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What adjective would best describe someone who seeks complex solutions to simple problems? For example, one who would design the tree-swing in any other of the ways described below except the last one.

Tree-swing problem

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  • What kind of description are you looking for? Creative, stupid, complicated, silly? The cartoon also doesn't necessarily imply anything other than miscommunication. We have no idea what the user said was wanted. Was the communication verbal? It could have been "a tree swing," completely open to interpretation, or it could have been "a tire attached to a tree branch by a rope." Or was the communication the last picture itself? Oct 29, 2018 at 5:41
  • Thanks Jason, just to leave out any other factors that may be in play, you could imagine a case where you told a group of 6 guys to design a tree swing and each came up with each of the above designs. Hence, which term would describe the guys with the complex designs.
    – Quest
    Oct 29, 2018 at 6:00
  • There are hundreds of possible ways to answer this. You need to be more specific as to what you're looking for. Oct 29, 2018 at 6:25
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    The simple answer to your question is "overcomplicating". If you're looking for something else, then please clarify. Perhaps you're the one overcomplicating the matter. Oct 29, 2018 at 7:46

2 Answers 2

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Rube Goldberg / Rube Goldberg-esque / Rube Goldbergian

Rube Goldberg (adj.)

Ingeniously or unnecessarily complicated in design or construction.

A Rube Goldberg machine Oxford Languages

Accomplishing by complex means what seemingly could be done simply

A kind of Rube Goldberg contraption … with five hundred moving parts m-w

Rube Goldberg

Attributive. Designating a device or scheme that achieves a simple objective by exaggeratedly or absurdly complex means; unnecessarily complicated, impracticable, or ingenious.

Rube Goldbergian adj.

The oil industry provided Rube Goldbergian ice-cutting machinery that didn't work. OED

Linguistically speaking, a Rube Goldberg contraption or Rube Goldbergian or Rube Gold-bergesque still refers to anything that's overly complicated, requiring twenty-five steps to accomplish what could take two. Ralph Keyes; I Love It When You Talk Retro

Instead of using an adjective, you could also say He's a Rube Goldberg when it comes to solving problems to convey overcomplication. As one example below points out, Goldberg's inventions could work, at least in theory, whereas this isn't so for every idea in the the cartoon. Rube Goldberg addresses more your question than the cartoon's humerous "solutions."


JK put a thing together from PVC pipe, some aluminum pie plates, a circular TV antenna, some capacitors and resistors he took from an old computer, and a neon light starter. It looked like a Rube Goldberg thing. CS Moulton; Murders Never Cease

It is obvious that building a Rube Goldberg solution easily addresses Science and Technology standards, but this was a cross-curricular project that incorporated Writing standards as well. D. Ambrose and R. J. Sternberg; Creative Intelligence in the 21st Century

He would often fashion a Rube Goldberg solution when he wasn't inclined to travel to the hardware store, so I was prepared for an interesting solution to the leak. T. .J. Lewis and C. L. Trempe; The End of Alzheimer's

Also in the Final Destination film series the characters often die in Rube Goldberg-esque ways. In the film The Great Mouse Detective, the villain Ratigan attempts to kill the film's heroes, Basil of Baker Street and David Q. Dawson, with a Rube Goldberg style device. Wikipedians (ed.); American Comic Strips Before 1918

“It all sounds like it makes sense, but the Delta system is really a giant Rube Goldberg–esque machine,” Gleick said, gesturing out the window at a tangle of muddy canals. “They've twisted so many knobs and pulled so many levers here that no one really knows how the Delta's plumbing works anymore." Alex Prud'homme; The Ripple Effect

So it seems that as a nation we've devoted countless resources, time, and energy to creating a Rube Goldberg-esque system of top-down reform while overlooking something vitally important: Do our students care about any of this at all? Bryan Goodwin; Building a Curious School

He also plans to use the gun to determine just how those Rube Goldbergian translational activators stimulate protein synthesis. Ben Patrusky; "An Essential Intruder" in Mosaic, Vol. 22, n.3


Goldberg, Rube (1883–1970), US cartoonist; full name Reuben Lucius Goldberg. As creator of the comic strip characters Professor Lucifer Gorgonzola Butts (an inventor of complex mechanical devices to achieve simple tasks), Boob McNutt, and Lala Palooza, he satirized American folkways and modern technology. Lexico

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In British English, Heath Robinson is more common:

Heath Robinson [adjective] [British]

Ingeniously or ridiculously over-complicated in design or construction.

[(1872–1944), English cartoonist and illustrator; full name William Heath Robinson. He lampooned the machine age by inventing absurdly complicated ‘Heath Robinson contraptions’ to perform elementary or ridiculous actions.]

  • His was a Heath Robinson approach to fixing everything

[The Sunday Times; 2005]

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