Michael McGinnis, with a large sculpture version of his puzzle game, Perplexus. (Press Democrat photo by Christopher Chung, 2012.)

Perplexus, the three-dimensional, labyrinthine puzzle invented by Santa Rosa Junior College art teacher Michael McGinnis, was named Game of the Year on Saturday, Feb. 9, by the Toy Industry Association in New York.

Worldwide balloting for the honor began last November, with association members, consumers, retailers and journalists voting online.

“It is wonderful to be recognized with this award,” McGinnis said. “But this was never made to win awards. It was made to serve as a skill-building tool, and to give people enjoyment.”

Read a Press Democrat profile of McGinnis here

To play the game, you hold the ball in both hands, and tilt it to move a small metal ball through a maze of layered ramps.

McGinnis first conceived the idea for Perplexus in 1979, while still a junior at Casa Grande High School in Petaluma.

He continued to tinker with the project while working on the junior college’s art faculty and art gallery staff, where he has worked since 1987.  McGinnis, 51, and his wife, Becky, live in Santa Rosa.

In 2002, the toy industry giant Hasbro picked up Perplexus for worldwide distribution, but later dropped it. McGinnis now works in partnership with KID Interactive, San Francisco-based toy inventors.

The puzzle is available at nationwide chain stores, as well as several local shops.

McGinnis has created a series of four Perplexus puzzles, ranging in difficulty from beginner to advanced. This year’s Toy of the Year Award went to the most challenging edition, titled Epic.

“We’re going to continue the series, and also do large-scale versions of the games,” McGinnis said.

In addition to his work on the mass-marketed game version of his creation, McGinnis also designs much larger versions of Perplexus, measuring several feet in circumference. He builds them in a shop behind his home with help from Graton artist and craftsman James Yonts.

These giant working puzzles sell as sculptures to museums and collectors for as much as $30,000.

Despite the success of Perplexus, McGinnis continues to teach at Santa Rosa Junior College.

“I want that connection with students,” he said.