Goldberg machines in action, and for learners who get inspired to compete, there's still time to register for the 2014 Rube Goldberg Machine Contests

(Rube Goldberg stamp image from U.S. Postal Service)