Terracotta Angel, c.1896
Watts Chapel, England

 Photo : Jeff Saward/Labyrinthos



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Maze Typology

Hedge Maze, Williamsburg
Virginia, USA

Photo: Labyrinthos Archive

Mazes


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!

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Simply-connected Mazes

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


Multiply-connected Mazes

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 mazes


Three-dimensional Mazes

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.

The object of Steve Ryan's "Freeway Maze" is to enter the intersection and exit on the opposite return carriageway without making any U-turns and avoiding the stalled cars (red spots) blocking a number of routes ( Steve Ryan)


Interactive Mazes

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.

A modern maze with interactive features at Drielandenpunt
 near Vaals in the Netherlands, designed by and Adrian Fisher 1991