Webster’s New World dictionary defines Rube Goldberg as
A comically involved, complicated invention, laboriously contrived to perform a simple operation.
Dictionary.com has two definitions:
1. Having a fantastically complicated, improvised appearance: a Rube Goldberg arrangement of flasks and test tubes.
2. Deviously complex and impractical: a Rube Goldberg scheme for reducing taxes.
Rube Goldberg, though, is not just a term for a silly invention that performs the simplest task by the most complicated path, Rube Goldberg (1883-1970) was an actual person, one of the 20th century’s more popular cartoonists. It’s not well known but two great cartoonists, Goldberg and Betty Boop creator and animation pioneer Max Fleischer both spent part of their careers working in Detroit making films for the Jam Handy Organization. The Handy studios made instructional and promotional films, many of them for General Motors, primarily Chevrolet. The promotional films were distributed free of charge to theater operators, who were glad to get free content.