A Rube Goldberg pancake machine

February 10, 2013 • 4:59 am

If you’re of a certain age (an age even bigger than mine, but I read old stuff), you’ll know about the amazing and amusing inventions—most of them imaginary—of cartoonist Reuben Garrett Lucius “Rube” Goldberg (1883 – 1970).  Here’s one example of his imaginary devices: an alarm clock triggered by the arrival of the early bird catching a worm:


Nowadays a “Rube Goldberg” machine refers to any excessively complicated contraption that, in the end, performs a simple task.

Here’s a real Rube Goldberg machine: a pancake-making device, cooked up by the UK’s Happy Egg Company, that begins when a free-range hen lays an egg. The YouTube notes describe it:

The Pancake-omatic took a team of four design engineers more than 200 hours to construct and a further 100 to test. The device which will go on display at the Design Museum later this month, uses a wide selection of household objects including an old-style gramophone and an electric whisk and features a luxury nest throne for the hen to lay her egg in – we think it’s the best invention to eat the most delicious pancakes!

But see for yourself:

The Happy Egg Co.: building LOLz one egg at a time.

39 thoughts on “A Rube Goldberg pancake machine

  1. Great minds may think alike: the equivalent of Rube Goldberg in English is Heath Robinson (1872-1944). According to that impeccable source, Wikipedia, Heath Robinson began drawing his machines during WW1. Who came first, Goldberg or Heath Robinson?

      1. My apologies; I didn’t know of Heath Robinson. Someone might post a link to some of his inventions!


          1. Here in New Zealand, my parents routinely used “Heath Robinson” to describe a makeshift machine of excessive complexity, while the Popular Mechanics magazines our brother-in-law subscribed us to through the 1950s routinely referred to “Rube Goldberg” with the same meaning, but we followed our parents.

            (Popular Mechanics, “Written So You Can Understand It” especially for WW2 veterans it seemed, was a wealth of US linguistic arcana. An article about our Wairākei geothermal power project was headed “New Zealand Harvests Its Yellowstone” and referred to the “Maori Indians” making earlier use of the hot springs.)

          2. The British know of WHR, the Americans of RG, neither tends to have heard of the other. This is, of course, in need of remedying!

            . . . using a device of excessive and implausible complexity.
            I call “Rule 34!”

        1. Younger readers will not have heard of either Goldberg or Heath Robinson and will think such contraptions were the work of Wallace and Gromit…

          1. Indeed – even tho I know of RGD’s, I was just about to mention W&G (and I hope the WHR Trust supported some of W&G’s production).

  2. “The Pancake-omatic took a team of four design engineers more than 200 hours to construct and a further 100 to test. ”

    I’d be embarrassed if I needed 800 man hours to construct that. And another 400 to test it? So to put it into other terms, to construct and get it running a single guy would spend thirty 40 hour weeks? Even if that included design time, I wouldn’t have put that in the press release.

    1. I think you’ve got your numbers flipped. I read that not as four engineers each taking 200 hours, but rather a total of four engineers spending a total of 200 hours. A four-man team spending a week and a half on something like that is just about right.



      1. Upon reading it again after reading your comment I think you may be right. I read the team needed 200 hours but your probably right that they needed 200 man hours. It would be a lot more reasonable.

    2. It’s produced by an egg company, not an engineering company. The point is to stress the amount of effort and dedication needed to produce this, even if it was put together by a clerk in accounts on a Saturday afternoon.

    1. That is awesome!

      (Even though I suspect it was filmed in convenient bite-sized pieces and cut together…)

  3. And such wonderful, lunatic designs are still actually being built. This is the Wishing Fish Clock in Cheltenham, UK…

  4. Very clever!

    However, as a mechanical engineer and machine designer myself, I must express disappointment (and sympathy!) for the obviously contrived conclusion.

    Notice how the selected field-of-view of the camera in the final scene completely hides the actual motion of the pancake in the air as it is ostensibly flipped out of the frying pan “cleanly” onto the existing stack. Very unlikely, given the way the frying pan mechanism is configured and oriented, and given the vagaries of pancake adhesion… inhale… and given the way the original batter was simply “dumped” (and hence splashed chaotically) into the pan, etc.

    Zoom the camera out in your mind and see the Magic Primate Pancake Hands dropping a flawless flapjack (one that wasn’t cooked by the Rube Goldberg machine) onto the stack.

    My guess is, the designers spent a considerable amount of time unsuccessfully tuning that particular feature, and after picking up several dozen pancakes off the floor, they finally said “Screw it” and staged the happy Hollywood ending.


    1. But the design goal was never to make pancakes. It was to make an advertisement. Whether the machine actually works as a pancake-maker is irrelevant to that goal, so they probably didn’t bother to test that aspect of it very extensively.

    1. That proves it was actually recorded in reverse – at least from unmixing through uncracking to unlaying. No clues to actual arrow of time after the cut; the pancake may have jumped off the stack or onto it.

    1. viss Professor Heinz Wolff und hiss outrrageous Mitteleuropan akkzent.

      Who probably inspired the first generation of LolCatzrs to their grammatical and pronounciative misdemeanours.

  5. When I was at school we had a craze for making “marble runs” in the old desks of the time. The idea was to drop a marble through the ink well and have it go through a Heath Robinson contraption made of books and rulers and stuff in the desk, finally coming out of a hole (carved) in the bottom of the desk. The designs were scored according to how long the marble was in the desk.

    Anyone else remember doing this kind of thing?

    1. Yes. And not being able to take part in some lessons because a relevant text book could not be displaced from its essential function as part of the track.
      And getting beaten for having a noisy track that was too good not to try out during a maths test. Every other boy knew the distinctive sound and couldn’t help sniggering, flagging up to the master that something was going on.

  6. That is one of the most authentic Rube Goldberg machines I’ve ever seen (in that it isn’t just the transfer of motion from one end to the other). I was disappointed, though, that at the end it didn’t show how the pancake was flipped.

    I think the video lacks in that all such clips should be to Raymond Scott’s “Powerhouse”, well-known to all Warner Brothers cartoon fans. (See YouTube, and jump to about 1:30 on one of the results.)

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