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What to do:
1. The first step is to figure out what you want your machine to do. Turn on a lamp? Toast bread? Scratch the dog? I wanted to unfurl a sign that announced the title of my new book. Decide on the very last step, and then work backwards.
2. Next, collect everything you can find that you might want to build your machine. Objects that roll or bounce or topple are especially useful (think balls, wind-up toys, toy trucks, and dominoes). Try to keep everything around the same size. A domino might not be able to push over a basketball, but it just might topple over a small paper cup.
3. Pick a space to create your machine. The objects I used were small, so my machine fit on one table. Larger machines might work best outside. A set of stairs or a hill can be very useful. Be sure to check with a parent before setting things up—you may be taking over that space for a while.
4. Sketch out what you want your machine to look like. How will each step in your machine lead to the next one? Start small: a machine with three to four steps is plenty. Keep in mind that not everything will work just as you want it to, so try to come up with a few back-up plans for each step.
5. Begin setting up each step of the machine, and run lots of trial runs along the way. Figure out how each element works in the real world (sometimes dominoes simply won't knock over that paper cup, no matter how much you want them to). Ask friends and family for advice if you get stuck!
6. Try, try, try some more. Building a Rube Goldberg machine is mostly trial and error. Mine took me about 40 tries!
7. When you've successfully run through your machine from start to finish at least twice, it's time for the big show! Call in your friends and family, turn on the camera, and get rolling!
8. Celebrate a job well done by relaxing with a nice book.
How to Build a Rube Goldberg Machine
Rube Goldberg machines—named after engineer and cartoonist Rube Goldberg—are silly, complicated contraptions that perform a simple function. Watch this video of my very own Rube Goldberg machine, inspired by my novel Double Dog Dare, and then read on for some helpful tips for crafting wacky inventions of your own.