Rube GoldbergReuben Lucius Goldberg (July 4, 1883 - December 7, 1970) was a cartoonist, cofounder and first president of the National Cartoonists Society. He graduated from the University of California, Berkeley in 1904.
A Rube Goldberg machine is any exceedingly complex apparatus that performs a very simple task in a very indirect and convoluted way. Rube devised and drew several such pataphysical devices. The term also applies as a classification for generally over-complicated apparatus or software.
In Britain such a device would be called a Heath Robinson contraption.
A related phenomenon is the Japanese art of useful but unusable contraptions called Chindogu.
Sierra Attractions released a computer game on CDROM for either PC or MacIntosh machines, designed around the Rube Goldberg concept. "Return of the Incredible Machine," and "The Incredible Machine - Even More Contraptions" are both still available as of Fall, 2003. The games provide numerous devices and contraptions, all of which act according to the laws of gravity and air pressure. Contraptions ranging from pulleys and ropes, to a mouse, cat, or hamster, are dragged into the main area to form exceptionally complex machines that do absolutely nothing useful.