Rube Works is an educational puzzle game designed for elementary and middle school students. It is inspired by cartoonist and inventor Rube Goldberg, who was famous for his cartoons about Professor Butts and his overcomplicated, silly contraptions used to complete simple tasks. In the game, you are given a challenge (e.g., carving a turkey) that you must complete by building a contraption using the unusual materials provided (e.g., a penguin, a bucket, a rooster, etc.). It’s available for download on the iTunes App Store, Google Play or Amazon Appstore for $2.99.
It’s fun to see how these seemingly unrelated objects come together in each puzzle. I never could have imagined that a casserole, a chicken, a sand machine, and a penguin could be involved in slicing a turkey. Creating any of these contraptions in real life would be unnecessary and nearly impossible. But that’s exactly what makes the game so engaging. It captures the whimsical, humorous quality of the original cartoons. And if students feel inspired, there are Rube Goldberg machine contests where student teams create their own machines—likely without any penguins.
For each puzzle, you try out different configurations and keep testing them until you find a way that works. I can see how this would encourage kids to experiment and try new things, which is so critical for success in other areas. At the same time, you can click on each object in the puzzle to get hints about how to use it. That way, users aren’t left completely in the dark about how to get started. If you want a bigger challenge, you can turn off the hints in the game settings. At each level, you earn badges and stars to celebrate your successes.
Given that this a paid game, I wish there were more than 18 puzzles to solve. I also found the interface a bit frustrating to navigate on mobile. Sometimes I would click an object to get a hint, but it would provide a hint for an adjacent object. This didn’t happen too often, but enough that it affected my experience. At first I found the music to be a nice throwback to the time of Rube Goldberg, but after a while I found it grating and repetitive. However, you can turn off the sound in settings.
Despite a few glitches, Rube Works is an amusing, challenging puzzle game that inspires users to think about machines in a new way.Image: Rube Works