The Ultimate Maze Book

The Ultimate Maze Book

by David Anson Russo
Simon &Schuster, New York, 1991; paper.

Labyrinths are big things these days. A number of recent books have treated walking labyrinthine patterns as a spiritual exercise or have considered the patterns as symbols of our experience of and in the world.

Labyrinths, also called mazes, are of two basic sorts: unicursal, in which a single, undeviating path without options leads through the intricate windings of the pattern; and multicursal, in which a number of paths branch off from each other, offering sets of alternatives, not all of which may lead to the desired end. The term "labyrinth" is sometimes restricted to the unicursal variety, although that may also and less ambiguously be termed a "meander." Multicursal labyrinths are also called "mazes."

The Ultimate Maze Book is about multicursal labyrinths, which are often used as puzzles-frustrating or entertaining, depending on their complexity and the solver's ingenuity, Mazes are of several types, depending on how they are made: turf mazes, hedge mazes, toy mazes (games in which one rolls a little ball through the passages in a glass-topped box), and paper mazes, This book consists of 39 full-page colored maze diagrams on paper that the reader can try to solve. Even the simplest are fiendishly difficult for the tyro. Working mazes is like solving crossword puzzles: it takes talent, experience, and an obsession to finish the task.

The mazes in this book can also be regarded as works of art, for most could be hung on the wall as decorations. Or alternatively they could be used as objects of contemplation, like yantras. Spiritual exercises need not be very far from art and entertainment, for the world, as the Hindu sages tell us, is a game, a divine lila.

There are significant differences between the unicursal meander and the multicursal maze. One may be a gender link, with women preferring the meander, and men the maze. Or they may correspond with different psychological types: the meander with security-seeking introverts and the maze with chance-taking extraverts. Or perhaps they symbolize two spiritual experiences: the meander the certainty of our higher selves, and the maze the confusion of the personalities.

The two forms of the labyrinth certainly differ in their philosophical implications. For the meander proclaims that we will all reach the goal, not all at the same time, but all with the same assuredness. The maze offers no such guaranty. You enter it at your own risk and take your chances.

This book offers many hours of play and contemplation with chance-taking confusion, but no danger if you hit a dead end.


Summer 1996