I wouldn’t quite call it a groundswell, however more than one hundred different people searched for "cornfield" on Twelve Mile Circle over the last five years. Readers wanted an article based on cornfields and I shall oblige. Never say that 12MC doesn’t respond to its loyal fans. I interpreted cornfield to mean Corn Maze because I couldn’t comprehend of any other reason to consider a cornfield even remotely interesting. Actually I think I preferred the British term for Corn Maze in this instance, Maize Maze. It sounded so much more a-MAZE-ing. Sorry, I couldn’t resist.
Corn Maze by Anthony Easton, on Flickr (cc)
The Corn/Maize Maze concept probably didn’t merit much explanation. A farmer would drag a mower through virgin cornfields, cutting passageways into intricate, confusing patterns, forming a maze. Oftentimes patterns unfolded into elaborate works of art viewed best from above. Visitors explored the maze, got lost, found surprises and generally had a great time. The concept wasn’t new. Hedge mazes dated back several centuries as noted in an earlier article, Hazy Hedge Maze Memories. The difference here, however, was impermanence. Hedges took decades to reach maturity and their labyrinths remained fixed in place. A corn/maize maze could change radically every growing season.
While mazes constructed of crops inherited an ancient pedigree, I was surprised to learn that this adaptation was distinctly modern. I’d thought that corn/maize mazes had been around for a long time, guessing they probably traced back to the late 19th Century. That was completely wrong. They’ve only been around since 1993. Lebanon Valley College in Annville, Pennsylvania (map) claimed the first example:
In the early 1990s, Midwest farmers were struggling to recover from severe flooding, which ruined many crops, including corn. LVC alumnus and Disney World producer Don Frantz ’73, and then-student Joanne Marx ’94, had a plan to do something about it: build a corn maze, charge admission, and contribute the proceeds to the Red Cross to aid the disaster victims. Frantz had read about Europe’s small hedge mazes… "If there was an American adaptation of the European art, it would be a maze in a cornfield," said Frantz in a 1993 interview.
The concept took off from there and not just in the United States. An organization called The MAiZE included affiliates in more than 250 locations, primarily in North America. Another group, the Maize Maze Association did much the same focused primarily in the United Kingdom.
I picked a few random examples from around the world.
The Deer Meadow Farms Corn Maze in Winnipeg, Manitoba (map) was featured in a nice YouTube video taken from an ultralight airplane. This maze could be enjoyed from high above or down at ground level. Deer Meadow Farms used Global Positioning System equipment to sculpt its field with a new design each year, offering four levels of challenge:
Try just wandering through and finding your way out. (Easy)
Try to find the picture stations and take a photo. (Medium)
Try to find all the hidden Trivia Stations and answer the questions…correctly. (Difficult)
Try # 3 during the Maze by Dark nights. (Very Difficult)
It should take about 45 minutes to complete the maze pursuing the easier scenarios.
Spitfire Maze by Geoff Collins, on Flickr (cc)
I liked looking at the Milton Maize Maze in Milton, East Anglia, England. The design in the Flickr image represented a Spitfire airplane in commemoration of the 70th Anniversary of The Battle of Britain. The version found on Google Maps (map) was a more recent vintage and featured a large ear of corn rendered as a cartoon character.
The Milton Maize Maze website said,
We normally recommend that you allow yourself 1 hour 30 minutes to navigate the maze and allow yourself another two + hours to enjoy the other activities on site… The maze is a multi-maze with two completely different mazes in one… There is a good chance you may get lost; it is a seven acre field with several miles of paths! Never fear if you don’t soon get your bearings there are maze marshals on hand to point you in the right direction.
Several miles of wandering might be a bit much for me.
Pałac Kurozwęki Maze, Poland
Why did I focus on a maze at Pałac Kurozwęki (map) in Poland? Quite simply because it was farther away from the birthplace of temporary agricultural mazes than any other I found. Sure there might be others in existence although I didn’t feel like spending a lot of time searching. Please feel free to offer better examples in the comments if you’re so inclined. Kurozwęki actually described itself as a Hemp/Maize Maze.
By walking in our maze, you can test your sense of direction, resourcefulness and other abilities. Every year we organise games and competitions by placing on the maze paths questions or riddles to answer. The task is additionally exciting because cell phones are blocked on the premises so you must rely only yourself.
I wasn’t sure how the hemp reference figured into the formula. I assumed it was the type of hemp used to make rope and twine. Further research demonstrated that there were a number of mazes that combined maize, hemp, sunflowers and other tall stalky plants to add variety to the experience or color to the designs. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if some visitors used a certain other hemp-based product to enhance the experience even further.
I mentioned in the previously-referenced five years of searching that Iowa moved ahead of Minnesota in frequency, 47 to 31. A clever reader searched on Minnesota eight times the following day. It wasn’t enough to push Minnesota into the lead although it edged it a bit closer. The reader, naturally, came from Minnesota.