Thursday, March 04, 2010


I refer, of course, to the late Mr. Reuben Lucius Goldberg, an early-20th Century Renaissance man. A sculptor, engineer, inventor, writer, and cartoonist, he founded the National Cartoonists Society... and every year, the Society presents the Reuben Award to the Outstanding Cartoonist of the Year.

Goldberg created several successful (if little remembered) comic strips, including Boob McNutt and Ike and Mike (They Look Alike). His most enduring contribution to American popular culture, however, was the Rube Goldberg machine, a device of ridiculous complexity that would perform a basic, mundane task. Using a maximum of effort to achieve minimal results, the “Rube Goldberg” has now entered the language: Webster’s defines it as “accomplishing by extremely complex, roundabout means what seemingly could be done simply.”

Goldberg’s legacy lives on as people create - mostly for entertainment - his eponymous devices. Witness this Honda advertisement from 2003, “Cog”:

Amazing. But now the group OK Go has ratcheted up the Goldberg-Meter to a new level with their music video “This Too Shall Pass.” Check it out:

If you hate the music, mute the sound... but by all means, watch the video. It’s unbelievable.

Nitpickers may say that the machines in these videos are not true Rube Goldbergs, since they don’t actually accomplish an everyday task that would be more easily done by simpler means. Squeezing toothpaste onto a toothbrush, for example... or wiping your chin with a napkin. But that’s mere pedantry. It’s all about the entertainment value, innit?

And old Rube would be proud, I’m sure.

[Tip o’ th’ Elisson fedora to the Mistress of Sarcasm, who turned me on to the OK Go video.]

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