Labyrinths & Mazes Resource Centre, Photo Library & Archive
Hedge Maze, Williamsburg Virginia, USA
Photo: Labyrinthos Archive
With a history stretching back to the late Middle Ages, puzzle mazes, like labyrinths,
were simple at first, then underwent periods of rapid development. Developed initially
from medieval labyrinth designs, the earliest mazes in the gardens and palaces of
Europe were designed by rearranging the walls of a labyrinth to create a pathway
with choices; often including a number of dead-ends.
While various types of mazes have been proposed and described by modern authorities,
five basic types can be clearly identified, as described below. It should be noted,
however, that the ingenuity of modern-day designers often results in mazes that can
fit happily in more than one of these categories, and, indeed, a few that are difficult
to fit into any type. A conundrum that would surely have pleased Daedalus himself!
The majority of early mazes, however complex their design may appear, were essentially
formed from one continuous wall with many junctions and branches. If the wall surrounding
the goal of a maze is connected to the perimeter of the maze at the entrance, the
maze can always be solved by keeping one hand in contact with the wall, however many
detours that may involve. These ‘simple’ mazes are correctly known as "Simply-connected."
A simply connected maze design with limited choice of paths, planted at Krenkerup,
Denmark, in 1877
It was not until the early nineteenth century that the principle of isolating the
goal of the maze from the perimeter to defeat the "hand-on-wall" method and increase
the level of difficulty was truly understood. Any maze with the goal set within an
island of barriers, physically unconnected to the rest of the maze, qualifies as
"Multiply-connected." The best examples contain islands within islands and, paradoxically,
can be developed into very intricate mazes with very few dead-ends that are nonetheless
extremely difficult to solve.
The hedge maze at Chevening House, England, c.1820, was one of the first consciously
designed to provide a more complex puzzle and thwart the "hand-on-wall" rule for solving
Although the majority of traditional mazes with walls of hedges or other materials
may appear three-dimensional, the pathway through the maze is essentially only two-dimensional.
While the concept of truly three-dimensional mazes has been around since the nineteenth
century, they existed only on paper until the early 1980s, with the introduction
of bridges and underpasses to add complexity to the panel mazes then popular in New
Zealand, Australia and Japan. Bridges are also a common addition to the huge cornfield,
or maize mazes that have become popular worldwide since the mid-1990s. The introduction
of the third dimension allows the islands of a multiply- connected maze to be totally
isolated from each other, with the only link via a bridge. In some of these mazes,
successful progress to the goal depends on reaching a series of points within the
maze in the correct order.
A wooden panel maze at Labyrinthia, Rodelund, Denmark. With bridges and underpasses,
it is typical of the new generation of three-dimensional mazes (photo: Ole Jensen)
Conditional Movement Mazes
Long established as a theoretical concept, mazes with rules, or "Conditional Movement
Mazes," have become a reality since the 1980s. The next move is dictated by the overall
rules or by instructions given at the visitor's current position, allowing extremely
complex puzzles to occupy a very limited space. Constructed in modern materials and
not always aesthetically pleasing, these mazes offer an entertaining intellectual
challenge and have proved popular in educational contexts, particularly to illustrate
mathematical and scientific concepts.
High-tech mazes where the design responds to the actions of visitors are an increasingly
common feature at amusement parks and other tourist attractions. They incorporate
computer-timed barriers and other innovative devices such as motion sensors and mechanisms
that determine the physical characteristics of the walker. Interactive mazes first
appeared in the closing years of the twentieth century and no doubt herald the direction
of future leading-edge maze design.