November 5th, 2008 6:00 AM / Location: 42.438343,-71.72422
Warning 1: I know, but have willfully ignored, the difference between a labyrinth and a maze, because although it was Theseus and Ariadne in a labyrinth, you just can't hide a minotaur and mark your way with a spool of thread unless it's a maze. (Not that we killed any minotaurs or dropped any breadcrumbs here, but you know what I mean.) Warning 2: And I'm going to pre-apologize for minimal photographic documentation on this one because I was too distracted by the process of playing to remember the camera.
The Davis Mega Maze is a great example of creating a gigantic attraction out of nothing. People come from miles around, year after year, to play the corn maze (maize maze...although it also contains a fair amount of sorghum, to make a good solid hedge). The first year we went, we started a bit late in the day, and after about 4 hours, the teenagers working the place were trying really hard to give us enough hints that we'd get out before the place closed. The second year we went, I don't know how long we were in there, but we ran into three separate groups of other people we knew. (This is a place that is about an hour's drive away, which around here, could put you in a couple different states!) This year, we were in the maze about 3.5 hours, finding all the bridges but not hitting all the activity stations.
The annual theme is a big part of the goofiness. This year was Olympic themed, and there were various stations featuring pseudo-sports, such as mini-golf, water balloon flinging, and large bouncy balls. They also have loudspeakers mounted around the corn field, playing inspirational maze solving and sportish music (the Rocky movie theme, Moving Right Along from the Muppet movie, Country Road from John Denver). The loudspeakers are also used by people at the exit, to broadcast taunts to their friends still trapped inside. You also get to observe a lot of family dynamics.
"Stop arguing! The whole point of this is to have fun, and if we're not having fun, we're leaving!" (Um...good luck making a quick exit)
"We've been following you around for the last two hours. It's our turn to decide which way to go!"
"We've been here before. I think we're still going in circles."
"Let's go that way. The people coming from that direction all have lollipops."
There are port-a-potties and snack stations inside the maze, but it's not like you can necessarily find one when you want to. Part of the fun is the lack of control, yet the illusion of control because you get to make choices about which way to turn. There's a little bit of nervousness that you'll have trouble getting out, but at the same time, it's pretty clear that the army of teenaged staffers are going to be able to direct any woefully lost people along the right path. I was amused to imagine what sort of closing up procedure the place must have---they must have to sweep the whole route to make sure there isn't anyone left inside for days, gnawing on dried corn cobs and trying to signal passing helicopters.
We mostly stuck to favoring right turns for the first two hours (except when they led to obviously familiar routes) and then mostly favored left turns for the rest of the time. At first it was entertaining to be more random, but that led to too much head scratching when we got to a familiar intersection again, and couldn't remember which ways we'd already explored. The maze designer does a great job keeping you feel like you're exploring, with a set of numbered bridges to find, and a bunch of activity stations throughout. This wasn't a profound tasking experience, but it was definitely fun.
And now, because I am obsessed, I am throwing in a bonus Easter Island completion. Everyone has heard of the big stone heads, and some people know about the petroglyphs and rock art, but I was excited to help document a sort of labyrinth while out there playing archaeologist.
The area was about the size of an average bedroom, and two sides of a rectangle defining the area were marked by alignments of large, flat rocks which had been selected to have roughly uniform size. Within the area, small slabs of rock had been buried on their sides, creating slightly raised, serpentine patterns. It wasn't the sort of labyrinth pattern where a single path turns around and around into the center and back out. Instead, the defined curves sometimes crossed and sometimes divided the space, making no obvious picture or pattern that we could recognize. Yet it was clearly a ceremonial, artistic, or decorative endeavor.
I joked that perhaps it was a divination device. By setting a chicken loose in the area, maybe you could predict the future based on which part of the labyrinth it laid an egg. Or maybe the patterns were to tell a story, the way that some Pacific Island cultures use a variation on cat's cradle figures during storytelling. They might have even been some kind of astronomical pattern, or record of the weather or annual fish migrations. The form remained visible to us, and I could appreciate the craftsmanship, but the function has been lost.