Why it’s good for us to wander and find our way.
When’s the last time you didn’t know where you were? It’s an unsettling feeling but also thrilling, too, to discover a totally new landscape of hidden surprises. That’s why people love a corn maze, a hall of mirrors, labyrinth gardens.
The words “maze” and “labyrinth” tend to get used interchangeably, but there is a technical difference: a labyrinth is not a puzzle. The point of a labyrinth is to follow a winding path, usually for meditative purposes. Mazes will also twist and turn, but in addition there are loops and dead ends – the goal here is to find the solution. Both are delightfully disorienting, though, and curiously universal across human civilization.
The first labyrinth in recorded history was documented in Egypt, by a Greek travel writer in the 5th century BC. It was huge, containing 12 courts and 3,000 chambers in two levels almost 300 feet high. In the Middle Ages, labyrinths began appearing as decoration in churches across Europe, often painted on walls or inlaid into floors, where “pilgrims” would pray & reflect as they traced their way.
Around the same time, shepherds across Northern Europe adopted the custom of cutting labyrinths into their turf, apparently for amusement but no one knows for sure.
On the other side of the globe, indigenous people in Peru were blazing their own mysterious designs into the earth, creating huge geometric shapes and figures that can only been seen from high above. At ground level, the lines create level, winding paths reminiscent of European labyrinths. Clearly, there’s something instinctual going on.
Science has discovered that mazes engage the hippocampus – a part of our brain that plays a major role in learning and memory, especially the cognitive mapping of our environment. Solving a maze requires multiple, coordinated calculations to successfully navigate via directional landmarks. This goes for mazes in all forms: in person, on paper, and even virtually, in Role Playing Games (RPGs) where players interact with a complex landscape that challenges spatial relations and recall.
Recent research shows that exercising our sense of spatial relations in RPGs boosts brains of all ages. This information is not news to Paul Lazrow, founder of Adventuring Portal, a boutique local service that runs a variety of Dungeons & Dragons games for kids and corporations. With the summer winding down, Paul’s schedule has been blowing up, thanks to parents seeking creative ways to help their kids brush up on basics before school starts again in September.
“One of the sneaky secrets of D&D is how it’s actually an educational tool,” he told us, and Paul should know: he’s a certified middle & elementary school teacher in Pennsylvania. “D&D builds math, writing and critical thinking abilities,” he rattled off, “It also develops social skills, empathy, curiosity, creativity. It’s immersive, it’s exciting, it’s inclusive.” And above all, he added: “It’s fun. And you can play from anywhere!”
A well-crafted map is the key to a successful campaign. Mapping activates players, helping them visualize and also internalize the adventure. “Turns and passages lead to rooms, which might have traps, monsters or other players to interact with,” he said, “Different challenges and opportunities behind every bend.”
Back in the day, Dungeon Masters charted out each game on graph paper but now we have computer programs that’ll do it for us. “You can just drag and drop anything – a table, a chair, a beast, a spiked pit, whatever – and it all comes alive.” Paul’s a fan of DungeonDraft and Inkarnate (both pay programs), but encourages people to explore the free programs if they’re curious (donjon’s Random Dungeon Generator’s a good place to start and also Inkarnate has a free plan too).
While his weekly sessions target teens & tweens, D&D is not just for kids. Lots of Paul’s clients are local companies & organizations seeking a novel way for employees to practice effectively working with each other. “There’s nothing like D&D for team-building,” he told us. Indeed, one of the biggest tests to a relationship is traveling together. Characters in game scenarios might still disagree on where to go and what to do, but they quickly discover the rewards of cooperation.
While treasures like gold & magical items are imaginary, there’s real value in the many lessons learned to amass a player’s fortune. Mazes, labyrinths and D&D maps stimulate our senses and open our minds to new learning experiences.
🎲🧙♂️🧝♀️🐉 JOIN A GAME TODAY!
Adventures are 3 hours per day (M-F) for a total of 15 hours of gaming for $180. Four timeslots: 9am, 1pm, 6pm & 9pm.
DID SOMEBODY SAY CORN MAZE? 🌽🌽🌽
Get ready for fall fun at these top regional mazes. All just a short jaunt from the city.
- Klingel’s Farm & Produce Stand (Saylorsburg)
Looking for the ultimate maze challenge? How about Mazezilla, a mammoth 11-acre maze in the Poconos that features a new and unique design each year? The maze opens in September and October and is now accepting bookings for 2022. Klingel’s is a bit of a drive (about 90 minutes), but they offer more than just a maze. Check out their wagon rides, pumpkin patch, produce stand, pumpkin launch, mountain slide, straw fort and corn box, barnyard animals and more!
- Cherry Crest Adventure Farm (Ronks)
The Cherry Crest maze contains more than 2½ miles of paths, bridges, and clues across 5 acres. Each year is a different theme and there are challenge levels based on how quickly kids would like to complete the maze, which can take anywhere from 20 minutes to several hours. On Friday and Saturday nights in the fall, you can bring your own flashlights and tour the maze after dark! Other activities include wagon rides, barnyard animals, play areas, pumpkin picking, and many edible treats.
- Hellerick’s Family Farm (Doylestown)
This farm features a 5-acre maze (which takes about an hour to complete) and, for younger kids, a 1-acre “junior maze”. The farm also offers more than 40 actvities, including moonlight hayrides, 100-foot corn chute slides, and more on its 18-acre property.
- Roba Family Farms (North Abington Township)
The main attraction is 4.5-acre Mega Maze, complete with 11 puzzle pieces for travelers to find and solve. For little ones, there’s a mini maze too. Check out their Harvest Festival this fall, which includes regular performances from the Marvelous Mutts, a troupe of canine acrobats. Visit the Farm’s website to see the more than 30 other fun activities they offer.
- Winding Brook Farm (Warrington)
Navigate the 5-acre family-friendly maze and, if you’re up for haunted attractions, they’ve got you covered with the Night Chills Haunted Hayride, The Haunted Hay Maze and The Corn Walk of Horror (not recommended for small children). They also offer a pumpkin patch and hayrides.
- Merrymead Farm (Lansdale)
The 5-acre cornfield maze at Merrymead opens in September with a Moonlight Maze on Friday and weekends. A 700-foot cornstalk tunnel is great for kiddos. Harvest Festival weekends include children’s games, great food like Merrymead’s ice cream and baked goods, moon bounces, and hayrides.
- Norz Hill Farm & Market (Hillsborough, New Jersey)
Norz Hill Farm offers a corn maze over 2 miles in length that’s themed differently each year, to a great local cause. Got the nerve to make it through their “Scare Farm”? It offers 3 haunted attractions: Creepy Hollow & Paranoia, which are both walking haunted trails and The Slay Ride, a haunted hayride. Scare Farm is open in October. Other activities at Norz Hill include a pumpkin patch (you can pick your own pumpkins, gourds and squash), farm animal visits, Kids’ Corner, and a farm tour.
Plot your course for adventure and enlightenment today!
🌽🌽🌽 Although Corn Maze season doesn’t open until September, you can sharpen your navigation skills right now by practicing with puzzles on the printed page. 🧠🧠🧠
Challenge yourself with the maze featured in August’s Local paper, and explore the incredible variety of free, downloadable mazes available online. START HERE, where you’ll find 20,000+ mazes categorized by difficulty level from “Too Easy” to “Oh, the Insanity!”