About The Amazing Spaghetti Machine Contest

This annual competition is open to all international high school students between the ages of 14–17, outside Australia and New Zealand.

Students work in teams and put their knowledge and skills in maths, science, engineering, and project management to the test in the creation of a ‘spaghetti machine’ — the Italian term for an overly complex machine or device that is used to perform a relatively simple task.

Teams have two months to design, plan and build their machines before demonstrating their creations for judging via video submission.

This contest is coordinated by the Melbourne School of Engineering.

Engineering and spaghetti

So if you’re building a machine that’s overly complex and therefore somewhat inefficient, what does it have to do with engineering (which is all about finding the most practical and efficient way to solve a problem)? The answer is that the machine is really designed to entertain and amaze, as well as perform the set task.

There are still plenty ways to demonstrate the basic principles of engineering, including the methods of approaching design, testing, construction, and the team and project management that make a successful machine. Of course there’s also the chance to incorporate some pretty cool elements from engineering disciplines including structural, electrical and electronic, mechanical, and chemical engineering.

Rube Goldberg and ‘The Self-Operating Napkin’…

A man with a complicated contraption attached to his head, that wipes his mouth with a napkin.

One such concept by Goldberg was ’The Self-Operating Napkin’ — activated when the soup spoon (A) is raised to mouth, pulling string (B) and thereby jerking ladle (C) which throws cracker (D) past parrot (E). Parrot jumps after cracker and perch (F) tilts, upsetting seeds (G) into pail (H). Extra weight in pail pulls cord (I), which opens and lights automatic cigar lighter (J), setting off skyrocket (K) which causes sickle (L) to cut string (M) and allow pendulum with attached napkin to swing back and forth, thereby wiping chin.

The US inventor and cartoonist Rube Goldberg was a master of Spaghetti Machine ideas, so much so that they are sometimes also known as ‘Rube Goldberg machines’.