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My ex, who routinely slept through at least three alarms and once instructed me to wake her for an important exam by throwing a glass of water in her face, could have used a gadget like Rube Goldberg’s alarm clock, a model of which is now on display at the National Museum of American History. Chattering false teeth bite an elephant’s tail; a young girl’s tears cause a plant to grow; a crane tilts a bed; and these are but a few of the increasingly ridiculous steps leading to the sleeper’s getting dumped into skates and rolled into the bathroom. From 1914 to 1964, former engineer Goldberg mapped out such convoluted devices in his cartoon The Inventions of Professor Lucifer Gorgonzola Butts, a loving satire of humanity’s “infinite capacity for exerting maximum effort to accomplish minimum results.” Although the small alarm clock model is kinda fun, Goldberg’s sensibility is best appreciated in the several pages of original art on display. (Predictions for the Year 2070 is pictured.) Momentum gathers as your eye follows each absurd step in the long process toward completing some chore so ordinary as sharpening a pencil. The showcase exhibit also promotes the annual Goldberg Machine Contest hosted by Purdue University. Carrying on the cartoonist’s legacy, contestants build complicated contraptions to perform—in no fewer than 20 steps—such simple tasks as putting toothpaste on a toothbrush, sticking a stamp on a letter, or, in 1998, turning off an alarm clock. Perhaps my ex could have benefited. On view from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily at the National Museum of American History, 14th and Constitution Ave. NW. Free. (202) 357-2700. (Mark W. Sullivan)