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How to Build a Rube Goldberg Machine

Graphic: How to build a rube goldberg machine.

If you want to help your child have fun, exercise their creativity, and learn about simple machines, why not help them create a Rube Goldberg machine? This post will explain what these machines are and share some easy Rube Goldberg machine ideas to help you get started.

What Is a Rube Goldberg Machine?

To understand what a Rube Goldberg machine is, it may help to know about Rube Goldberg himself. Rube Goldberg has become synonymous with elaborate machines featuring chain reactions that overcomplicate a basic task, but Rube Goldberg wasn’t an inventor — he was an American Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist . 

Goldberg had an engineering degree, which, combined with his art skills, helped him delight people with his crazy mechanical creations. In the comics, these machines were invented by a character called Professor Lucifer Gorgonzola Butts. The devices may have been fictional, but they were designed to work and were labeled in the style of United States patent applications. In the early 20th century, as the machine age was taking off, Goldberg’s cartoons satirized society’s obsession with all things mechanical.

Today, children and adults alike enjoy making their own Rube Goldberg machines — that is, simple machines with a series of chain reactions that ultimately accomplish a simple task in a delightfully convoluted way. Creating these machines can help develop learners’ science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) skills. It can also encourage their creativity and collaboration skills.

Ideas for Rube Goldberg Machines

To create a Rube Goldberg machine, you should start with the end of the chain reaction and work your way backward to figure out how you want to get from Point A to Point B. For example, if you want the final action to be flipping on a light switch, you first need to decide how you’ll push up on the light switch, then continue working backward so that each movement is caused by the movement before it.

Flipping on a light switch is just one idea. Here are a few other Rube Goldberg machine ideas to help you choose the task your machine will accomplish. You could:

Graphic: You can create these machines using household materials.

Simple Rube Goldberg Machines for Kids

Rube Goldberg machines are, by definition, simple machines. That may seem contradictory to the elaborate, convoluted nature of these machines as we described them. However, what makes these machines appear complex is the series of chain reactions. Each individual part of the machine is a simple mechanical device that applies its own force. You can create these machines using humble household materials and basic physics principles.

Let’s look at a few examples of mechanical devices kids can put together to create their own Rube Goldberg machine.

1. Marble Runs

Marble runs, or marble chutes, are a fun and effective choice for Rube Goldberg machines. If this is the first step of your machine, you can drop a marble into the start of a chute or track. If this step comes somewhere in the middle of the device, a previous action can push the marble into the chute. When the marble emerges out of the end of the chute, it should cause the next chain reaction. 

You may be able to use a plastic racecar track for your marble run, or you can cut something like a wrapping paper tube or a PVC pipe to create one. Keep in mind that if you can see the marble as it runs along its track, it adds to the fun of watching your machine work.

Levers are a common feature in Rube Goldberg machines. One of the easiest ways to teach a child about this simple machine is to point to the seesaw at the playground. When you apply pressure to one end of a rigid bar resting on a fulcrum, the other end should rise up.

For example, at the end of your marble run, the marble could roll off a ledge into a cup on one end of a lever. If the marble is heavy enough, it’ll push that end of the lever down, elevating the item on the other end of the lever. That other item could bump into something, causing the following chain reaction to occur. You can create your own lever using basic materials like a binder clip and a ruler.

3. Domino Chains

When most people think of a Rube Goldberg machine, there’s a good chance they picture a series of dominoes falling. In fact, dominoes are so strongly associated with chain reactions that we often use the term “domino effect” to mean a chain reaction of events.

When you want to apply force to an object in your machine, you can set up a line of dominos. Correctly spacing the dominos will ensure that just pushing the first domino over causes the whole line of dominos to fall, with the last domino applying the force you need to lead to the next step in your machine.

Tips for a Successful Rube Goldberg Machine

To help your child have a positive experience creating their own Rube Goldberg machine, follow these five tips:

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Cool Material

Cool Material

10 Brilliant Rube Goldberg Machines That Are Endlessly Fun to Watch


When it comes to getting things done from a pure efficiency standpoint, the simpler the better. But when it comes to adding a little bit of flair (and internet cred), Rube Goldberg machines rule.

And what, exactly, is a Rube Goldberg machine? While it can be many things, at its heart a Rube Goldberg machine is something that completes a simple task in a complicated way. The machines require a high level of skill and patience to create, and they’re the ultimate expression of doing something just because you can. For the outsider, they’re simply a lot of fun to watch in action.

How Do Rube Goldberg Machines Work?

Rube Goldberg was an American cartoonist who was famous for drawing characters that completed simple tasks in obscenely complicated ways. The most important aspect to making a Rube Goldberg machine work is that tasks are completed in the correct series.

Each action starts another action in succession until the task is complete (which is often done using the six simple machines). For example, a ball rolling down a ramp could complete its action by hitting a block, which in turn is knocked over to hit a weight that falls off of a lever and starts a pulley that rings the door bell. One event leads to another until the task is complete.

What Are the Six Simple Machines?

At the heart of every Rube Goldberg machine are six simple machines.

The Six Simple Machines of Rube Goldberg

In real life, as in the cartoons, building a Rube Goldberg machine is a lesson in how to use those six simple machines in various methods.

10 Rube Goldberg Machine Examples

The Page Turner

Honda – The Cog

Ok Go Music Video

Rube Goldberg Photobooth

Toy Factory

Time Machine

The Christmas Tree Lighter

MineCraft Rube Goldberg Machine

Melvin the Machine

The Longest Rube Goldberg Machine

In December of 2021, Guinness World Records put up a video of the latest record holder for the longest Rube Goldberg machine. It was built by Chevrolet Menlo, Wang Xiqi, and Guan Jian, and consists of 427 individual steps. No matter how you frame it, anything that takes 427 steps to complete (let alone that many steps to flip the switch on a neon sign).


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Scout Life magazine

How to Make a Rube Goldberg Machine

By Clay Swartz

rube goldberg project examples

A Rube Goldberg machine is any complex contraption that uses a chain reaction to perform a simple task.


Step 1: Start at the End

Identify the simple task you want to achieve. You could turn off a light, open a door, pour a bowl of cereal, turn off an alarm clock, hammer a nail or pop a balloon. Be creative — and unique.

Step 2: Make a Plan

Brainstorm a series of actions that will complete your task. Make a pin pop a balloon. Send a toy car down a ramp. Make dominoes fall. Draw a blueprint plan for what you expect to happen. The most important action will be the first step — that’s what starts the entire machine. Make sure your machine starts with a bang!

  Step 3: Gather Your Materials

You can use almost anything to create your Rube Goldberg machine. Here are some ideas: dominoes, fans, PVC pipe, magnets, duct tape, marbles, cups or bowls, miniature toy cars, paper towel tubes, string.

Step 4: Build and Test

As you create your machine, follow your blueprint and place your materials where you think they need to be. Practice makes perfect, so don’t expect your Rube Goldberg machine to work perfectly the first time you try it. There will be plenty of trial and error — and that’s OK. Adjust your materials and keep at it.


Here are videos of 10 working Rube Goldberg machines. If you make one of your own, use the form below to send us photos.

Check This Out!

Submit a photo of your project, 54 comments on how to make a rube goldberg machine.

The machines were cool but it would’ve been better if the creators actually told us how to make them.

This doesn’t help it doesn’t tell you it dose nothing


i think this is really good

I love the idea, soon im going to make one of my own!

It hit my thinking hard

I only used 2 items cause its easy to open doors.

i loved this projekt

this is awsome i really like this.


I like the harlem globetrotters one

I think its nice

this is awesome

am I the only one that needs lots of help on this (its for school)

Same here! Do u have any advice?

Try and do something simple don’t make it more then it needs to be


wowww these are awesome!

no i does not help me at all it does not even explain what the machine is

Dude that literally amazed me!

dis is really cool


Wow I’m impressed with some of these! Keep up the good work kids.

Why is this only directed towards boys? Anyone regardless can build a Rube Goldberg machine

This is super cool

do you need lots of balls or marbles?

yes I need a lot of marble

These are cool👍

i think this great. problem is they wernt explaning theyr ideas to us and not really telling us hw they constructed it


I think this manufacturer or machine never really fantastic that kind of cool.

I agree with what you are saying.

I think it was cool of learning this machine I’m excited that just kind of fantastic.

They are good but I still don’t get it he does not even really explain it

this is bad

Dude perfect!

nice ideas!!!!

Its me isaac…

this is awesome!!!

I really liked this. It gave me an idea of making my own. If I do make some I will keep you posted.

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Build Your Own Rube Goldberg Machine

February 2, 2022 by Connections Academy

A Rube Goldberg machine is a complex contraption designed to complete a simple task. The machine uses a set of tasks that work in succession and trigger one event after another until the final event. It’s actually listed in the  Merriam-Webster dictionary  as an adjective that means “doing something simple in a very complicated way that is not necessary.” 

Imagine this: Your online school student drops a marble into a paper towel tube chute. The marble slides down and hits a chain of dominoes. The dominoes fall, and the final one hits a small toy car. The car pushes a dog treat off the edge of the table. Success! The family dog snatches up the treat when it falls to the floor. 

You might recognize Rube Goldberg machines from TV or movies. Some high school students build them in science class, and some even test their engineering skills by competing in Rube Goldberg machine contests. Building a Rube Goldberg machine is a learning activity that’s great for online or traditional school students, and fun for the whole family! 

At many schools, like Connections Academy®, Rube Goldberg is a yearly activity integrated into the curriculum. It is an excellent way for online students to explore the world of STEM learning.

Rube Goldberg Ideas

If you’re struggling to determine the best way to get started, start with research and inspiration. A Rube Goldberg science project can take on many different shapes and sizes.

Get inspired by Caroline’s Guinea Pig Feeder

Creativity knows no bounds with charlotte’s yahtzee dice roller, here are some additional rube goldberg machines that:.

How to Plan Your Rube Goldberg Machine in 3 Steps

These machines might not be practical, but they’re definitely fun, creative, and educational! Building a Rube Goldberg machine is a great hands-on activity for all ages; plus, it encourages children to flex their STEM muscles. Some thought-starters and instructions are listed below if you’d like to help your children build their own Rube Goldberg machine.

1. Identify Your Rube Goldberg Machine Task

Tasks are the action or end goal you are hoping to achieve at the completion of your Rube Goldberg machine.  

Task Ideas: turn off a light, crush a can, drop a bottle in a recycling bin, water a plant, plant seeds in a pot of soil, pop a balloon, fill a glass with water, shut a door, squeeze toothpaste onto a toothbrush, or turn off an alarm clock. 

2. Choose Your Supplies

Choosing your supplies is important because they encompass the complexity or simplicity of the machine and how it goes about completing the identified task. Challenge your child to find at least three recyclable materials. Keep in mind that you may change your mind and add or leave out materials during the building process. 

Possible materials and items include: aluminum foil, cardboard, water bottles, toilet paper or paper towel tubes, cereal or cake-mix boxes, books, cans, dominoes, funnels, marbles, golf balls, string, buckets, cups or bowls, batteries, and magnets to name a few. 

3. Sketch it Out

After you’ve identified your task and organized materials, begin sketching out your machine before you build it. This will help your child choose the right materials, identify gaps, and assemble a mechanism that works.

How to Build Your Rube Goldberg Machine

1. after the ideation and sketching steps are complete, you can then begin to assemble materials and build your rube goldberg machine., 2. assemble the different parts of your machine, helping your child test each part before moving to the next. consider these possible actions as you build:.

A domino effect that turns into a chain reaction

Let gravity take center stage

3. Remember to HAVE FUN!

4. once the machine is complete, test it to see if it works., 5. take notes on which parts of the machine work and which ones don’t. does it achieve the task, 6. if something doesn’t work, what can you do to make it work next time try one small change each time you test it until your amazing machine works.

If you’re struggling to choose an experiment for your student’s upcoming science fair, Rube Goldberg machines make excellent STEM science fair projects for kids in middle school. From complex processes to fun and creative outputs, everyone is sure to be amazed!  

Interested in other STEM projects for kids? Search Connections Academy’s Resource Hub for  more ideas and activities like this one . 

rube goldberg project examples

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Inventors Of Tomorrow - hands-on STEM learning for kids

Inventors of Tomorrow

Hands-on science and engineering education for kids age 3 – 6, build a simple rube goldberg.

Building chain reactions is a fun parent and child project. (For ages 3 – 5, mostly this means the parent doing the design with the kids cheering you on. 6 to 9 year olds are more of an equal partner in the play. Kids age 10 and up who are into these sorts of engineering challenges will often take off with this project… after being taught the basics, they may keep building and building.)

Chain reaction set-ups are often called Rube Goldberg devices. These are named after artist Rube Goldberg who drew fantastical illustrations of overly complicated machines that do a simple task.

rube goldberg project examples

Introducing Kids to Chain Reactions

A key element of Rube Goldbergs is that there is a series of chain reactions. Action A triggers action B, which then causes action C, and so on, until the goal is accomplished. There are lots of YouTube videos of AMAZING, complex Rube Goldberg devices. (Click on that link for a playlist of my favorites. There’s apparently also a ton of #rubegoldberg posts on Tiktok, but I haven’t gone down that rabbit hole yet.)

But if you show those elaborate videos to a child and then say “let’s build one of those”, they’ll end up super frustrated and disappointed in themselves because there’s no way they will accomplish something anywhere near that cool. Most of those chain reactions were set up over the course of many days, by people with years of experience playing around with these ideas, and some of these videos “cheat” and use camera angles or filming edits to make it look more impressive than the actual device is. So, I also collected a playlist of simple, achievable Rube Goldberg devices that can set more realistic (though still challenging!) goals to aspire to. You could show some of these simple videos, and then say “do you think we could make a chain reaction?” Then start the experimenting.

Set an achievable goal

Start small – you can always get bigger later if you’re having fun! Try for a 3 part process:

For example, we challenge our students to build a pyramid of three toilet paper tubes and find a complicated way to knock it over. Pushing a toy car so it bumps into a ball is a trigger that starts the process of the ball rolling toward the goal of knocking down the tower.

Even with this basic 3 part process, the chain reaction usually won’t work perfectly on the first try. You’ll usually have to do a lot of tinkering with the design.

Chain reactions are actually one of the best ways to explore the engineering process : deciding what challenge you want to take on, looking at available supplies and brainstorming options, starting to build and tweaking as you go along to get to your goal. There will also be times where you’ve worked and worked to set something up, and then accidentally trigger it and have to start all over again! It can be super frustrating, so it’s a good chance to practice emotional regulation and build grit . Celebrate the failures as part of the process. (If you watch the videos on YouTube, many will show their “bloopers” and many say things like “attempt #47” to make clear that you should expect that!)

Once you’ve got a three step chain reaction working, then try adding on another process in the middle for a 4 step device, and so on and so on. You can think of each element as part of a modular system that can be swapped in and out, or arranged in a different order, to accomplish different goals. Test each segment several times to make sure it’s reliable before you try combining it with other elements.

It can be hard to predict exactly what you’ll need. Often when building a step you just have to brainstorm in the moment, then run around the house or classroom to find just the right thing. But here are some ideas that might get you started. We do this exercise after studying simple machines, so I’ll reference those below.

Location considerations : First, work somewhere with plenty of open space; that’s not someplace that family members need to walk through or use several times during the period you’re working on the device. Second, gravity is the easiest way to power the actions of a Rube Goldberg, so typically the action starts on a higher surface and moves to a lower surface… so, something hanging up high knocks down something that’s set on top of a box that’s on a table, then it drops down to the level of the table, then off the edge of the table to the stool, then down to the ground.

Let’s look at some big picture ideas of how chain reactions are built, to hopefully inspire you to think broadly about your options. Then at the end, I’ll give some sample “assignments” that are easy to accomplish. Since I recommend starting at your final goal and working your way backward, that’s how I’ll organize the components below.

rube goldberg project examples

The final step of your device is to complete a task of some sort. Some examples are: turn on/off a light, fill a glass with water, water a plant, drop a bottle in a recycling bin, pop a balloon, break an egg, ring a bell, put out a candle, close a door, turn a page, raise a flag, land a ball in a basket, or knock over a tower. Decide what you want to try, and then figure out what you would need to do to accomplish that. For example, if your goal is to put out a candle, maybe the step before that is to dump water on it, so the step before that is to figure out how to knock over a cup of water. Or if the goal is to ring a bell, first you figure out how to set up the bell, then figure out what kinds of things could bump into the bell to ring it, then figure out how you’re going to move those things to the bell. Here are some optional actions to get you to your goal:

Components of a Chain Reaction

Domino chain.

This is the most classic element of a chain reaction. You can build it with dominos, or wooden blocks, or books, or mac and cheese boxes, or anything that’s in that flat rectangle shape that will stand balanced up on one end until tapped, and then fall over. For a child, the first challenge is learning what spacing is needed between blocks. If they’re too close, they may not hit with enough impact to knock the next one over. If they’re too far away, they hit low on the center of gravity of the next block and instead of tipping over, it just bumps out of the way. Once you’ve learned to set a chain of 3 blocks up, it’s easy (though tedious) to set up a chain with another 100 or so blocks. The hard part is not accidentally knocking them over too soon! (If you don’t want to accidentally trigger it too soon, you could put in a barricade here and there to make sure that IF a chain reaction started, it couldn’t get too far – or leave some gaps in a domino chain, and fill in those gaps at the last minute. One expert even recommends that once you’ve figured out placement you tape one side of the domino in place, so it acts like a hinge. When the domino gets knocked down, the tape holds it in the right place so you can just tip it up again.

Rolling Down an Inclined Plane

You can roll a ball (or a can, bottle… anything round) or anything with wheels down a ramp to trigger the next stage. (On a steep enough incline, you can slide down ANY low friction item.) Many Rubes start with this, but it can also be used in the middle of a device… you just have to have a way to stop the ball from rolling until it is time – there could be a flat platform at the top that it gets bumped off of, or there could be a gate that gets opened up to release the ball.

Ramps are usually just flat objects (boards, books, etc.) propped up on something (like a block or a book.)

Some devices have elements where an item rolls UP a hill. You have to get the weight and impact speed just right to have one item bump the next item up the hill.

Switchback Ramps

Once you’ve got one ramp working, it’s often possible to add more ramps in a back and forth pattern, and this is a fun way to build the drama.

Roll Down to Pull Up

If you’ve got a car rolling down a ramp, you can tie a string to it, and then tie an object onto the other end of that string. When the car rolls down, it pulls the other object up.

A zipline is really just a form of inclined plane. Something up high slides down the line.

It’s fun to cover part of a ramp over. If the moving object goes into a tunnel, that’s exciting as it disappears for a moment, and you hold your breath as you wait for it to reappear and continue on its path.

Screws to Move Items Up or Down

This can be simple – just using a spiral ramp to roll a ball down – it’s fun to watch the ball go around and around. Many marble maze toys include a spiral ramp, and some toy car race tracks have spiral ramps or you can build one with paper plates and a poster tube . Or you can use a funnel to get a gravity well effect, which is basically the shape of the screw . Another common use is to put a ball (or other item) on a string, and wind it up around a pole. Then when you release it, it spins around and around, with the string getting longer till the ball hits its target. (Here’s a video that includes the funnel and the tetherball effects.)

You can also use a screw to lift objects upward like an Archimedes screw. This takes more fine-tuning.

The most common lever we see is a first-class lever , seesaw style. Something falls onto the end of the lever that’s up in the air, pushing it down, and launching the other end of the lever up. Catapults are one form of lever you could use to launch an item.

A heavy item on a string or rope swings from a fulcrum to knock into something.

Pulleys and Weights

A classic use for this machine is to have a pulley with baskets / buckets tied on each end of the rope. When something drops into the basket that’s up high, it goes down, bringing the other basket up. This mechanism is often used with a water drip… more and more water is added to a bucket till it gets heavy enough to go down.

You can also just simply tie a string onto any object, then add some weight to the other end of the string. When you knock the weight off the table, it pulls on the string and drags the object across the table.

Yon can either use a bouncy item, like a rubber ball, or create a bouncy surface, like a trampoline. When something drops down, it bounces back up. If you get the angles just right, you get both that vertical change and a horizontal change from one part of the room to another. One way to make a bouncy trampoline is to cut the “neck” off a balloon, then stretch the remaining part of the balloon across the top of a cup or other container.

Triggers / Releases

Setting up a chain reaction takes a lot of work and a lot of time. It all has to be poised on the verge of the chain reaction, but then wait in that state until the exact moment you want the reaction triggered. So, there are a variety of ways to hold elements in place till it’s time for the reaction to start. You could lift a gate, swing a pendulum, tap on a domino. Some devices start with a cell phone resting on an inclined plane. When you call the phone, it vibrates, and the vibration causes it to slide down the ramp and trigger the chain reaction. Some start with a pet nudging something, or walking away and having their leash tug on a trigger. Some start with a fan blowing, a mousetrap snapping, a candle burning through a string, or a wind-up toy walking into something.

You have to have just the right amount of force to trigger the next item in the chain. One of the easiest ways to adjust force is with gravity – like if a ball rolling down a ramp hits too hard, make the ramp less steep. If it needs to hit harder, make the ramp steeper.

Some Set-Ups to Try

I’ve grabbed screen captures of lots of elements from videos in my playlist of simple, achievable Rube Goldberg devices . These are all elements that use simple materials you have at home. You can click on any picture for a better look. Pick out a few to try. If you get a couple separate elements working and you’re having fun, you could try stringing multiple elements together.

rube goldberg project examples

Toy Car on a Ramp to Ring a Bell or Pop a balloon . Set up a ramp for the car. Find a way to trigger the car to start it moving so it rolls down the ramp, hits the bell hard enough to ring it, or hits the balloon hard enough to pop it. Hint: if it’s not hitting with enough force – you may need to make the ramp steeper to make it roll faster. (For the balloon: Put a pushpin, tack or needle on the front of a toy car.)

rube goldberg project examples

Knock down a domino chain. 1) Roll a marble through a ramp made from a paper towel tube, 2) include fidget spinners in a domino chain – they help you change direction, 3) use a ball to knock over book-dominos to knock into another ball, or 4) set up a domino chain to travel UP a stack of books.

rube goldberg project examples

rube goldberg project examples

rube goldberg project examples

Ramps / Inclined Planes . One of the easiest ways to move something from one place to another is to roll it down a hill. So, there’s LOTS of inclined planes in chain reactions. See the list of supplies at the top and these pictures for ideas of materials to use. Once you’ve figured out one ramp, it’s fun to set up switchbacks, where your ball (or car or…) rolls one direction, then the other and so on as it goes down. The most intriguing ramp for me is the bottom, where they cut paper to create a spiral ramp around a water bottle. The geometry of it is challenging!

rube goldberg project examples

Bounce and Pour : Try playing with bounces – 1) the ball falls from the table, bounces off one pot and into another – you have to have your angles just right . 2) You can create a “trampoline” by stretching part of a balloon over the top of the container. A common goal of Rubes is to “water a plant” – basically, knock a cup of water over so it pours onto a plant. 3) You could roll or bounce a ball into the cup of water, or you could 4) knock over a series of domino-books to knock over the water.

rube goldberg project examples

Triggers . To get the action started, you can 1&2) have something fall into a car to push it down a ramp, 3) roll a roll of duct tape into a domino chain, or 4) have a cell phone vibrate its way down a ramp to hit the domino chain.

That’s just some ideas to get you started. As you can see, the only limit on Rube Goldberg design is your imagination!

More about Rube Goldbergs

This article in the Verge talks about the history of Rube Goldberg, and about modern RG competitions.

This video provides a brief introduction to Rube Goldberg devices and the annual competition, but it also talks about how parents and children working together on devices provided a welcome distraction during the coronavirus lockdowns. They touch on the fact that building a chain reaction requires a great deal of patience, persistence, and the willingness to try again and again to get it right.

More resources

Here are the most helpful explanations I found for teaching kids how to build chain reactions.

Lesson plans for middle schoolers: and

Look here for more ideas for fun Contraptions activities for kids age 3 – 6. That post includes recommended children’s books that relate to contraptions or Rube Goldbergs.

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[…] Reactions: You could create a simple Rube Goldberg device to knock down a tower, using Domino chains, or a car rolling down a ramp, or a ball bounced […]

[…] could also create a simple Rube Goldberg device to knock down a tower, using Domino chains, or a car rolling down a ramp, or a ball bounced […]

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