The plant-watering machine devised by the team from Menomonie, Wis., told the story of a deserted Louisiana estate where ghosts come to life with the full moon.
Captain Andrew Behnke of Loyal, Wis., said the team, composed mostly of education and business majors, developed a storyline that drove the steps for the handcrafted machine.
The competition is named for the late cartoonist Rube Goldberg, known for his drawings of whimsical, complicated devices performing simple tasks.
Goldberg's granddaughter, Jennifer George, attended Saturday's competition and called it thrilling. She said, "I know my grandfather is here in spirit."