How would you like to walk on a dinosaur's back? Stand on the tail of a rocket? In Fremont, Calif., you can rest in a bear's mouth. And in Corinna, Maine, you can journey inside a lobster. Best of all, you can get lost while you explore these creatures and it's all part of the fun.
These figures, and many more, are cut into cornfields and become giant mazes for children and adults to explore. Corn mazes are fairly new in the United States, but are quickly growing in popularity. There are more than 100 in the US this year, and maybe there's one near you. Because they're made from growing corn, each maze lasts only one season. Most are open to visitors in September and October. When farmers harvest the corn, the maze disappears.
The first maize maze in the US was created in 1993 in Annville, Pa. Students and staff from Lebanon Valley College wanted a way to help flood victims in the Midwest. They had heard about European mazes, usually made with hedges. Why not carve a maze out of a cornfield? They cut a maze in the shape of a dinosaur in a three-acre field of growing corn. Admission was $5. It was a big success.
Other mazes began to spring up. In 1996, Brett Herbst heard about corn mazes. He had just graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in agribusiness. His professors told him that job prospects in that field were dim. So he got creative. He decided to design a corn maze. It was so much fun, he says, he kept going. Now he has helped to create more than 600 mazes all over the world. This year more than 160 of his mazes are available worldwide, including four in Utah, where his company is located.
Why would anyone want to wander in a field of corn? "I like solving puzzles," said one young visitor to the Crazy Corn maze that Mr. Herbst designed in West Jordan, Utah. "You can get lost, but you aren't really lost," said his sister. If you just keep walking, you'll find the exit eventually. Younger children often explore the maze with parents. "My toddler just likes to run around in the corn," said one father. "And my third-grader likes to solve the puzzles."
Many mazes have helpers inside who stay out of sight unless someone seems to be really lost and wants directions.
The Crazy Corn maze, like many others, is more than just a stroll through a field. Visitors get a map and a "passport" with 10 questions. Each question is linked to a station in the maze. Explorers punch a hole in their maps at each station. The stations also poses a question. A correct answer will help you through the maze.
Each group visiting the maze may get different questions. Church groups may get questions about the Bible. Another set of questions might help kids work together. (Example: "Recite 'This Little Piggy Went to Market,' and count the number of words in the song. If there are 36 words, go right. If there are 34, go left.")
If you find your way to at least eight stations inside the maze, you win a prize: candy, a free game of bowling, even a free dinner.
Right about now, some mazes become "haunted" for Halloween. Costumed helpers may jump out to assist (and startle) you. "It's not scary, it's fun scary," said one fourth-grade girl.
One family who visited the 13-acre Crazy Corn maze said they live nearby and had been watching the corn grow all summer, waiting for it to be tall enough. (Had they watched closely, they might have been able to memorize the paths!)
Cornfields are usually planted in straight-across rows. "Maze" corn is planted in blocks, perhaps 10 feet square. Rows in the blocks are planted diagonally. Adjoining blocks are planted with the diagonal rows going different ways. That's so maze-goers can't just look down the rows to see where they are. Herbst designs the mazes on his computer, then uses stakes to map out the paths in the field when the corn is about three inches high. (He carved his first maze out of a field of tall corn. Starting with short plants is much easier.)
Herbst isn't eager to say much more than that. After all, he's paid to create mazes. Suffice it to say that he uses math and geometry to transfer his design onto a huge field. He doesn't use a GPS device. Instead he carefully measures angles and calculates ratios. Once the path is marked with stakes, a small bulldozer scrapes away the corn along the paths. Then it's just a matter of keeping the weeds out until the corn grows high enough.
Kendall Schmidt and his family have offered a maze at the West Jordan location for several years. They rent the field from a nearby farmer. "It gives us some income from the maze and from harvesting the corn," he says, "and it's lots of fun." Some farmers run the mazes themselves, to give them extra income - particularly if prices for their crops are low that year.
The Crazy Corn maze has a circus theme, with a clown's face, an elephant, and a lion. The Pleasant Grove Maize has the faces of President George W. Bush and Sen. John Kerry. Other mazes Herbst has designed include John Wayne, the solar system, the American flag, a tractor being driven by a cow, and a box of crayons.
• To find a maze near you, log on to: www.maizemaze.com; www.cornfieldmaze. com; www.americanmaze.com.
How can you make the most of your maze adventure? 'Know how to read a map,' says Mark Schmidt, whose family runs the Crazy Corn maze in West Jordan, Utah. By following the map you can find your way through more quickly. Or if you just want to explore, the map can help you find all the different paths.
'A lot of people forget and turn the map sideways,' Schmidt says, 'and then it just confuses them.' One way to become a good map reader is to practice making and using a map yourself. Make a map of your yard, your house, or your route to school. Then choose a spot on the map and try to go there.
A compass can help, but you may prefer to wander. Schmidt suggests teamwork. 'Send kids down different paths and have them report back on what's ahead,' he says. Teams can also help answer any puzzle questions that may accompany a maze.
Some of the older kids who tried the Crazy Corn maze said it's more fun at night. Darkness makes it harder because you can't find your direction from the sun or shadows. 'Bring a flashlight,' they suggest.
Maze designer Brett Herbst says children often find their way through a maze faster than adults can.
'Adults tend to second-guess their choices,' he says. 'Kids just follow their instincts and charge ahead.'
One young boy had some simple advice for getting through a maze. 'Just follow Mom.'
And the best advice for anyone exploring a maze? Easy: Have fun!
Mazes have been in use for thousands of years. The first known mazes were built about 4,000 years ago, and had a single, winding path. They were used for walking rituals and processions. During the Middle Ages, hedge mazes sometimes protected homes from dangerous animals, or gardens from strong winds. Kings and princes cultivated hedge mazes in their gardens to entertain themselves and their guests.
Hedge mazes last for years, even centuries, because the hedges are not harvested like cornfields. Other mazes have been made of stone, wood, or walls of earth. More than 600 stone mazes line the shores of the Baltic Sea. Many were built by Scandinavian fishermen, who walked them before going on fishing trips. They believed that they could lead evil spirits to the center of the maze and evade them there.
In France and Italy during the 12th to 14th centuries, cathedrals often included long, mazelike designs in the floor to symbolize the Christian's life journey. Hedge mazes have been part of British gardens for centuries. Today Britain has about 100 mazes made of turf, brick, glass - and even water.
Hedge mazes also appeared in America in the early 19th century, among the wealthy and in public parks. During the Depression of the early 1930s, most mazes were abandoned as too expensive to create or maintain. They never regained their popularity before the current corn mazes took over.