nearly every gathering for years to come. (
Twenty-three years later my student Matt Wong became
the only person to finish Equilibre Hable, and he
did it on his first try.)
nowhere with the game. We hired a consultant who
gave us marketing ideas that went nowhere. Again, it
was a good thing, because my design sense was still
Another ten years passed, during which we
had two children. It was 1997. I continued teaching
art courses, and pursued patents and business
prospects for mat cutter designs and picture framing systems as a way to earn extra income. This
five-year exercise ended up being successful (only
in my mind) because I learned about confidence
and how to work with industry. Freshly freed from
working on those inventions, I was eager to delve
once again, deeper, into the game.
I was convinced that this thing could be a real
product. All I had to do was get someone to grasp
the concept and run with it. Someone in the toy
world would take it on, design a beautiful and
elegant version, manufacture and market it, and
I’d just watch it all happen. How wrong I was!
Two years passed before I dared to research toy
manufacturers and make calls. No one even took
the time to look at it. In hindsight, this was a good
thing. I didn’t have the skills or maturity to take the
game to the next level. I was fearful of making a new
design and physical model. At this point I could only
draw up ideas. I did discover one thing: the game
was about a concept, not a particular design. It was
ramps, railings, and turnarounds. This idea was far
too open-ended for me to solve at the time.
I can only describe the next phase as the lost
years. I was in college working toward a degree in
sculpture when a feeling came over me. How could
I contribute to the mass consumerism and greed
of our culture by making a commercial object?
Think of all the resources used and the pollution that
would result from being part of the Big Problem.
Eventually I came to my senses, realizing that this
was a thing of joy, and, if made properly, would not
end up crowding landfills or washing up on beaches.
Refinements and Disappointments
Nine years had passed since I’d made the first
model. Equipped with a master’s degree in sculpture,
I began teaching at Santa Rosa Junior College. I had
time to work on the idea again. I did lots of theorizing
about the essence of the game, and I had become
much better at drawing and aesthetics. My new
bride, Becky, encouraged me to pursue Psychopath
(its new name).
I finally began to better define the basic elements:
on-ramps, straightaways, drops, pathway inverters,
complex inverters, single- and double-sided ramps,
angles, guard rails, tunnels and tubes, transfer rails,
and finish boxes. Injection-molded plastic parts
could be cemented together.
Within a year, we fell victim to one of those invention submission scams and spent good money hiring
a company to generate a marketing/manufacturing
report. Armed with this useless information, I got
Breaking into the Toy Biz
Out of the blue, I asked my digital arts student
Erin Montague if she knew anyone in the toy
industry. “My brother!” she exclaimed. Erin’s
brother introduced me to Dan Klitsner and his
team at KID Group in San Francisco. KID was well
known and respected in the toy industry as inventors. They license ideas to all the major players.
Over the next two years, I worked on a series of
cube models, refining concepts, while KID pursued
contacts and offered advice on design issues. Dan
would say, “We have a meeting with X tomorrow.
Can you make a new model by then?” I’d stay up all
night, travel to San Francisco in the morning, and
drive back to my class in the afternoon. This was
an awesome time.
KID made a deal with Stewart Sims (the guy
who brought Rubik’s Cube to the free world) to
make and market Plexus, the latest name for my
game, which then became Perplexus. Sims was
with a startup company called Next Electronix. KID
gave me two days to devise a new 4-inch spherical
model, and three days to construct it.
Next Electronix was suitably impressed, and we
collaborated for the better part of a year on tooling,
prototypes, samples, production models, and
packaging designs. We produced a TV commercial
reminiscent of That ’70s Show, with kids playing the
game in their basement. I flew to New York for the
American International Toy Fair, where the game
was officially released. How exciting!
Superplexus Goes Global
Well, the toy fair was a great success, but Next
Electronix was not. They went belly-up because of
internal problems. The game ended up in boxes
somewhere in a subsidiary of Playmates Toys. It
42 Make: Volume 20