My Maze Trip Report: August 25-27, 2000

(Or, three cornfield mazes in three days)

First, the commonalities. All the mazes cost seven or eight dollars to get into. They all have map-clues hidden around the maze: you start with a blank sheet, and various stations in the maze have fragments that you can collect until you have a complete map. (However, you can finish the maze without collecting all the fragments.)

My strategy was always to collect fragments, but never look at the resulting map until I'd reached the exit. Then I went back, following what map I had, to try to get the rest of the fragments.

All the mazes have at least one bridge, so a simple wall-following strategy will never work. (I haven't actually verified this on each maze, but it's a standard design technique -- that's what bridges are for.) And each maze is divided into regions, marked by colored ribbon along the walls, which serve both to provide a sense of orientation and to mislead you. (You think you know when you're making progress...)

Belvedere Plantation (Fredericksburg, VA)

Big. I mean, huge. The maze is laid out in a twelve-acre field. Now, some of that is taken up by a very large interior courtyard, but it was still the most complex corn maze I've ever been in, by a factor of two.

The course both begins and ends in the courtyard -- a wide path leads in from the outside world. (A bridge crosses the path, of course, so that the maze genuinely surrounds the courtyard. Two other bridges are buried in the maze.)

This is an Adrian Fisher design, and all of his have an Arthurian theme this year. At this site, it was "Castle in the Clouds". Speakers on poles played Celtic and folk tunes (which I rather enjoyed) and an occasional clip of knights marching around shouting at each other.

The corn is thick, and flowering creepers have overgrown the stalks in places, giving a nicely cozy and lush environment. I had to duck under a few vines, but what the heck.

The map-clues are nine stations where you can take rubbings of a carved plate. I like the hands-on-ness, but rubbings of an intricate design aren't always clear, and it's hard to get the alignment right. If you try to re-rub a plate, you'll almost certainly mess up the alignment and render that sector of your map illegible.

I liked the layout a lot. I'd like to give Fisher all the credit, on pure maze-design skill, but some has to go to plain size. I was lost. I spent at least 45 minutes getting out of the early regions (even though there are two paths out), and then almost missed the branch to the endgame. The introductory material says "Once you reach the clearing with the white tent, you're on the home stretch," and this is true. It provides a nice sense of closure -- you reach the end without a sense of anticlimax.

I missed a fair portion of the maze, even when going back through. I got eight of the nine map fragments, and I never got to the long bridge at all.

The side mazes: two no-turning haybale mazes, and a three-color-cycle ribbon maze.

Cherry Crest Farm (Paradise, PA)

The field was described as four acres. That sounds a little small -- this is more than a third the size of the Belvedere site -- but it's still noticeably smaller. If you've been to Cherry Crest in previous years, I think you'll find this maze covers the same area.

The theme was the solar system, and the maze regions represent the nine planets plus asteroids, Sun, and interplanetary space. This maze has quite a lot of in-maze gimmicks and things to play with. Some are clever -- a telescope, through which you can discern clues on a distant sign. (Not very interactive if you don't want clues, but still clever.) Some are not so clever. (A candy machine in a cornfield maze is just a big fat mistake. The ground around it was covered with squashed candy, and the candy was covered with flies. Blegghh.) However, the phone booth where you can call someone and give them a URL which directs to a maze map: sheer brilliance. The only way to improve it would be a web-cam.

Two bridges. Also, the usual slide, which as usual doesn't really figure into the maze design (parents have to be able to send their kids down and then walk around the corner to get them).

This is a very well-publicized maze site; lots of people. We found it uncomfortably crowded near the entrance, but once people spread out it wasn't too bad. The unusually wide pathways help. And the corn is tall; way above my head, instead of the six-feet-plus that I'm used to.

The map fragments are the traditional slips of paper that you can tape to your blank map. Fifteen fragments in total. We were able to find them all, after some work.

The design is pretty good. I never felt totally disoriented, but it was still a challenge. We were stuck in a small region for quite some time, and then escaped only to find outselves back in a zone we'd explored much earlier on. We had to go around a large loop again, looking for branches we'd missed. Like the Belvedere site, the final stretch is basically straightforward, so you have a sense you're coming to the end.

Side mazes: a no-left-turn haybale maze, and a no-U-turn path maze. I'm pretty sure the latter was laid out wrong; the solution is much too straightforward.

Maple Lawn Farms (New Park, PA)

A ten-acre site; it felt larger than the Cherry Crest maze, but not nearly as big as the Belvedere site. The theme was Egypt. I'm always happy to see an eye-in-the-pyramid design, and the hay-bale Sphinx at the entrance is cute too. (If perhaps more reminiscent of a Scotch terrier than a lion-woman.)

The corn is somewhat sparse; in many places there is grass around the margins, and you can see adjacent paths a bit too clearly. (But this is most a problem in the early zones, which are at the top of a hill. Farther down, the corn is thicker.)

The nine map fragments are stamps -- self-inking stamps, the kind with a complicated metal frame and a stamp that rotates down when you push. These are very hard to align on the map; you can't even line up the metal frame, because some of the designs aren't positioned right on the stamp. Nice idea, but it doesn't work out.

The design is fine; it has some nice touches, including a five-path spiral junction and a hard-to-reach central courtyard. On the down side, however, we ran into the exit very suddenly, and without passing through all the maze zones. The pacing doesn't really work right.

One bridge, in case you're counting. And an interesting touch: the maze has no dead ends, not that we noticed. There are branches that lead nowhere, of course, but this is always achieved with loops, or with courtyards with something interesting to look at. No, I take that back; there are a few very short dead ends that have stamp-machines or trivia signs. This isn't a huge distinction for the maze -- none of the mazes I've seen have extremely long dead-ends; everyone knows that's annoying. But the Maple Lawn site has dropped the concept entirely.

Side maze: a wooden fence maze -- a permanent installation. (With a few moveable walls, so that they can reconfigure it each year.) Includes a bridge and trench -- three dimensional and cool. A small maze overall, but still nice to have around. Actually, it's not a true maze. The entrance and exit are the same; the goal is to reach nine different spots inside.


The Belvedere site was my favorite this year.

But I'm going to one more, in Charlotte NC. [Never wrote anything about that one, sorry.]


(Most of these links are also at the bottom of my original corn-maze essay, but I should probably repeat them here.)

Updated September 6, 2000.

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