A Tribute to Rube Goldberg

I should start with an admission. Until I became managing editor of FTR in 2014, I didn’t pay a lot of attention to the Best of Show awards at ICAST. Now, however, I find them quite interesting — often illuminating, sometimes perplexing and regularly frustrating.

Last week, I revisited my annual rant on the flaws of voting for Overall Best of Show at ICAST. If you haven’t read it, I hope you’ll go back and check it out. If you’re involved in making products that vie for Best of Show honors, if you’re a buyer or retailer who puts any stock in the Best of Show awards or if you’re a New Products Showcase voter, there’s stuff in there you need to know and stuff that desperately needs to be fixed.

This week, I continue my Best of Show revue with a tribute to Rube Goldberg (1883-1970). If you don’t know who he is, you’re not alone.

Goldberg was a popular cartoonist in the first half of the 20th century. Some of his best-known cartoons depicted incredibly complicated machines that did extremely simple things.

I know you’ve seen these contraptions before. They usually start with dominos falling or something like that. The last domino causes a match to be struck which burns a string that releases a bowling ball that lands on a lever that opens a cage that releases a mouse that’s chased by a cat that knocks over a vase that rings a doorbell. Ultimately, all that mayhem was put into action just to ring the doorbell.

Well, every time I go to ICAST I get the feeling that Rube Goldberg is alive and well, working in the fishing industry as a designer.

What’s more, he’s racking up Best of Show awards.

More and more, I’m learning that there are ways to dramatically increase your odds of winning a Best of Show award at ICAST. Simply having a great product is usually not enough. Since voters have no meaningful opportunity to test these products before they vote, a product needs one of four qualities to win.

First, it could be completely intuitive and solve a perplexing problem in the fishing world. The trick is that one glance must convey not only its purpose but that it serves that purpose well.

Second, it could be extraordinarily realistic. This applies primarily to lures, of course. The extremely realistic gets noticed, and what gets noticed gets votes.

Third, it could have reputation. A product made by a company that has a reputation for quality or innovation has an edge over those made by new companies or by companies without a great reputation.

Finally, it could be a Rube Goldberg machine — a contraption that looks like it came from the mind of a mad scientist.

Absent the opportunity to test all the items in the Showcase, products that are significantly different have an edge. They have eye appeal. They have wonder. And they get votes.

Here’s to Rube Goldberg!