Updated: 01/15/2014 7:22 AM
Created: 01/10/2014 4:35 PM KSTP.com
By: Josh Rosenthal
"Whoa," 7-year-old Sophia said to her 9-year-old brother Nathan, "Did you see that?"
You can't blame them for being impressed. They were standing in front of what is unofficially the tallest K'Nex ball machine in the world, a Rube Goldberg-like creation that picks small balls up off the ground, moves them through countless twists and turns, and drops them off several stories up.
"It's a feat of engineering but it's also a piece of art," said Jill Measells, the CEO of The Works Museum in Bloomington, where the ball machine was just completed. The machine has 100,000 K'Nex pieces; it weighs 500 pounds, and it's a staggering 23 feet tall.
The story behind how the ball machine came to be is a little unusual.
"We all were kind of in the right place at the right time and struck up this partnership," Measells explained.
It started when someone from The Works saw a viral video on YouTube with more than 2 million hits. It showed another massive K'Nex structure built in Austin Granger's St. Paul bedroom. Granger just so happens to be a current University of Minnesota student, and he was overjoyed when The Works wanted to put his unique skill set to work.
"It almost felt like it was sort of too good to be true and it wasn't actually going to happen," said Granger. Because let's face it, when you've been building super elaborate K'Nex structures in your room since the age of 4 -- as Granger has -- that gig is pretty much as good as it gets.
"Of course I could've kept building on it if I had enough pieces," he said, "but it was always the idea that I would keep building until I ran out of the pieces I need."
That's another issue all together. The Works didn't have 100,000 K'Nex pieces. Granger didn't have 100,000 K'Nex pieces. In the end, museum employees got their Facebook friends to donate them.
"This is Minnesota made," Measells said. "I mean, this is made by a Minnesotan, the pieces are donated by Minnesotans."
It took Granger four months to build the ball machine. He's actually a computer science major, but says it would be great to find a way to turn his love of K'Nex into a career.
The Works Museum is open seven days a week. Admission costs $8 per person.
Watch the video of the tower ball drop here.