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In England, the cartoonist who made with the crazy machines was called Heath Robinson. His name became part of common parlance in the UK for complex inventions that achieved absurdly simple results from about the time of the First World War. In the BBC's Planet Earth documentaries, devices used to create smooth camera movements, such as the effective steadicam made out of bicycle wheels and rope used to sail up a 100 metre high mound of bat droppings, were said by David Attenborough to be "Heath Robinson affairs".
On the web, though, the big name is Rube Goldberg, an American cartoonist who received a 1948 Pulitzer Prize for his political cartooning. He is best known for his series of popular cartoons depicting Rube Goldberg machines, very similar to Heath Robinson's, just not as British. Remember Professor Branestawm? I think Rube read those books too.
Nowadays all sorts of people make 'Rube Goldbergs' and post them on YouTube. Like domino toppling taken to the nth degree. The weirder the better. Kind of reminds me of The Great Egg Race, which had Prof. Heinz Wolff and Johnny Ball at the helm.
Here are some good ones:
It's the way they use household objects that makes them so much fun - can just imagine people in sheds surrounded by marbles and pieces of string.
Of course the Japanese love 'em:
This one is particularly good:
Wouldn't they make wonderful alarm clocks?
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