Let’s talk about mazes!  Josh linked me to this article the other day about a man who is trying to create the first Guinness World Record for longest hand-drawn maze.  The hook of the article is that, since the maze is so long and arduous, the creator is having trouble finding people who want to bother to sit down and solve it.  I can relate (to those wary solvers).

Pencil-and-paper mazes baffle me.  How do you even make them?  Are there some patterns and tricks that you learn?  Does your mind become good at keeping track of the path and whether or not you’ve closed it off?  (I would totally fail the Architect tryouts scene in Inception.)  The other thing about pencil-and-paper mazes is that I don’t particularly care for them.  The seem a little overwhelming and without much payoff when you solve.  Though I suppose I haven’t really done one since I was a kid, and I certainly haven’t tried one from a puzzler’s perspective.  Does anyone have a great maze they recommend?

What I see when I look at a pencil-and-paper maze (the overwhelming part) and what I wish it was (the physical part)


The mazes that really do interest me are physical 3D mazes that you actually get to traverse.  Can you guess why?  Ding ding ding!  It’s the experience!  The immersion!  The novelty!  The mystery!  Sometimes I think about designing my ideal maze, and the elements I usually find myself focusing on are things like music, lighting, and special effects.  That being said, the puzzle elements can still play a big part in building the atmosphere of a physical maze.  The act of a door closing and locking behind you, as it would in a loops and traps maze, produces a set of very specific reactions and feelings, almost inherently.

I desperately want to go to more mazes.  I can count the number of mazes I’ve been to on one hand:  The DeSoto’s Lost Trail Maze at DeSoto Caverns Park in 3rd grade, a temporary exhibit maze at the St. Louis Science Center in 4th grade (where I cheated through it with a friend by ducking under the panels), the Kaeser Memorial Maze at Missouri Botanical Garden in 6th grade, The Ultimate Mirror Maze Challenge in San Antonio in 2009 (wins the Most Hyperbolic Name award), and the Liberty Mills Corn Maze in Somerset, VA last year.  That’s it!  But just thinking about mazes gets me so excited.

Halloween has a lot of maze potential, so I am on the lookout.  (Remember how disappointed I was when the 13 haunted house at Busch Gardens turned out not to be a maze?)  Blood Lake is probably going to be the haunt closest to where I live, and it also happens to have a maze this year (called “Slaughterpen 13,” ack), so I’m definitely going to check that out.  If you hear about any haunted mazes anywhere near Virginia or D.C., please let me know!

And of course, I can’t write a post about mazes without mentioning The Mole.  The hedge maze game was probably the single most frustrating thing to watch on the entire show.  The players were paired up, with one player going through the maze in darkness and the other acting as navigator over a headset.  The navigator could see an aerial view of the maze on a monitor and had to guide the player around, kind of Pac-Man-style.  The maze would have a couple of runners trying to catch the players, and the goal was usually to reach a certain amount of time spent in the maze before being caught (combined total of all the pairs), sometimes with a cash bonus or exemption incentive for actually escaping the maze.  The two problems almost every team encountered:  1)  Everybody, inexplicably, RAN through the maze.  This sent them toward their captors more quickly, made noise that alerted the captors, and usually meant the player would miss a handful of instructions from the navigator, blowing right by turns and openings.  2)  The navigators were always terrible at keeping the orientation of the player in mind, often telling them to go “my” left (from the aerial camera view) instead of “their” right (from the player’s perspective moving south in the maze).  The show would always try to play this up as “Was it sabotage???” but you always knew it was just people getting caught up and mixed up.

Do you guys like mazes?  Even the pencil-and-paper ones?  Have any good maze stories?


10 comments on Mazes

  • Robotguy

    Not a big fan of pencil & paper mazes, though I did just create a rather large one by hand for a puzzle hunt I’m working on (It won’t be pencil & paper when I’m done). My method was to mark the start & finish, draw the main path, then fill in by branching a dead end every so often.

    If you’re looking for physical mazes that don’t require actual travel, try RevoMaze. The new plastic versions are much more affordable.

  • watersnake

    Ah, mazes – I am a frequent visitor to the UK Maize Mazes (mazes made of maize…) – there’s a few around the country, I think all designed by the same person, and they’re different each year. They are all on farms, giving the farmers a tourist attraction, and the maize is all fed to the cows when it’s all over.

    They are always themed around the overall shape of the maze (see especially the bottom of the page for examples of past mazes) with an additional task to do that involves having to visit all parts to the maze. Usually these involve obtaining a letter (sometimes in code) so you can put them all together at the end and form a word. One I went to had sections of the map at each point so it finding your way became easier as it went along. Another was in two parts, where collecting numbers in the first part gave you a code to open a door leading to the second.

    These are all very easy codes by the way, and very family-friendly. Usually you take a large flag with you and can wave it if you’re too lost or in trouble and one of the staff will come and find you. Some other of the larger ones sell you a map in an envelope at the beginning and you can get your money back at the end if you return it unopened. Lots open especially for Hallowe’en too – mazing in the dark!

    You may have guessed I love these – and am very frustrated I’ve not managed to get to any this year – the summer hasn’t been good for maize-growing so several haven’t opened. Overall it’s one of the most fun and least commercial days out you can have.

    A quick search shows there are some in the US – check out this link for your nearest one:

    • clavicarius (author)

      We have a lot of corn mazes over here! =) The MAiZE is a great resource of all or most of the corn mazes all across the US.

      I went to my first corn maze last year and had a great time! It had three different paths: Easy (trivia markers posted along the way), Medium (multiple choice trivia questions posted throughout the maze, each correct answer gave a letter which spelled a phrase), and Hard (21 unique hole punches to punch your card). You got a candy prize I think if you finished Medium or Hard.

      We didn’t really plan enough time and didn’t even finish the Medium track (The trivia was really hard! Though we did come up with a creative answer that worked, haha) We also got to chat up the owner for a bit, he was super friendly and told us a lot about the maze and the company that designs it each year. The design of this maze is always really intricate. Last year featured Mount Rushmore (we were looking at the map saying “Okay, I think we’re in Lincoln’s eyebrow!), and this year has a big map of the USA. You can see the designs here. At night it becomes a flashlight maze I believe.

      I really need to make it out to one this year! I really did have a good time. Not sure how much the husband wants to go again, but he usually concedes if I convince him something is good exercise =)

      I’d like to find one that is a little more complex, like the one you posted that has bridges or doors like you mentioned.

  • Larry Hosken

    A maze on its own feels kinda like a chore to me. A maze with a twist is better. E.g., a maze that conceals a hidden message; the Shinteki folks have done at least one nice thing in this vein. It helped that they knew their audience knew codes.

    • Dan E.

      Interestingly, if you’re talking about the same Shinteki maze (the one presented as a big folio sheet, where under/overs mattered), I recall a lot of teams complaining they found it “grindy” and “tedious”.

      In our case I kind of enjoyed it; Wei-Hwa took over, gave us each a crash course in rapid parallel large scale maze solving, and set us each to a corner of the board. (The technique was: Start crossing out dead areas, working from dead ends, working back as all the exits from a node turn out to be dead. As the forward solver goes on, the maze is increasingly trivialized by all the backfillers.) Being part of a well coordinated team effort can be exhilarating in its own way, even if the work is mundane.

      I don’t think the “twist” added much to the actual maze solve; IIRC it was mostly a readout mechanism. So either the big maze solve was fun, or it wasn’t. I got the sense from GC that based on feedback they decided it wasn’t the best idea after the fact.

      Also there’s the 4D maze in Dr. When. Ahem.

      Corn/hedge/funhouse mazes do have that awesome “you are inside the puzzle!” nature. The key mechanism can be just as tedious, though, if not made more interesting somehow. And again you have the challenge of effective teamwork, only now it’s a different challenge. ISETV (I think) had a location at a family fun center with a big maze. Coordinating your exploration of the maze over radio (teams all carried walkie talkies back in the day) was tricky, but worthwhile if done well. Or, you could just bribe the staff to show you all the stamps….

      So yeah, at the core I think mazes are about as interesting as word searches (which is to say, basically not at all [seriously people why do you put word searches in puzzle hunts stop it!]). But they’re more visually and physically compelling and admit a lot of interesting team and immersion experiences. And yes there are lots of interesting ways to generate mazes, with different characteristics. I keep meaning to explore algorithmic maze construction plus a laser cutter or 3D printer…

      I have also enjoyed me some labyrinth walks, but that’s a different scene.

      • clavicarius (author)

        That teamwork aspect does actually sound fun! I think I could get into a paper-and-pencil puzzle if that aspect was incorporated.

        I think physical human-scale mazes just have so much potential for cool mechanics, especially if you start bringing in things like walkie talkies, making it a team effort to search and find things, and giving the players different objectives to complete within the maze.

  • Gregory Stewart

    Sometimes the door whooshes closed, softly in a loops and traps maze, and while you look forward searching for the next correct door, a creepy clown sneeks up behind you. See:

    • clavicarius (author)

      Oh wow, thanks so much for sharing! This is perfection =) Especially inspiring that it’s all homegrown. I really like the thoughtful design of the maze… That element of the player’s experience is really what makes a physical maze so much more interesting than a pen-and-paper maze, I think.

      And that’s got to be one of your designs then on the Wikipedia page for mazes! I had been wondering where it came from.

      Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing your maze!

      • Gregory Stewart

        Thanks Yes that is the 2008 version of our Halloween Maze. The Loops and traps features make the maze more challenging in such a small place.

        We also make some doors more obvious than others, so that an impatient player misses the correct door and “discovers” a door that just leads him back to the entrance. Every maze we make includes at least one door that is hidden by the opening of another door. We have seen so many people who helpfully hold open the first door for their friends or partners and thus hide the correct door by their own actions.

        Everything we put into the maze, including the maze creatures, is designed to play with the maze goer’s head.

        • Gregory Stewart

          Now we have recreated one of our loops and traps mazes for the virtual realm. It is at and it is free.

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