Here’s Why We’re Not Allowed to Call Our Competition the Philly Rube Goldberg Machine Contest

Logistics, Philly Contraption Contest

The Philly Contraption Contest is coming up on March 18th at Regina Angelorum Academy in Ardmore, and a lot of people have been asking us why the competition is no longer called the Philadelphia Rube Goldberg Machine Contest. So we thought we should explain. 

When the Philadelphia Rube Goldberg Machine Contest was launched in 2015, it was part of a national network of contests overseen by Rube Goldberg Inc. To be called a Rube Goldberg Machine Contest, hosts — that’s us — had to register with Rube Goldberg Inc. and abide by their rules and regulations, and any teams that wanted to be a part of our contest had to pay Rube Goldberg Inc. a $150 registration fee.

We didn’t really love the idea of a $150 registration fee for the kids, but that’s what it was. And it did cover their registration for the regional contest as well as for the national competition, if they made it that far. $150 all in.

But still, we weren’t big fans. And we also heard from some members of the community, who were concerned that the fee might be prohibitive to some potential participants.

So what we decided to do was raise money from local foundations, companies, and individuals to cover those registration fees. Philly folks are very generous. And since our organization is a 501(c)3 non-profit, the donations were tax-deductible.

The contest went off without a hitch.

Fast-forward to last year, when we decided we were going to organize another Philadelphia Rube Goldberg Machine Contest. We checked in with Rube Goldberg Inc., and they explained that the $150 fee was now a $395 fee. Not just that, but any team that made it to the finals would have to pay another $395 to join that contest.

In other words, a 163-percent fee increase for teams entering the regional competition and a 427-percent fee increase for teams making it to the Rube Goldberg Machine Contest nationals.

We asked Rube Goldberg Inc. why such a drastic increase, and they told us that the registration fees had remained the same for years and that those fees didn’t cover Rube Goldberg Inc.’s costs. Rube Goldberg Inc. also pointed out to us that the company was now giving a finder’s fee to hosts for each team that registered. (No thanks.) And they added that a bigger fee increase had actually been proposed and they suggested that we raise money to cover the  larger registration fees for our teams.

Once we decided that this large fee increase just wouldn’t work for us, we asked Rube Goldberg Inc. if they would consider implementing a sliding scale or, in the alternative, to let us run a “Rube Goldberg Machine Contest” that didn’t feed into the national competition and that didn’t use their logos, rulebooks, or other Rube Goldberg Inc. materials.

They said no, citing their intellectual property, and so the Philly Contraption Contest was born.

“I’m so proud of you for breaking from Rube,” wrote one longtime Rube Goldberg Machine Contest organizer to us. (We heard from other unhappy Rube Goldberg Machine Contest organizers as well.) “We are giving the contest a try this year but I’m having a meeting with [others involved] to see how important it is for them to really stick with Rube. That cost increase… is just a big headache for all.”

The Philly Contraption Contest is still a contest featuring kids building awesome Rube Goldberg machines. We’re just not allowed to call it a Rube Goldberg Machine Contest.

We hope you will support the Philly Contraption Contest, which is free for kids to enter and free for the public to attend.