- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 5, 2002

There are times that Dave Phillips gets lost in his own mazes."I love to go in there with people," says Mr. Phillips, of White Hall. "I like to go inside my own mazes and get turned around. It's a great thrill for me when another one opens, and people go inside it for the first time. Sometimes I just have to do it with them."

Mr. Phillips has been designing corn mazes (or maizes, as some farm owners like to call them) for 27 years. He has written dozens of books on the subject. He gets giddy when fall approaches and another round of his mazes opens to the public.

And at least in this area, he has more and more company every autumn. Local corn maze owners report that more and more people plunk down their money each fall to spend a few hours navigating the twists, turns and dead ends of cornfield mazes.

They are just the latest practitioners of an art that has baffled and bedazzled folks since ancient times and continues to delight young and old today.

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Adrian Fisher built his first maze in 1975 in his father's garden, a "fairly simple hedge maze," he says. From that, he began building mazes on historic properties in Britain, which has a rich tradition of maze-building, as he soon found out.

He brought his maze-making skills "across the pond" in 1993 to help flood-ravaged farmers in the Midwest raise money. His first corn maze in the United States was a fairly modest 3 acres in size, but he says it raised $22,000 in two days and was shown on network newscasts nationwide.

Ten years later, Mr. Fisher travels worldwide building mazes. He has mazes in 17 countries that have been entered by more than 21 million visitors, according to his Web site (www.mazemaker.com), He has set five Guinness world records, his most recent coming earlier this year, when he completed a 60-acre corn maze in southern England that has 7.67 miles of pathways.

His handiwork can be seen nearby at Belvedere Plantation in Fredericksburg, Va., where his 15-acre corn maze this year is themed "Bungle in the Jungle." It features four bridges and more than 10 miles of pathways, all containing "clues" that maze-solvers have to pick up along the way to help find the missing "Professor Lostalot."

Donnie Fulks, vice president of direct marketing at Belvedere Plantation, says he hopes the maze will draw 30,000 visitors this fall.

"I think the allure of it is that it encourages the whole family to do something together," Mr. Fisher says. "You give a family one flag that the boys and girls can pass among each other. The whole family stays together and figures out the clues as they go. A lot of times, parents find out their kids have much better navigational skills than they do and can find their way around quite well. Everybody gets a lot of exercise, and everybody has fun figuring it all out."

If "Bungle in the Jungle" isn't enough to satisfy a maze maven, Maple Lawn Farms in New Park, Pa., should do it. Maple Lawn Farms, in southern York County, says it has the "world's first maze theme park," with seven different mazes made of seven different materials in one location: a rope maze, a fence maze, a straw bale maze, a meadow maze, a stone labyrinth, a bamboo maze and the 10-acre "Outback Adventure" corn maze, developed by Mr. Phillips.

Maple Lawn Farms is the headquarters for Maize Quest, an agricultural entertainment company started by Maple Lawn Farms owner Hugh McPherson in 1997. Maize Quest has grown to 28 locations in 15 states and Ontario, Canada. Mr. Phillips has designed all of the mazes for them.

"We started with just a corn maze, but I started thinking, 'I love doing this stuff,'" Mr. McPherson says. "I think this is all coming at a time when opportunities for family entertainment have died down. Instead of going to a movie or miniature golf or something like that, families can come here, and the kids can carry the flags around and make the decisions on where to turn. And they can say at the end, 'I led the family to the exit.' That kid will be as happy as he can be."

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Mazes are one of the world's oldest art and puzzle forms. Many people think of mazes as dating to Greek mythology and the story of Theseus and the Minotaur. In that story, the Minotaur, a half-man and half-bull who lived on a labyrinth on the island of Crete, demanded human sacrifices from Greece after Crete defeated it in war.

Perseus solved the labyrinth and killed the Minotaur with the help of Ariadne, a Cretan princess, by unwinding a golden thread in the maze as he went through it.

At the turn of the 20th century English archaeologist Arthur Evans uncovered a sprawling 3-acre maze of pathways, courts and corridors at Knossos on Crete that dates to around the 19th century B.C., making it one of the oldest physical labyrinths known. Ruins of another large labyrinth that may have had thousands of rooms were found in Fayum, Egypt, and archaeologists say it was built by King Amenemhet III around the same time.

"Nothing is left of it [the Fayum labyrinth] today," says Christopher Berg, a maze designer and maze historian in Berkeley, Calif., who wrote "Amazeing Art: Wonders of the Ancient World." "Two eyewitnesses who saw it agreed that it was more impressive than the pyramids."

In his book "The Art of the Maze," Mr. Fisher tells how a simple seven-ring unicursal (one-path) labyrinth design has been found in rock carvings and caves in Sardinia, South India, Northern Italy and Afghanistan, with the carving in Sardinia dating as far back as 2500 B.C.

No one knows for sure how that same pattern pops up in so many places across the globe, but Mr. Fisher says that its simple design made it easy to reproduce. (In "The Art of the Maze," he demonstrates how to draw it in just four lines.)

"The labyrinth is a simple thing," Mr. Fisher said in a recent phone interview. "It's a spiral shape, and it uniquely turns back on itself. Vikings would draw them when they came to the New World. When they settled in towns, they built mazes, which is quite remarkable when you consider how fierce a people they were."

The Romans drew many mazes, seeming to prefer a square design divided into quarters and requiring the solver to move methodically through one quarter at a time.

The early Christian church used mazes as part of its worship, enlarging the Roman model and, over time, using circular and even octagonal shapes in its cathedrals and basilicas. Monasteries and nunneries used stone mazes in the ground, and monks and nuns would walk through them reciting prayers and rosaries.

Mr. Fisher says Britain has a wealth of mazes even today, which helped him develop a love for them. In "The Art of the Maze" he says Britain is thought to have once contained more than 100 unicursal mazes, many of them apparently designed by Nordic settlers during the Dark Ages.

Mr. Phillips, who was born in Britain but lives in Maryland, says his native country seems to have a "passion" for mazes.

"It just seems to be one of those English things," he says. "It seems to be a passion over there. I guess it's in my blood, you might say."

Mr. Berg says mazes have served several purposes over the centuries. The earliest architectural mazes in Egypt seem to have been designed to keep out enemies or unwelcome visitors who wouldn't know the proper route through the maze, he says.

"In Roman times, they also served a protective function," he says. "You find them in entry rooms to villas, and often fortresses had designs around them that seemed to have served a protective function, too."

In the Middle Ages, mazes took on more of a religious significance, Mr. Berg says, as churches built them to serve as substitute pilgrimages for penitents unwilling to make the arduous journey to Jerusalem during the Crusades.

"The idea was that instead of making a dangerous journey while there was a war going on, you could journey to a cathedral and walk the labyrinth as a substitute pilgrimage," he says. "That may or may not be true. But it seems that because they came from a pagan tradition, many people didn't like them, and some of them were destroyed because of that."

Today mazes have largely lost whatever practical function they had and are just enjoyed as puzzles, artwork and entertainment. Children, particularly, seem to enjoy solving mazes. The new South Germantown Recreational Park in Montgomery County has three small playground mazes designed by Mr. Fisher, as well as a 280-jet water maze. Park manager Migs Damiani says the water maze alone has drawn an average of 700 children a day this summer.

"Mazes are exploding in Europe," Mr. Damiani says. "We really wanted to incorporate that here, and I think it's working well."

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