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A maze is a puzzle where the goal is to travel from one point to another through a series of branching pathways. Used as both paper puzzles and large-scale structures, mazes have been fun mental activities for children and adults alike for ages, as well as unique spatial elements to add to modern hunt puzzles
Background[edit | edit source]
Historical Use[edit | edit source]
Maze Craze (1970s)[edit | edit source]
Maze Variants[edit | edit source]
Since mazes have been around for a very long time, there's been ample opportunity for variants to be developed, and for the popular ones to be spread far and wide. These more popular ones include:
- Ball-In-A-Maze - Tests of dexterity (if physical) or mental planning (if digital), these mazes involve navigating a ball through a maze to a particular point without falling through holes along the way. Physical ones usually just require handling the controls, but digital ones often assume the ball will travel in a direction until it hits a wall, meaning a solver has to plan out their journey so that they don't get stuck.
- Fractal Maze - Mazes in which a particular path structure is repeated multiple times (usually in the center of the puzzle) on smaller and smaller scales.
- Hamiltonian Maze - A maze in which the correct path is not one that just gets someone from A to B but one that passes by all of a set of points along the way.
- Logic Maze - The bridge between mazes and logic puzzles, these mazes impose rules on travel that restrict what paths one may take at any given time.
- Loops and Traps Maze - A maze containing one-way paths that sometimes lead to dead-end loops, requiring solvers to discover the correct sequence to get to the end without getting stuck.
Mazes vs. Labyrinths[edit | edit source]
Mazes should not be confused with labyrinths, as their construction and purpose are very different. While mazes are meant to be difficult to solve through the inclusion of dead ends and sometimes obstacles, labyrinths are merely intended to be long and winding, making the absolutely most use of the space provided. Additionally, most labyrinths have the same entrance and exit point, intending for those entering to reach a point in the structure that represents the 'end', often the centre, before turning around and leaving the way they came. To this end, labyrinths have been used as spiritual symbols, representing a long and winding journey one would take on a pilgrimage. Alternatively, they've been used as ways to free one's mind of thought, allowing the body to focus on guiding one through a winding path and (apparently) leading one to a spiritual peace.
While the two terms are sometimes used interchangeably, and the most famous use of the term 'labyrinth', the Cretan labyrinth used to contain the mythical Minotaur, has been depicted as both a maze and a labyrinth, modern use has definitive definitions for both.
Puzzle Application[edit | edit source]
Mazes as Standalone Puzzles[edit | edit source]
Mazes by themselves are often considered to be too simple to function as effective hunt puzzles. While in many cases this may be true, the effectiveness of a maze as a hunt puzzles relies on both the size or scope of the maze and the way that the creator expects solvers to extract an answer. A small maze containing scattered letters wherein the answer is determined simply by reading the letters passed on the way will likely fall flat due to a lack of difficulty or creative extraction. Conversely, a puzzle that explored multiple dimensions doing the same extraction may be much more effective, or a similar-sized puzzle that requires multiple steps or uses an alternative extraction method (like semaphore or drawing a symbol with the path) may have a more positive impact.
Aspects of a traditional maze that may be changed to further improve its functionality as a hunt puzzle include:
- Shape - Mazes are often square or rectangular and have walls travelling in right angles to the outer walls. Alternatives to this include changing the outer wall shape as well as the orientation of inner walls (diagonal/curved)
- Visibility - Can solvers see the walls, or are they put into a text-based environment where they must intuit the maze structure based on
- Dimension - Many mazes are 2-dimensional, so expanding them to the third dimension (either literally, by adding the ability to travel up and down layers, or by putting the solver in a 3D representation of a 2D maze) can make one more interesting. 4D mazes are also possible, but a lot more difficult to construct and solve.
- Path Contents - Do solvers pass over letters, number, or symbols as they go through the maze? If it's a virtual maze, are there things written on the walls, or creatures in the maze to avoid?
- Extraction Method - Visual or letter-collection extractions are common, but other methods (or combinations of methods) may have more impact, particularly if the extraction is not immediately recognizable.
Mazes as Elements[edit | edit source]
A more common use of mazes in hunt puzzles is as a supplement to another type of puzzle. In this sense mazes work very well as the results of fakeout puzzles. As many traditional mazes are square or rectangular, they mesh quite well with any other grid-based puzzle. A wordsearch may result in a maze when the words hiding in the grid are treated as walls, or a barred crossword may function as a Ball-In-A-Maze puzzles once solved. Alternatively, mazes may be provided separately from non-maze puzzles, but be used as an overlay of sorts. If done correctly, this overlaying can be used to highlight a path through another grid puzzle, giving a string of letters/numbers that helps to continue the solve path.
Mazes can also be used as surprise elements without involving other established puzzle types. Between Unicode characters, drawing instructions, and runarounds, there are a lot of ways for a puzzle to make solvers draw a maze themselves. What's done after creating and solving the meta then can vary depending on the extraction method intended for it.
Strategy[edit | edit source]
Identification[edit | edit source]
When presented overtly, mazes should be easy to identify, characterized often by a lack of text, and a series of lines forming a series of passages in the negative space. When they're present covertly, it's not too much more difficult. If they're presented in a fakeout-style puzzle-within-a-puzzle way, completion of the first puzzle will likely result in a maze-like structure, with the exact dimensions varying depending on the type of puzzle. A puzzle may also specify a way that it should be solved (such as a wordsearch specifying to box in and shade entries rather than drawing lines through them), which may also tip a solver off to the presence of a maze element.
Things that should be treated as suspicious include fully-shaded cells and dividing lines being put between cells, such as those in barred crosswords. In addition, mazes tend to have distinct pathways, rather than having wide open areas or fluctuating path widths. If these are present in a puzzle that you're considering might be a maze, be careful, and maybe reconsider your conclusions.
Solving[edit | edit source]
In real life mazes, bound by the rules of physics and construction standards, there are some useful strategies to use. Depending on their construction, they may also be useful for paper/virtual mazes. Consistently following the wall on your left or the wall on your right will usually get you to the end of the maze, albeit not very quickly, as long as the maze does not have any barrier walls that are disconnected from the outer walls. Another common tactic with paper mazes is to work from both the beginning and end of the maze simultaneously, as it allows deductions to be made from two directions at once, with the goal to meet in the middle rather than traverse the entire maze at once.
There are several other algorithms that may be applied by people willing to use computer programs to solve a maze that are more effective (to the point of being used in robotics competitions to tackle robot mazes.
In most hunt puzzles, however, puzzles are either too gimmicked to use a simple algorithm, or are too simple to warrant using an algorithm in the first place. When presented with a puzzle whose goal is simply to solve a maze, it might just be wise to print it out and solve it on paper with a pencil (if possible), so that erasing can be done and only the final path is saved. If this is not possible (such as in virtual 3D mazes), the next best thing is to attempt to map out of the maze in a program like Excel/Google Sheets based on one's own explorations. Mapping in general is a key part of any non-visual maze, or any maze where the full structure is not visible from the beginning
Notable Examples[edit | edit source]
As Standalone Puzzles[edit | edit source]
- Quagmire (MITMH 2004) (web) - This puzzle is actually presented as 6 separate maze pieces, without a clear way to match them up. Click to revealHidden in one of the pieces is a message telling people to cut between signs bearing the same symbols, which has the effect of cutting the edge passages of each maze in half, lengthwise. This also has the effect of turning the pieces into connectable parts, allowing solvers to piece them into a maze cube, which the result of solving is pictures that can be used to get the final answer.
- Backlot (MITMH 2020) (web) - A classic fractal maze, with some logic maze elements thrown in. In two different spots in the maze are places where a smaller version of the maze can be placed, forcing solvers to travel through multiple layers of the logic maze in order to reach one of the exits and satisfy the requirements. The puzzle actually gives extraction instructions as well, telling solver to 'paint certain cells white' along their many paths.
As Compound Puzzles[edit | edit source]
- Grid with a Hole in the Middle (MITMH 2006) (web) - Initially, this puzzle looks like a regular, cryptic barred crossword. There are a few odd things, of course, like the titular hole in the middle, and the fact that the letter 'O' only appears once in the entire grid. This is explained when solvers realize Click to revealthe initials of the Across clues read 'ROLL THE BALL TO THE HOLE'. The singular O, the bars, and the hole come together to form a Ball-In-A-Maze, that can be solved in 10 moves and spells the answer along the way.
- Monty Minotaur's Magical Menagerie (MITMH 2020) (web) - Another hidden maze, this time by a word search. Within the grid are Click to revealdozens of animals, all found either horizontally or vertically. Interestingly, they're also all found along a grid system made up of the odd-numbered columns and rows. When they've all been found, the space without any animals can be treated as a maze, the correct solution to which leads solvers to the next step of the puzzle.