Annual Rube Goldberg Event: Coolest Shop Class You Never Had
Southwest residents fooled with everything from contraptions to doohickeys at the annual event at Leonardo's Basement.
The crisp sound of hammer against nail, the smell of saw dust, 40 or so people hunched over tables, tinkering with ramps and pulleys, a tiny Gonzo figurine catapulting off a mousetrap. This was the scene at Leonardo’s Basement a few weeks back. It was like a cool version of a shop class, complete with roaming instructors offering advice and brief shrieks of delight when a contraption, after much trial and error, finally worked.
Held on the first Friday of the new year, the post-happy hour event was hosted by Studio Bricolage in the basement beneath Anodyne. It marked the fourth annual homage to Rube Goldberg—the San Franciscan cartoonist and engineer best known for his inventions that performed simple tasks in humorously complicated ways, soliciting the use of as many gears, arms, balls and other elements as possible.
The idea Friday night was to create one such contraption, with a series of steps leading to the final squirting of ketchup and mustard onto a White Castle bun, because, as Willis Bowman, an instructor at Leonardo’s Basement, said, “Why not?”
Guests arrived and paid a fee of $15, which covered supplies, snacks and beverages, and then got to work creating machines. Some arrived with pre-formed ideas and components, others showed up and took a look around at what was available. The goal was to create a fully functioning Rube Goldberg machine in three hours.
After working in pairs and teams for a couple of hours, Steve Jevning, a co-founder of Studio Bricolage, called everyone together and encouraged them to find other machines that fit with theirs.
“Figure out if you’re compatable,” Jevning said. “It will be like speed dating.”
While this year’s Rube Goldberg machine was confined to a few connected tabletops, past years have seen contraptions spanning the length of the basement. Bowman described one contraption that started with the opening of a door and ended with the flushing of a toilet 119 feet away.
Bill Mcteer, who has attended past Rube Goldberg events as well, remembered some borderline-dangerous contraptions.
“There were definitely some stand-back-from-that-object objects,” Mcteer said.
The event was scheduled to end at 10pm, but the first dry run didn’t happen until 10:15. And while there was a range of success with the machines, with some working very well and others not as much, the real creation of the evening was the palpable community energy in the space.
“What I’ve enjoyed ... is to see the smile and the expression on adults when they get the chance to play,” Willis Bowman said. “Adults don’t play nearly enough.”
Studio Bricolage is the adult extension of Leonardo’s Basement, a hands-on educational organization for children. It was formed about four years ago after parents started asking whether they could come build things like their kids had done. Studio Bricolage offers events and classes for adults, with special projects on the first Friday of each month. Bowman said the goal is to offer opportunities you can’t find anyplace else.
Studio Bricolage currently operates out of the Leonardo’s Basement space and a location in St. Paul called Griggs Park. Next month’s first Friday event will be held in St. Paul and will involve ice sculptures and ice castles.