I’m standing in the middle of a cramped four-way intersection, walled in by barriers that are 10 feet high, and I am completely lost. Of course, since the walls are made of corn, and I’m here by choice, the experience is somewhat less traumatic than you might expect. This is not to say that I’m particularly adept at problem solving. That’s why it’s a good thing I brought along some friends to the Victor Corn Maze.
“Wait, I think I know where we are,” Jerry says, coming around the corner. Jerry, our official navigator, is toting his infant daughter in an ergonomically designed Swedish baby carrier. This leaves his hands free to perform other tasks, like mapping our path through the maze on a piece of graph paper.
Trailing behind him, James examines our “passport,” a series of questions that give clues on how to traverse the maze. Each passport holds 10 questions. Each corresponds to a numbered signpost within the maze. The questions are multiple-choice, with directions by each of the answers. In theory, the correct answer will send us in the right direction, toward the exit, while the wrong answer will get us more lost than we already are.
Because James is an astronomy buff, we chose star navigation as our topic. We could have chosen any of 10 other topics, like 4-H or the Boy Scouts or teambuilding, but we all decided that we should stick to what we know. Now, as James reads off the question, we have to decide whether the Big Dipper and the Little Dipper have a total of seven, 14 or 18 stars. We reach a consensus, turn left, and head further into the maze.
The earliest maze on record is the Egyptian Labyrinth opposite Crocodilopolis, the “City of Crocodiles.” According to the Greek historian Herodotus, who wrote about the labyrinth in the 5th century B.C., the building had 12 courts, 3,000 rooms, and a pyramid 243 feet high. It was divided into two levels, with half of the rooms above ground and half below. While Herodotus was not allowed to travel below ground, he was told that the bodies of the kings who constructed the maze and the tombs of sacred crocodiles were housed there.
Technically, there is a difference between labyrinths and mazes. While a labyrinth is an intricate network of winding pathways with no blind alleys—and therefore no puzzle—a maze has dead ends, and can get you lost. However, many so-called labyrinths are technically mazes, and many so-called mazes are technically labyrinths.
Because of this, the terms have become interchangeable over time.
The classical scholar Pliny also wrote about the Egyptian Labyrinth in the first century A.D. In his Natural History, he talks of palaces and temples to the Egyptian gods, banquet halls reached by steep ascents, and statues of monsters and kings. According to the historian, most of the rooms in the building were shrouded in perpetual darkness.
Hedge mazes, the direct ancestors of the corn maze, began to appear in the 13th century in Belgium. By the 16th century they had spread to the rest of Europe. Perhaps the most famous hedge maze still exists in England at Hampton Court. These mazes differ from their ancient ancestors in that they were constructed for amusement, rather than to confound grave robbers.
Corn mazes can be particularly challenging because their designs change from year to year. The maze at Victor has many paths, numerous dead ends, and only one real exit.
Quinn and Sandy Kirkland have owned the Victor maze for three years. The maze covers about six acres of land. If the field were harvested, it would yield about 50,400 pounds of corn, or little more than 4 million kernels. Each year, the maze has a theme. When viewed from above, this year’s maze looks like a firefighter, although that knowledge won’t help you solve it.
The Kirklands are pleasantly tight-lipped about the details of the maze’s construction. The designer, Brett Herbst, has conceived more than 330 corn mazes, and has sworn the couple to secrecy about how the design process works. This is to avoid shoddy imitations, but also, as Sandy points out, “There has to be some sort of secret in this.”
Meanwhile, back in the maze, I’m once again convinced that I’m never leaving. Jerry has long since given up on his map, and James either doesn’t know as much about astronomy as we thought. Or the passport is a cruel joke, intended to get us more lost with each correct answer. Even the baby looks nervous.
Then, as we travel dejectedly down yet another passageway, we faintly hear the music of the concession stand at the maze’s entrance, piping in the sounds from one of our local country stations. Using the music as a homing beacon, we manage to find our way out. Nashville never sounded so good.