Domino effect: Chain reaction advice from a pro toppler
Alex Huang, known as Flash Domino on YouTube, shares his advice for building epic Rube Goldberg machines. He’s leading a team of chain reaction pros to break the world’s longest chain reaction record at an event called Reactica at The Tech Interactive Saturday, August 10, 2019.
The Tech: What was your first attempt at a chain reaction?
Alex Huang: My first Rube Goldberg machine attempts were in 2015, but my first attempt at anything chain reaction related was in 2011. It was a small line of dominoes that led to a wall — nothing special, but since I haven’t really stopped building since then, I’m happy to say I’ve improved a lot.
TT: Any tips for someone who wants to get started in making chain reactions?
AH: Watch YouTube videos, see as many chain reactions as possible first, and get a feel for how they’re paced and how objects are distributed. Rube Goldberg machines can be made from anything, but a few common objects will help make the machine reliable. Handling adhesives like tape and hot glue is very important. Connecting objects with string is a good way to transfer movement. Like anything, you’ll get better the more you practice.
TT: What’s the biggest challenge in going after the World Record?
AH: We’ll have to pace ourselves. Latvian e-commerce company Scandiweb currently holds the record for the world’s biggest Rube Goldberg machine after lighting up a Christmas tree in the town of Riva in 2016. To pass their 412 steps, each builder will have to build about 70 steps on their own. To reach that number safely, we’re all trying to build 12 steps each day of the build week.
TT: You’ve built up a solid audience on YouTube. Any tips for people looking to start their own channels?
AH: To me, getting views and likes to overcome YouTube’s algorithm isn’t as important as finding a community of like-minded artists. When you start, be safe online and look for communities that have genuine members also looking to share art with other people with productions, performances, or local clubs and groups.
Even without revealing a lot about yourself (because I definitely didn’t at first), you can share your community’s work, give feedback, and subscribe and follow other creators. I’m fortunate to say that even though I knew my chain reaction friends online before meeting them in real life, I saw them reaching out to organizations, getting their names on legitimate news and blogs, and respectfully encouraging one another, and I knew I wanted to try that too.
TT: What’s it like working in a team to create a massive chain reaction like Reactica?
AH: This team is special because we all can build Rube Goldberg machines, and that’s something very few people really know about. I feel like being able to discuss our art with a team member that understands what we’re talking about makes us all build better. We’ve had little debates about the best building styles and environment, and it’s kept my mind open. I’d rather have my peers question and improve my skills than have onlookers casually accept them.
TT: Where do you draw inspiration for creative materials?
AH: Objects can come from anywhere, really. If I find a potential object to build with, I look at its mechanics. Builders typically consider tipping, rotating, rolling, or opening/closing. If it’s compatible with any of those movements, we’ll use it. We also like considering the weight, and whether it would be able to support other materials.
TT: Have you ever failed? What’s your advice on bouncing back?
AH: Quite a lot of my chain reactions haven’t made it through all the way during the fall-down. If it’s homemade, it’s easy to stop and look at what happened, but if it’s for an audience, the show must go on. Most of us have improved so gradually with each event that it’s impossible to pinpoint a certain technique that makes us better — we just stick with it.
The event at The Tech Interactive will really test our resilience since a world record machine has to work in one take. But fortunately, you can’t knock anything over early when building Rube Goldberg Machines, since they are made to be reset quickly and we set them off all the time to test their reliability.
TT: Are there any other chain reaction pros you admire?
AH: Most chain reaction art is passed around our little YouTube community, so I know even some of the world’s best artists in person. Lily Hevesh and Steve Price are two famous artists that lead live events all the time. Lily is the most subscribed domino artist in the world, with over 2.5 million subscribers. Another annual event is Domino World, in Ann Arbor, MI. I love watching that event and I think everyone on that team deserves more recognition. Some Domino World builders even build for Reactica.
TT: Is there a special trick you’ve wanted to attempt? What would be your dream location?
AH: If I were to ever go full artist mode and somehow make a living off of chain reaction art (I guess that’s not likely but it’s a nice thought), I would want to collaborate with a musician to make a music video or lyric video. Getting domino tricks to follow along to music is a really cool concept I’ve tried before and want to keep improving. Spending a couple weeks building on a nice table in a nice studio, we’d get a good finished product.
The final topple and world record attempt took place at The Tech Interactive on Saturday, Aug. 10, 2019.