Breakthrough at Purdue! Students Discover How to Send a Letter to Letterman in 33 Easy Steps

updated 03/21/1988 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/21/1988 AT 01:00 AM EST

How many engineering students does it take to mail a letter to David Letterman? Well, if the students happen to be competing in Purdue University's annual Rube Goldberg Contest, the answer is six. Inspired by Goldberg, the late cartoonist whose legendary contrivances made complicated lunacy of the most basic tasks, it took six fevered brains to design a 33-step machine capable of licking a stamp and sticking it on a letter.

The winning team's captain, senior Steve Zellers, 23, estimates that he and teammates Jeff Powers, Brant Maines, Greg Siewiorek, Chris Dickson and Craig Coak spent 400 to 500 hours developing their contraption. Using such high-tech components as two table fans, two mousetraps, a toy helicopter and Jeep, a plastic mailman, a fish tank with six excited goldfish, a cutout dog, imitation snow, a sledge-a-matic, a medium-size egg, circuit breakers, aluminum foil, a fuzzy fake tongue, a miniature mailbox and an Alka-Seltzer tablet, Zellers' group won a stamps-down victory over five competing teams. "Awesome," as one bystander announced.

The stamp-licker was not altogether a fruitless endeavor. The team and its apparatus may appear, posthaste, on Late Night With David Letterman. Besides, as contest judge and Purdue history professor Vernard Foley pointed out to the cheering crowd, "When you compare the Rube Goldberg Contest to things like the new tax forms, it doesn't come out looking too bad."

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