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Rick Astley Clock

Never gonna (verb) you (preposition)

Some time ago, I sat near a coworker who had a wall clock in the shape of Elvis Presley. The legs were a faux pendulum that swung back and forth, mimicking the trademark Elvis hip-swivel. My natural (or possibly unnatural) reaction to this was, “Sure, Elvis. Anyone can make an Elvis clock. But what about Rick Astley?” And I set about to make a time-keeping tribute to the 80s pop icon.

One of the requirements was that the clock should chime “Never Gonna Give You Up” every hour, on the hour. Obviously. I mean, if it didn’t at least do that, what would be the point? If you can’t build a clock that constantly rick-rolls all within earshot, why even bother?

Problem #1: Where does one find a cartoon of Rick Astley?

Unsurprisingly, there are not a lot of cartoon drawings of Rick Astley. I spotted a few here and there, and did my best to capture the essence of Rick with a simple line drawing. (Note: Despite having a webcomic for over a decade, I can’t actually draw.)

Rick Astley cartoon

Problem #2: How to make the clock base…

Once I had the drawing, I was able to create a shape for the clock. I opted to make the body out of laser-cut plywood, overlaid with full-sheet label paper. This required severing Rick’s arms at the elbow (sorry Rick), and creating both an outline and a full-color sticker sheet.

Silhouette of Rick's bitsColor sticker of Rick's bits

Problem #3: The Mechanism…

My first attempt at making Rick’s arms swing using a pendulum clock failed miserably. The mechanism wasn’t strong enough to move the arms.

Instead, I built an Arduino-powered rig that used mini servo motors to swing the arms. This turned out to be useful, since I needed similar electronics for the audio effects. Kill two birds with one microcontroller.

Rick's back, with all the electronics attached

Problem #4: The music…

As previously stated, one of the main goals of making this clock was to have it chime on the hour with “Never Gonna Give You Up”. After much searching, I found a midi file of the song. I stripped out everything except the main melody, and set the remaining track’s instrument to “music box”.

And, well, this is the result…

Notes…

I made an early version of this using cardboard cutouts before committing to laser-cut plywood.

The plywood, while more robust, was heavier. This put extra strain on the servos, causing them to jitter occasionally.

The instructions for how to make your own can be found here.

Someday, when I’m wealthy enough to pay an artisan to do my bidding, I’d like to commission a fully-mechanical version of this clock, complete with a wind-up mechanism and a mechanical music box.

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Steve DeGroof

Steve is an expat Canadian who now lives in North Carolina. He has worked, at one time or other, as: a TV repairman, a security guard at a children's hospital, and a janitor in a strip club. His current day job is as a computer programmer for a bank, which doesn't involve nearly as much being electrocuted and cleaning up vomit. He has a patent for a "Folding Stereoscopic Computer Display", which sounds a lot more impressive than it really is. He has created various "artworks", including: a baby woolly mammoth with a jetpack (which doesn't actually fly), a Giger counter (not a typo), a clockwork orange (a bowler-hat-wearing, wind-up piece of fruit that plays "Singing in the Rain"), a clock in the shape of Rick Astley that chimes "Never Gonna Give You Up" on the hour (for which he is sincerely sorry). His first book, "Dandelion Seeds", was written largely by accident (it's... complicated).

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