Introduction: 9-step Rube Goldberg-style Ice Bucket Challenge

I've always loved Rube Goldberg cartoons -- showing a ridiculous, overly-complicated sequence of actions to produce some trivial result.

We decided to make a Rube Goldberg machine, as part of the "ALS Ice Bucket Challenge." The end result is, of course, to dump a bucket of ice water on your head. But with our machine, getting there is the fun part...

So we'll go over a few basic concepts. And in the last step of this Instructable, we'll show the whole machine in action.

Step 1: Plan Your Machine

The first rule is: there are no rules. Put whatever actions you want into your machine! But it might help to sketch it out on paper first.

Plan your sequence of actions (think of the old "Mousetrap" game).

Tip: keep it interesting by using a variety of movements and "triggers" -- those actions that set off the next action in the sequence. Mix it up a bit.

Tip: if your machine has some big movements (like tipping an ice bucket) and some small movements (like a lego tower tipping over), put the smaller movements at the beginning of the sequence. It makes it fun to see how a tiny starting motion, like tipping over a domino, can result in something big and impressive happening!

Step 2: Use Household Objects

Your actions might include teeter-totters, zip lines, swivels, ball ramps, levers, dominos, fire (!), objects falling over... the possibilities are endless.

You could fabricate the various parts of your Rube Goldberg machine... but in the spirit of the original cartoons, we tried to use household objects wherever we could.

As the pix above show, we used a dustpan taped to a garden hoe for a swivel. We used another dustban as a "dumper"... which will be explained shortly..!

Step 3: Work Backwards From Your End Result

Remember those paper plans you made? Assemble your machine starting with the final result -- the "payoff" -- and build your various movements and triggers backwards from there.

The crucial portions are the hand-offs, where one movement triggers the next action. Those can be finicky and require some patience to set up.

Step 4: Be Safe

For this particular Rube Goldberg machine, the big action is the dumping of the ice bucket. Water and ice are heavy! So take care that no one gets hurt. We spent most of our time constructing the bucket dumper so that we wouldn't have any head injuries..!!

Step 5: Test Out Each Action

If you can, test out each action independently. That way you can debug any glitches before the whole machine is assembled.

Step 6: It Won't Work the First Time

We went through a few failed attempts before it worked, as the videos show.

Step 7: And Then It Will!


Eventually all the movements will come together and your Rube Goldberg machine will work. The embedded video shows our machine at work.

Step 8: Here's Our Completed Ice Bucket Challenge Video

This shows the whole construction and operation. Have fun making your own Rube Goldberg machine!

And while you're at it... why not make a small donation to support ALS? Here's the link: