If you’ve seen one Rube Goldberg machine, you’ve sort of seen them all. Or, as David Dvir puts it, "a Rube is a Rube is a Rube." His company, 2D House, has been making Rube Goldberg machines for clients for over a year now (and making Rube Goldberg machines to let clients know they make Rube Goldberg machines), and at this point, even he sounds a little bit burned out on the things. But his company’s latest effort, Isaac Newton vs. Rube Goldberg, goes a bit outside the box to keep things interesting. Or maybe just outside the frame. If you haven’t clicked play yet, you should, because there are spoilers ahead.
Yup, it was all a dream. Er, wrong twist. Right, here we go: Everything you saw in the first half of that clip actually happened upside-down. And if watching it made your brain tickle a bit, well, think about building it.
By design, the first six elements of the machine are Rubian staples—you’ve got a pendulum, you’ve got a toy car, you’ve got your dominoes. As far as the your eyeballs are concerned, very standard stuff. But the challenge for Dvir and his team was coming up with ways to get these very ordinary elements to work as they normally do—while hanging from the ceiling.
In a few cases, that meant limiting the audience’s perspective to what was going on "above" the track. What you’re seeing with the pendulum and the dominoes, Dvir explains, are actually just the iceberg tips of a much larger pendulum and a much larger set of dominoes that extend beyond the track you’re seeing. So while two-thirds of each domino, out of frame, is falling down in one direction, right-side-up, what you’re actually seeing is the bottom nub of that domino, being pushed in the opposite direction. Same goes for the pendulum—there’s an even heavier weight on the other side, out of the frame. And the toy car? That’s just a really strong magnet.
It took a bit of a think, Dvir says, to figure out which Rube standbys could be executed upside-down. Those first six pieces, though, are essential for letting the viewer establish things as "normal," where up is up and down is down and gravity pulls things in the direction of the latter. Of course, once little plastic pellets start bouncing up to sit in an overturned bowl, you know something’s up. "We want to confuse people," Dvir says. "We want people to question what they just saw."
But they also wanted to do something that had a bit more replay value than the genre usually offers. Of course, in reality, Rube Goldberg machines employ a huge variety of creative mini-machines for getting from one thing to the next, but what Dvir says about "a Rube is a Rube is a Rube" definitely has some truth to it. At some point, with so many complex things happening so quickly, your eyes just kind of glaze over and you grunt "cooool" at your computer screen and then move along.
Here, even after you get to the midway point and have a sense of what’s going on, it’s still fun to go back and see where and how you were deceived. And then there’s all the stuff that happens on the second part of the track—the two cans, one of which rolls uphill while the other rolls down, and the box that seemingly levitates to cap it all off. "The idea," Dvir says, "is even though we told you the machine’s upside-down, we’re still abusing gravity as much as we can." And, by extension, abusing the viewers, too.
Dvir says he hopes to post a making-of video in the next few days. In the meantime, you can check out 2D House’s previous contraptions on the Rube Goldberg section of their site.