A-Mazing Mazes By Emi Yasuda
“Lost in a Maze- Couple Calls 911” was one of last year’s biggest headlines. Last October, a couple and their newborn visited a Massachusetts corn maze, and just an hour after sunset the disorientated pair panicked and called the police.
This disaster-road-trip sparked a flurry of questions from the media. How could anyone get lost in a cornfield? Why didn’t they push their way through the stalks? Whatever the couple’s reasons were, the most important question asked was, “Aren’t mazes supposed to be fun?”
A maze is a path full of twists and turns. It goes left, right, and left again. Mazes are full of dead ends and spiraling paths that wind their way through barriers of corn, hedges, and even bricks walls.
Mankind has long been drawn to the idea of the maze. One of the earliest mazes, if myth is to be believed, was built in ancient Greece. According to the legend of Theseus and the Minotaur, King Minos of Crete constructed a labyrinth to hold the vicious, man-eating Minotaur, a bloodthirsty monster that is half man, half bull. As a peace offering, the Athenian king promised to sacrifice seven Athenian boys and girls every nine years to the Minotaur. Theseus was able to end this cycle of death by defeating the monster and finding his way out of the maze using a trail of string.
Flash forward to the Middle Ages and mazes were still around. These labyrinths, however, were not built to contain mythical beasts. Instead, European mazes were constructed by churches and used for religious penance. The single path from the entrance to the end represented a person’s spiritual journey.
Later on in 15th century England, the planting of elaborate gardens became very fashionable with the aristocracy. Various shrubs and hedges were cut into fantastical mazes. They were not designed to confuse people; they merely created a way to go for a long walk in a small garden. The idea of constructing puzzling mazes with high hedges and dead ends did not arrive in England until King William of Orange. He ordered the reconstruction and expansion of Hampton Court Palace in the late 17th century, yielding the UK’s oldest surviving hedge maze. Before King William’s commission, most mazes in the UK were categorized as unicursal, or single path, meaning they contained only one path that usually spiraled towards the center. However, the Hampton Court maze was designed as a multicursal or puzzle maze, possessing multiple twists, turns, and dead ends in order to confuse the maze-goers.
Archeologists have found labyrinthine patterns carved into rock walls, on pottery shards, and tile mosaics. Some date back all the way to 2000 BCE. It is impossible to know all the myriad of uses to which humans have put mazes throughout the ages, but nowadays, most mazes are simply built for fun. They can be fashioned out of trees, rose bushes, hay bales, and corn stalks, and are not merely spirals or rectangles; some are even made to resemble castles or popular television shows. A British Star Trek fan was inspired to create a maze with paths forming images of the Starship Enterprise, Spock’s head, and a Borg cube. When completed, the entire maze was the size of 15 football fields and consisted of 1.5 million plants!
And there are many more mazes all over the world that compete for the title of longest or most complex. Currently, the world’s largest maze is located in Hawaii. Oahu’s Dole Plantation holds the Guinness World Record for the largest maze, spanning over 3 acres and possessing nearly 2.5 miles of pathway. Incredibly, the maze is made from over 14,000 Hawaiian plants! The world’s longest maze, appropriately called Longleat, was designed in 1978. Located in Great Britain, this hedge maze is made up of more than 16,000 bushes. It has 1.6 miles of paths with spirals and forked junctions. Unlike most mazes, it also includes six wooden bridges which offer glimpses of the maze’s center for the lucky few who can make it that far. The largest corn maze in the world is actually situated right here in California. Cool Patch Pumpkins maze is not just big, it’s ginormous. The maze stretches over 45 acres, which is roughly equivalent to 40 football fields. On average it takes people an hour and a half to make it all the way through. However, an unlucky few have been stuck inside for hours at a time.
Don’t let a few labyrinthine mishaps scare you from venturing into a corn maze this year! After all, mazes have a rich, fascinating history and can be found all over the globe. In fact, the closest maze to Edison, Forneris Farms, is only an hour away! This year’s corn maze consists of over four acres of turns and dead ends. And if you’re feeling particularly adventurous, Southern California’s largest corn maze, Temecula’s Big Horse Corn Maze, is only half an hour longer down the road! Besides the corn maze, there’s also a bungee trampoline, hayrides, and a pumpkin patch. Don’t worry about getting lost; Yelp reviewers promise that the experience will be “A-mazing!” So gather a group of friends, print out a map, and get ready to celebrate fall!