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Complexity Rules

Thorp High School's Winning Contest Entry
Rube Goldberg was an engineer-turned-Pulitzer-Prize-winning cartoonist who specialized in whimsical drawings of complicated machines designed to perform the simplest of tasks. For 23 years now, the Rube Goldberg Machine contest at Purdue University has inspired high school and college teams to construct working models of the wacky machines they’ve designed.

This year, the teams were challenged to devise a contraption that could dispense a squirt of hand sanitizer. The 2010 winning high-school team came from Thorp High School, Thorp, Wisconsin, which also fielded the winning team in 2009. Team Thorp — comprising 12 seniors and two juniors — built a 137-step machine. Judges discarded some of its steps, however, so in the end the winning entry had between 65 and 70 steps — still impressively convoluted. Each machine is subjected to three runs, and only one mistake is allowed. Thorp’s got through all three error-free.

Kimberly High School, Kimberly, Wisc., came in second with a 30-step machine. Third place went to the Cornerstone Christian Homeschoolers of Urbana, Ill. Next year’s challenge: a machine that can water a plant.

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