The Dad’s Guide to Explaining Rube Goldberg Machines

  by Andrew Wolgemuth

As you well know, fatherhood requires much of us. The dadcraft we need and utilize is a toolbox containing a breadth of skills, knowledge, and general chutzpah. And explaining. Our kids need things explained. Childhood is nothing if not a gradual figuring out the way of things, and the process of figuring out leads to questions, and these questions are frequently directed to us for explanation.

And so, it’s only a matter of time until you hear that daunting, dreaded question: “Dad, what’s a Rube Goldberg machine?”

You could talk, of course, about Reuben Garrett Lucius Goldberg, the typical renaissance man/cartoonist. A sketch artist/ author/engineer/sculptor who became famous for his cartoon drawings of complicated, convoluted machines and mechanisms that did relatively simple tasks. But that’s not really what your kids are looking for.

Alternatively, you could play the classic Mouse Trap board game, attempting to demonstrate the construction and execution of an actual Rube Goldberg machine. But (and you know this well if you’ve ever “played” this “game”) Mouse Trap is actually an excellent demonstration of a Rube Goldberg machine that doesn’t work. At least not during the first forty-three attempts.

Best, we would suggest, is to let Mr. Joseph Herscher answer the question for you. The brains behind YouTube’s “Joseph’s Machines,” Herscher creates remarkably complicated, convoluted machines and mechanisms that perform relatively simple tasks.

Start simple: The Stamp Licker

Get a little more complicated: The Page Turner

Get practical: The Plant Waterer

Finish with the Grand Finale: The Cake Server

And here’s an interview with Joseph himself.

They say that good storytellers “show” and don’t merely “tell.” So too dadcraftsmen answering the age-old question about Rube Goldberg Machines.


As you explain/show Rube Goldberg Machines to your kids, don’t forget that sometimes (temporary) confusion is a good thing. And other times you just want clarity and guidance; we’ve got some dadcraft guides for you.

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