I really have no idea how to address it, but basically it is when someone, for example, makes a track for a ball, which leads to the ball hitting a standing hammer, which upon contact, swings around a pivot, smashing a bucket of glass, which pours water into ... etc.

Is it a machine? Sometimes it doesn't service a purpose. Actually, most of the time, it's just for amusement. What do you call that thing?

  • "avalanche" --- – Greg Lee Sep 22 '16 at 9:50
  • This site strives to provide well researched, intriguing questions. Mazyod, single word requests as yours are required to provide an example sentence about the way the word will be used. Take the tour or have a look at the help center to find out more about good questions. – Helmar Sep 22 '16 at 10:15
  • @Helmar I plan to use this word to call a new project which delivers a similar experience as a Rube Goldberg machine, but using servers and computer software. I think that's intriguing, but not really tied to the domain of this site. To learn the name, I posted a question. The question's sole purpose is so that I can walk away with an answer, and people are rewarded point or just karma for participating. I don't think it needs to be anymore complicated than that, but I could be wrong. I am basing this reasoning off of my participation in Stack Overflow. – Mazyod Sep 22 '16 at 10:21
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    @Helmar To put it in another way, I am not asking for the sake of contributing an interesting question. I am asking for help with a problem, and I couldn't research the word on my own (I'm not a native english speaker). – Mazyod Sep 22 '16 at 10:24

It's called a Rube Goldberg machine.

A Rube Goldberg machine is a contraption, invention, device, or apparatus that is deliberately over-engineered to perform a simple task in a complicated fashion, generally including a chain reaction. The expression is named after American cartoonist and inventor Rube Goldberg (1883–1970). - wikipedia

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  • Jinx! I'll delete my answer. – Babika Babaka Sep 22 '16 at 9:05
  • @LookingForAName No problem, even if you leave your answer up :) . We posted literally within a minute of each other. – Lawrence Sep 22 '16 at 9:07

There are a number of definitions of "machine" on the internet, for example: the basic Physics definition and the more general definition. Your description is definitely of a machine by the first definition since it amplifies and re-directs force but possibly not by the second definition since it does nothing useful.

Another answer refers to Rube Goldberg machines. The equivalent term in the UK is "Heath Robinson Contraption" after a Briton who produced similar 'designs'.

There was also Rowland Emett in the UK some of whose machines were actually built, among them the car in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and a water clock in Nottingham.

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You may call them domino(e)s (in the context of domino theory/effect).


domino noun

plural  dominoes  or  dominos

3:  a member of a group (as of nations) expected to behave in accordance with the domino theory

domino theory noun

2:  the theory that if one act or event is allowed to take place a series of similar acts or events will follow

domino effect noun

: a situation in which one event causes a series of similar events to happen one after another

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I know the answer to your question as a Mouse Trap, from the eponymous 1963 board game originally released by Ideal, now Hasbro.

Over the course of the game, players at first cooperate to build a working Rube Goldberg-like mouse trap. [Wikipedia]

"A Mouse Trap" could easily be a slang term.

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  • @LB Welcome to ELU.SE. You need to explain your answers on this site; I've had a go at doing that on this one; you can rollback the edit if I've picked the wrong origin for the phrase (but please replace it with the right one). – Andrew Leach Sep 22 '16 at 10:57

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