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A maze is a tour puzzle in the form of a complex branching passage through which the solver must find a route. The pathways and walls in a maze are fixed, and puzzles in which the walls and paths can change during the game are also categorised as tour puzzles. The Cretan labyrinth is the oldest known maze.
Technically the maze is distinguished from the labyrinth, which has a single through-route with twists and turns but without branches, and is not designed to be as difficult to navigate. In everyday speech, both maze and labyrinth denote a complex and confusing series of pathways.
Mazes have been built with walls and rooms, with hedges, turf, corn stalks, hay bales, books, paving stones of contrasting colors or designs, and brick, or in fields of crops such as corn or, indeed, maize. Maize mazes can be very large; they are usually only kept for one growing season, so they can be different every year, and are promoted as seasonal tourist attractions. Indoors, Mirror Mazes are another form of maze, in which many of the apparent pathways are imaginary routes seen through multiple reflections in mirrors. Another type of maze consists of a set of rooms linked by doors (so a passageway is just another room in this definition). Players enter at one spot, and exit at another, or the idea may be to reach a certain spot in the maze. Mazes can also be printed or drawn on paper to be followed by a pencil or fingertip.
Maze generation is the act of designing the layout of passages and walls within a maze. There are many different approaches to generating mazes, with various maze generation algorithms for building them, either by hand or automatically by computer.
There are two main mechanisms used to generate mazes. In "carving passages", one marks out the network of available routes. In building a maze by "adding walls", one lays out a set of obstructions within an open area. Most mazes drawn on paper are done by drawing the walls, with the spaces in between the markings composing the passages.
Maze solving is the act of finding a route through the maze from the start to finish. Some maze solving methods are designed to be used inside the maze by a traveler with no prior knowledge of the maze, whereas others are designed to be used by a person or computer program that can see the whole maze at once.
Mazes containing no loops are known as "standard", or "perfect" mazes, and are equivalent to a tree in graph theory. Thus many maze solving algorithms are closely related to graph theory. Intuitively, if one pulled and stretched out the paths in the maze in the proper way, the result could be made to resemble a tree.
Numerous mazes of different kinds have been drawn, painted, published in books and periodicals, used in advertising, in software, and sold as art. In the 1970s there occurred a publishing "maze craze" in which numerous books, and some magazines, were commercially available in nationwide outlets and devoted exclusively to mazes of a complexity that was able to challenge adults as well as children (for whom simple maze puzzles have long been provided both before, during, and since the 1970s "craze").
Some of the best-selling books in the 1970s and early 1980s included those produced by Vladimir Koziakin, Rick and Glory Brightfield, Dave Phillips, Larry Evans, and Greg Bright. Koziakin's works were predominantly of the standard two-dimensional "trace a line between the walls" variety. The works of the Brightfields had a similar two-dimensional form but used a variety of graphics-oriented "path obscuring" techniques. Although the routing was comparable to or simpler than Koziakin's mazes, the Brightfields' mazes did not allow the various pathway options to be discerned easily by the roving eye as it glanced about.
Greg Bright's works went beyond the standard published forms of the time by including "weave" mazes in which illustrated pathways can cross over and under each other. Bright's works also offered examples of extremely complex patterns of routing and optical illusions for the solver to work through. What Bright termed "mutually accessible centers" (The Great Maze Book, 1973) also called "braid" mazes, allowed a proliferation of paths flowing in spiral patterns from a central nexus and, rather than relying on "dead ends" to hinder progress, instead relied on an overabundance of pathway choices. Rather than have a single solution to the maze, Bright's routing often offered multiple equally valid routes from start to finish, with no loss of complexity or diminishment of solver difficulties because the result was that it became difficult for a solver to definitively "rule out" a particular pathway as unproductive. Some of Bright's innovative mazes had no "dead ends", although some clearly had looping sections (or "islands") that would cause careless explorers to keep looping back again and again to pathways they had already travelled.
The books of Larry Evans focused on 3-D structures, often with realistic perspective and architectural themes, and Bernard Myers (Supermazes No. 1) produced similar illustrations. Both Greg Bright (The Hole Maze Book) and Dave Phillips (The World's Most Difficult Maze) published maze books in which the sides of pages could be crossed over and in which holes could allow the pathways to cross from one page to another, and one side of a page to the other, thus enhancing the 3-D routing capacity of 2-D printed illustrations.
Adrian Fisher is both the most prolific contemporary author on mazes, and also one of the leading maze designers. His book The Amazing Book of Mazes (2006) contains examples and photographs of numerous methods of maze construction, several of which have been pioneered by Fisher; The Art of the Maze (Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1990) contains a substantial history of the subject, whilst Mazes and Labyrinths (Shire Publications, 2004) is a useful introduction to the subject.
A recent book by Galen Wadzinski (The Ultimate Maze Book) offers formalized rules for more recent innovations that involve single-directional pathways, 3-D simulating illustrations, "key" and "ordered stop" mazes in which items must be collected or visited in particular orders to add to the difficulties of routing (such restrictions on pathway traveling and re-use are important in a printed book in which the limited amount of space on a printed page would otherwise place clear limits on the number of choices and pathways that can be contained within a single maze). Although these innovations are not all entirely new with Wadzinski, the book marks a significant advancement in published maze puzzles, offering expansions on the traditional puzzles that seem to have been fully informed by various video game innovations and designs, and adds new levels of challenge and complexity in both the design and the goals offered to the puzzle-solver in a printed format.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Labyrinths.|
|Look up maze in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
|Wikisource has the text of the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article maze.|