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What Is a Maze?

Mazes are sometimes made from hedges.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 29 March 2014
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A maze is a complex structure with a series of interconnecting pathways. The term is also used to refer to a graphical puzzle that replicates the maze on a two dimensional medium. It is viewed as a puzzle that must be solved, and the solver must work his or her way from the entrance to an exit, or another location. Getting through a maze can be difficult, leading to the use of the word as a slang term for a complex process.

The practice of building and solving mazes is centuries old. Archaeological digs in many nations have revealed traces of mazes built by people all over the world, from Latin America to Greece. Going through one may have been viewed as a religious experience, or it could simply have been thought of as an exciting challenge. Many were historically made from garden features like hedges, and this continues to be the case.

A maze should not be confused with a labyrinth. A labyrinth is a similar structure, but it has a path that is clear and easy to follow. The goal of a labyrinth is to induce contemplation and thought by guiding a walker through it. Labyrinths also have a long history, and continue to be used in religious ceremonies. The twistings and turnings of a labyrinth are carefully mapped out, and sometimes send a message when viewed from above.

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A three dimensional maze can be built from almost anything. In gardens, hedges, trees, and plants are used to make garden mazes of varying sizes and heights. In many cases, one made in a garden is low, allowing people to see out of it. Brick, stone, wood, and other materials can also be used to create a maze. In both cases, the path is usually laid out on the ground beforehand, using a pattern drawn out on paper and then enlarged.

In some parts of the world, going through a seasonal maize maze is a tradition. This is made from maize, or corn, an excellent crop for making mazes with since it grows quickly and achieves great height. In areas of large corn production, a maize maze may be built as a summer and early fall treat, and it is often paired with other activities such as pumpkin carving.

On paper, a maze represents a purely graphical puzzle. In theory, a two dimensional maze is easier to solve, because the solver has an overhead view of the entire structure, rather than just a section of it. However, graphical mazes can get extremely complex, with very fine pathways which are difficult to trace. The difficulty is complicated even further when it is not simply connected, meaning that it follows a relatively straight path from one end to the other.

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