As It Happens

Toronto family 'thrilled and a little bit surprised' to win Rube Goldberg Challenge

Tony Round says he was "stunned into silence" the first time he watched his family's elaborate Rube Goldberg machine wind its way through their house and successfully drop a bar of soap into his daughter's hands.

Elaborate, house-filling device takes over 2 minutes to drop bar of soap into a little girl's hands

Architects Andrea Kordos and Tony Round built an elaborate hand-washing Rube Goldberg device with their children. (Submitted by Tony Round )
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Tony Round says he was "stunned into silence" the first time he watched his family's elaborate Rube Goldberg machine wind its way through their house and successfully drop a bar of soap into his daughter's hands.

That's because it took the Toronto family more than 50 failed attempts and three weeks to make the machine work.

Now that hard work has paid off. Round, his wife Andrea Kordos and their children Lise and Riley have won the 2020 Rube Goldberg Bar of Soap Video Challenge.

"We were quite excited, thrilled and a little bit surprised," Round told As It Happens host Carol Off. "But it was a fun challenge to work on."

Rube Goldberg machines are comically complex devices that achieve a simple task — such as snapping a photo or mailing a letter — often using an elaborate system of ropes, wheels, pulleys and levers.

They are named for the late American cartoonist Rube Goldberg, who was known for sketching such machines.

Every year Rube Goldberg Inc. — an organization dedicated Goldberg's legacy — holds a contest for students across the United States to flex their engineering skills. 

But this year, pandemic restrictions making large gatherings impossible, the group initially cancelled the contest. Before long, however, they decided instead to relaunch it as an international YouTube competition, open to anyone. 

"I was laying in bed one morning right as this happened, and I thought, what is everyone going to do at home with their kids? You know, we need to offer something that could kind of unite the family in a fun and engaging way, "Jennifer George, Goldberg's granddaughter, told As It Happens in April.

A Simple Device For Taking Your Own Picture, color newsprint. Side Show, January 21, 1941. © RGI. “The first selfie! A marvelous look into the future.” (Rube Goldberg Inc. )

In keeping with the pandemic theme, George challenged families to build a Rube Goldberg machine that drops a bar of soap into someone's hands in 10 to 20 steps using regular, household items. 

Round and his family saw the story on the CBC website and decided to participate. Even though he and his wife are both architects, it was no easy feat. 

After three weeks of planning and building, they managed to create an elaborate system of items that spanned the length and breadth of their Toronto home.

A Toronto family has won the Rube Goldberg's YouTube contest. At the end of their video, a round bar of soap trolls down and triggers a mechanism to turn on the faucet. (Submitted by Tony Round )

"There were many, many tricky parts. It seemed like chaos would somehow take over. In over, maybe 50 attempts, it failed in different ways, each time," he said. 

"We had some ambitious stages, including having a stuffed animal parachute from the ceiling and trigger some toilet paper to roll down the hallway."

Their creation featured pulleys, marbles, books, toys, string, scissors, and even a record player and disco ball. When all was said and done, it extended from the kitchen sink, weaved through various rooms, went up the stairs and finally back down again.

The winning entrant to the 2020 Rube Goldberg Challenge made use of a toy rocket, markers and a record, among other things. (Submitted by Tony Round)

Initially, the family dog was supposed to be a part of the machine, tasked with retrieving a bone with a string attached, which would pull out a pencil, allowing the soap to roll down into the hands of Round's daughter Lise. 

"But on the day of, by the time we had everything together, he was too terrified of the machine. He would barely even come into the house," Round said.

"Even adding peanut butter to the bone, we couldn't get him to perform for us, so we had to pull him from the team."

Even without the family pooch, they won the contest. For their troubles, they earned a Rube Goldberg swag bag, and infinite bragging rights.

And for a few weeks, it gave them something to do while stuck at home.

"I have to say that we feel really lucky that we're able to be at home and be healthy, and certainly there are a lot of people, essential workers, who are out there making it so that so many people can stay home," Round said. 

"It's been a strange time, but I guess one of the positives is that so many people are able to spend time with their families like this."


Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview produced by Morgan Passi. 

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