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General Maze FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

Why have mazes captured our attention for centuries?

Mazes are mysterious. What lies at the center of a maze or labyrinth? The unknown always fascinates us. Is it monster, like the Minotaur, that is perhaps a reflection of our selves? or is it something valuable? Mazes were used beneath Middle Kingdom Egyptian pyramids to hide the burial chambers of Pharaohs— and the riches they held—from tomb robbers.

Mazes are challenging. Will we be able to find our way through the maze? What secret tricks or knowledge might help us solve the puzzle? What pitfalls have been created by the maze designer to snare us?

Finally, mazes and labyrinths can be found in many different cultures around the world, including ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome, Norway, India, and American Indians in Arizona. All these different cultures share a similar basic labyrinth design, the 7-circuit or "Cretan" labyrinth. It is an unsolved mystery why this symbol is so similar in so many distinct cultures.

Are there hidden meanings to mazes and labyrinths?

Yes there are many. In the Middle Ages, Church labyrinths symbolized the tortuous path that good Christians followed towards redemption. Their careful placement within the cathedrals suggests that they do contain a wealth of coded information.

Ancient stone labyrinths, on the shores of the Baltic sea, were probably walked by fishermen who wanted to return safely from dangerous voyages, and were believed to trap evil spirits (which were thought to only move in straight lines).

To the Greeks and Romans the labyrinth symbol signified the myth of Theseus and Minotaur. The Minotaur was a half-man, half bull monster, imprisoned in a labyrinth on the island of Crete near Greece. The Labyrinth was built by Daedalus, the ingenious inventor and artificer, and it was a confusing, complex building that once entered was impossible to leave. Worse, King Minos of Crete, after winning a war with the city of Athens, forced the Athenians to regularly send 7 young men and women to be fed to the Minotaur.

The Greek hero Theseus went to Crete to slay the Minotaur, and there King Minos's daughter, Ariadne, fell in love with him. She gave Theseus a ball of thread so he could find his way back out of the labyrinth. Theseus killed the Minotaur and, using the thread, got back out of the labyrinth. Theseus and Ariadne ran off together in Theseus ship, but Theseus, tiring of Ariadne, abandoned her on one of the Greek Islands before returning to Athens.

My own mazes have their own hidden meanings, for those who can find them.

Why do you create maze puzzles of the Wonders of the Ancient World?

Well, I just wrote about what I was obsessed with. I've been fascinated by mazes since the 5th grade, and I've always been intrigued by archaeology and ancient architectural wonders. Maybe its the unknown that fascinates me - so many unanswered questions and puzzles. One thing I did figure out after writing the book, though, was that ancient monuments and labyrinths do share something in common: they both exemplify order and disorder, artistry and chaos, simultaneously.

How do you draw your mazes?

I draw them by hand (very slowly!) and then scan them into the computer to post on this website or send to clients. The basic process involves first, finding something that I think will make a great maze (for example, the Statue of Liberty). Once I have the object and decide on the perspective, I start filling in the lines. The last step is to add the dead ends and false passages to make it a confusing puzzle. And yes, the pens I use are very, very thin :)

Who makes the best maze solver?

After many years of doing this, I can definitively say: Coffee drinkers make the best maze solvers. Drink a lot of coffee and you will be an excellent maze solver (and no, I am not affiliated with the Specialty Coffee Association). Actually, there are some tricks, but it depends on the maze.

For outdoor mazes (cornfield, hedge) guess who almost always solves them first? Children! Why, because they RUN. Forget about trying to methodically outwit the maze, just move fast. You can also try the left-hand rule, when you follow the passages with your left (or right) hand always in contact with the wall. This does not always work though.

For maze puzzle books, like my own, here are a few tricks: learn to follow the lines or barriers with your eye, not the passages. The lines are what block you. Also, try solving the maze in reverse, from end to start, if you are really stuck (this is sort of cheating, but only marginally so).

Keep in mind, though, that some people are just better than others. In fact, some strains of lab rats are better at solving mazes than humans, if you can believe it. And slime molds can beat us all. They can solve mazes the most efficiently. This is probably because they leave a trail of slime behind, and thus, know where they have been before.

What is the difference between a maze and a labyrinth today?

Today people think of mazes as tricky and confusing puzzles, with false passages and dead ends. Examples include the Dole Pineapple Plantation maze, cornfield mazes, or the art from the Amazeing Art book. Labyrinths, on the other hand, are thought to have a single path that winds into center, and are often (but not always) circular. The best-known labyrinths are Church labyrinths, such as at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco or Chartres Cathedral in France.

Were mazes and labyrinths always thought of differently?

No, they were not. If you look back to the ancient world, there was really no distinction between mazes and labyrinths. The ancient idea of the labyrinth was identical to what we call a maze today. The ancient labyrinth was a place of "inextricable error" where you could wander in confusion for some time, or worse, be eaten by the Minotaur who resided within. The ancient written descriptions of labyrinths and their pictorial depictions, however, were at odds. Greek coins, Roman mosaics, and Medieval manuscripts all used similar symbols for the labyrinth: a unicursal (single-path) design that wound into the center. Eventually this difference between idea and image led to the modern distinction between mazes, which have dead ends, and labyrinths, which do not.

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The Pyramids likewise surpass description, but the Egyptian Labyrinth surpasses the Pyramids."

—Herodotus, Greek historian, 5th century BC

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