The Modern Maze Experience

[Image courtesy of Bergmann Corn Maze.]

Fall is here, and sadly, the epic season of corn mazes, hay bale mazes, and other seasonal labyrinths is coming to a close.

But fear not! You can still have a proper maze experience if you shop in the right places.

For instance, have you ever felt a bit like Theseus in the Labyrinth in certain warehouse-type stores?

[Image courtesy of Extraordinary Conversations.]

Instead of simply wandering one of several central pathways to the department desired, you’re forced to follow a particular, circuitous route, and all attempts to circumvent this experience can leave you turned around, confused, or feeling lost. It’s a unique sort of maze where you’re overwhelmed by powerlessness instead of myriad options.

IKEA is probably the store most associated with maze-like shopping experiences, and some professors and psychologists believe it’s entirely intentional.

[Image courtesy of The Reluctant Runner.]

According to Alan Penn, professor of Architectural and Urban Computing at The Bartlett School of Graduate Studies, there is a psychological effect induced by the layout of the store:

By delaying the ability of the shopper to fulfill their mission, at the same time as disorienting them and dissociating them from everyday life, when eventually they are “allowed” to start buying, the shopper feels licensed to treat themselves. The result is impulse buying.

That sense of dissociation is common to other industries. Casinos famously avoid having windows or clocks to evoke a sort of timelessness, leaving patrons disconnected from traditional cues that alert them to the passage of time.

This idea is so universal that a story satirizing the maze-shopping experience went viral on Facebook and other social media platforms recently.

[Image courtesy of There Is News.]

In the parody news story, a man was arrested for placing fake arrow decals on the floor of an IKEA and intentionally creating an unsolvable maze.

According to the text (which I have paraphrased for clarity):

Police and firemen arrived at the scene and entered by the exit door. Once inside, they observed the cashiers playing Candy Crush because there were no clients. Initiating a rescue protocol, they quickly arrived at the carpet section, where they observed that all customers were walking in circles and chasing “fake arrows.”

The article goes on to describe disoriented patrons who couldn’t remember their names, as well as a pregnant woman forced to give birth on a fake living room carpet.

Although the story is exaggerated, there’s no denying it can feel close to the truth in certain stores.

The suburban maze environment can be fun, to be sure, but I think I’ll stick to corn mazes for the time being.


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A Puzzly Touch of Spring!

[Image courtesy of Atlas Obscura.]

It snowed over the weekend here on the East Coast, and after a disappointing prediction of six more weeks of winter from some of the more famous groundhogs around the world, you may find yourself longing for spring and all the marvelous greenery it promises.

In that spirit, I thought I would dedicate this February day to some mind-bogglingly lovely mazes that combine nature’s beauty with the ingenuity of humans.

[Image courtesy of Mental Floss.]

To start, feast your eyes upon the lavender labyrinth at Cherry Point Farm and Market in Shelby, Michigan, one of the oldest operating farms in Michigan.

The owner began designing the labyrinth in 2001, and it has since grown large enough to be seen on Google Earth! Finding your way to the center of the labyrinth should take about an hour, and attendance is free!

Be sure to visit in mid-July, when the French lavender is in full bloom, and enjoy the gorgeous scenery not far from Lake Michigan.

[Image courtesy of Atlas Obscura.]

Of course, if you’re looking for a bit more of a challenge when it comes to your homegrown mazes, the Longleat Hedge Maze in Wiltshire, England will pique your interest.

It’s the longest hedge maze in the world — but not the largest — and consists of more than a mile and a half of meandering paths, including dead ends.

[Image courtesy of Atlas Obscura.]

With six raised bridges and a tower from which to survey the entire maze, it’s one of the most striking labyrinths I’ve ever seen.

It’s actually one of several mazes on the property — others include the Lunar Labyrinth and the Sun Maze — but it’s by far the largest on the property. Although it only dates back to 1975 (while some mazes in England date back centuries), it’s truly a sight to behold.

[Image courtesy of Atlas Obscura.]

To close out our look at labyrinths around the world, we venture into the southern hemisphere to explore the Enchanted Maze Garden in Arthurs Seat, Australia.

Although it is the year-round home of “a traditional hedge maze with a Japanese Garden at its center, an ancient turf labyrinth, and a circular roomed maze for children,” it’s the constantly evolving Maize Maze that puts Arthurs Seat in the record books every year.

Each year, a new maze is designed, and with GPS assistance, over 100,000 stalks of corn are planted to create the Maize Maze. Sprawling across two and a half acres, the Maize Maze is open from mid-February through late April.

Hopefully these glimpses into the amazing depth and breadth of hedge and corn mazes around the world has you looking forward to springtime puzzling outdoors! Or, at the very least, not feeling so dreary about winter.


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PuzzleNation Product Review: Brad Hough’s The Maze

Mazes are nothing new to even the most casual solver. Whether it’s a puzzle collection, a place mat at a chain restaurant, or a coloring book loaded with time-filling activities, we’ve all traced a path through a maze with pencil, crayon, or marker.

But in most paper-and-pencil mazes, we look down on the map from above, so we have the advantage of perspective, the ability to spot dead-ends ahead of time, the opportunity to make wiser choices with more information.

As anyone who has ever tackled a corn maze will tell you, maze navigation is far more challenging when you’re inside the puzzle itself, rather than observing it from a bird’s-eye view.

And that’s what makes Brad Hough’s The Maze series of puzzle books something different and far more challenging: they’re mazes designed from the first person perspective. You must imagine yourself walking through this maze, selecting each turn and hoping it will lead you to the promised land.

It’s a marvelous concept, offered in a variety of difficulty levels according to the size of the maze:

  • Easy is a grid of 5 rooms by 5 rooms.
  • Normal is a grid of 7×7.
  • Moderate is 9×9, Challenging is 12×12, and Intense is 15×15.

As you make your choices, you’ll flip to different pages in the book, just as you would in a Choose Your Own Adventure-style story, maneuvering your way to either a dead-end (forcing you to turn back) or your desired exit.

But those are the only decisions you’ll make. There are no monsters to slay or traps to navigate, as there are in labyrinths in Dungeons & Dragons. There are no moral conundrums to unravel, as in Choose Your Own Adventure books. There is simply The Maze… and you. This is bare bones storytelling designed as both a pure puzzle-solving experience and as a blank skeleton upon which you can built your own story.

There are no tricks or endless loops to wander into. This is a fair challenge meant to be unraveled by crafty minds with excellent spacial skills.

Although The Maze lacks the frills of many other labyrinth-style puzzles, it does a marvelous job of portraying the sort of blindness and trepidation that comes with actually residing within a maze, knowing that each choice is more crucial the farther you venture forth.

The Maze (in various sizes) is available from Amazon and other online retailers.


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It’s Follow-Up Friday: A-maze-ing edition!

Welcome to Follow-Up Friday!

By this time, you know the drill. Follow-Up Friday is a chance for us to revisit the subjects of previous posts and bring the PuzzleNation audience up to speed on all things puzzly.

And today, I’d like to return to the subject of building-sized puzzles!

In the past I’ve mentioned some truly monster-sized puzzles, from the apartment building crossword in Ukraine to multi-story games of Tetris played on the sides of office buildings.

Well, another world record has been set for super-sized puzzles, this time in Dubai!

The largest vertical maze in the world (certified by the folks at Guinness!) can be found on the side of a 55-story building aptly known as Maze Tower.

Although LED lights make the maze quite an eye-catching spectacle at night, the maze is also visible in the daytime, since it was physically built along the side of the building.

All it needs is a digital minotaur prowling the corridors to chase off prospective solvers.

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! You can share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and be sure to check out the growing library of PuzzleNation apps and games!

PuzzleNation Product Review: Gravity Maze

This week, we’ve got mazes on the brain, so it’s only appropriate that the folks at ThinkFun sent us a maze-based puzzle game to try out. Join me as we give the full PuzzleNation Blog treatment to Gravity Maze.

In a previous review, I accepted the challenge of ThinkFun’s Laser Maze, a logic game requiring players to direct, divert, and split an actual laser beam with mirrors in order to light up various targets on the board. You had to map out the beam’s path in your head and figure out how to place the game pieces in order to hit every target.

Impressively, Gravity Maze has raised the stakes, building on Laser Maze’s premise and adding a third dimension. Whereas Laser Maze only operated along length and width to cross the board, Gravity Maze’s falling marble has to be shuttled across the board while descending from its launch point as well.

With color-coded tower pieces of various heights and configurations — some levels have ramps to the next lowest level, others have open spaces, and still others house turns for the marble to navigate — it’s up to the solver to add only the pieces listed on the card in order to build the marble’s path to the red target box, each tower clicking into place.

There are 60 challenge cards that range in difficulty from beginner to expert. In the earliest challenges, there are only a few pieces on the board, and there’s a clever black dot system telling you which direction each set tower faces. But as you get accustomed to using the towers and move from beginner to intermediate cards, a new wrinkle is added: sometimes, a tower must be placed horizontally in order to complete the path.

And as you progress into advanced and expert cards, you have to get craftier. The marble often has to double-back, passing through the same tower multiple times on its way down.

Check out the path the marble takes to reach the red target box in this one:

[It’s hard to draw a line in three dimensions.]

You can see the colored ramps that direct the marble from the blue tower to the yellow to the green, and then back across. The marble then drops out of the blue tower and into the purple one beside it, where it makes a right turn, passes through the yellow tower, drops into the gray tower, and lands in the red target box.

This next-level spatial awareness offers a serious challenge to puzzlers of all ages, and I admit, some of these advanced and experts had me stymied for a bit.

Heck, sometimes, a tower must be used horizontally, but above the game board itself.

Gravity Maze is easily the most challenging ThinkFun product I’ve had the chance to tinker with, but that didn’t make it any less fun. The box says “Ages 8 to adult,” and I agree wholeheartedly. Puzzlers of any age will enjoy tackling these three-dimensional logic problems and seeing the marble wend its way into the target box.

[To check out other PuzzleNation reviews of ThinkFun products, click here.]

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PuzzleNation App Review: Paper & Light

Welcome to the sixth edition of PuzzleNation App Reviews! Today we continue our quest to explore the world of puzzly games and apps for your tablet or smartphone!

Our resident App player and puzzle fiend Sherri has another intriguing game for us today, so let’s get down to business and dive into her review of Paper & Light for iPad and iPhone!


If you enjoy mazes, then Paper & Light is the game for you. It is an iOS game in which you are a cardboard box who must navigate your way around obstacles to the exit.

This is a very cute game. You play a cardboard box, and your friend is a bright firefly. Your goal in each level is to find your way around other boxes, toolboxes, and various other obstacles to the exit. The firefly is quite helpful, as it’s your only source of light. While you only have a narrow range of light from the firefly, you can switch between the cardboard box and the firefly as needed.

The game is divided into chapters and there are 15 levels in each chapter. As the firefly, you can scope out the area to plot your route to the exit. You earn stars for not using the firefly, but you can redo the level to get the star. For collecting 12 stars in each chapter, you earn a special reward.

I played through the first chapter, The Basement. To open later chapters, you need to complete a certain number of levels. I was pulled in by the cute graphics. I enjoyed playing the game. The levels were laid out in a pleasing manner and became increasingly more difficult. A big drawback, though, is that you can’t move the box very quickly. My wrist became quite sore as I was playing.

[Pictures courtesy of Yahoo.]

The mazes became more and more challenging as the game progressed. It did become a bit monotonous, and my wrist hurt after a while, but it was still an enjoyable way to pass the time. Figuring your way out of the mazes really worked the brain.

Ratings for Paper & Light:

  • Enjoyability: 3/5 — If you enjoy mazes, this is the game for you.
  • How well puzzles are incorporated: 4/5 — This is quite a puzzly game. You need to plot your path around the obstacles well.
  • Graphics: 3/5 — The graphics are simple but cute. The eyes on the cardboard box move when you move it, and the firefly flutters. The obstacles have some nice detail.
  • Gameplay: 2/5 — The box doesn’t move very quickly, so your wrist can get quite sore trying to reach the exit.

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! You can share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and be sure to check out the growing library of PuzzleNation apps and games!