This time I am venturing on an often neglected type of brainteasers - maze puzzles. These are sometimes viewed as a puzzle more geared towards the casual fan, but you'd be surprised by the sheer variety of mazes available right now, and they are the delight of both aficionados and casual puzzlers alike. Read on to find out more about the different types of maze puzzles and some of their history.
Mazes have intrigued and fascinated us since the dawn of civilization. In fact, the Egyptians are thought to be the first ones to come up with this incredible concept over four millennia ago (around the time of the first ancient pyramids). Mazes have come a long way since the era of the Pharaohs. They have evolved in countless different ways and have many different uses, but the approach is the same: to baffle and perplex anyone that witnesses this incredible feat of human inventiveness and ingenuity.
Many people use the terms Maze and Labyrinth interchangeably, and that's probably correct in most cases. However, personally, I prefer to use the word Maze when referring to puzzles. Why? Because a maze always has dead ends and other red herrings, commonly used in puzzles, and a labyrinth is not always used as puzzle, which implies a solving process with a beginning and an end.
Today you can see mazes everywhere in your daily life, but I want to focus particularly on the mechanical maze puzzles, the ones that you can touch and play with, the ones that make me glad I'm a puzzle enthusiast, collector, solver...and writer... There's an array of different types of mazes that can please even the most uninterested of puzzle fans. They can go from simple ball-bearing puzzles, like the popular money puzzles, for the casual puzzler, to more complex structures, like the Perplexus puzzles. Whichever type of puzzle you choose, a maze always has the ability to entertain and satisfy our needs for a good mental challenge.
With so many types of mazes available, how do you choose the best ones? It all depends on what you like most about maze puzzles. One popular type of maze, usually used as an original gift, is the money mazes. This type of puzzles have a wide range of shapes and sizes. The goal is to navigate a ball bearing through a maze and unlock the mechanism that opens the puzzle so you can retrieve what's inside. You can put inside the puzzle anything not thicker than a few sheets of paper, which can be money, gift certificates, event tickets, etc.
Hidden Mazes have also been quite popular these last several years, mostly thanks to the Revomaze, although they weren't the first ones to appear, and there are certainly many other interesting designs. The hidden mazes, as the name suggests, have some part or the entirety of its mechanism hidden from view, forcing you to rely on other sensory skills, like touch or hearing. These puzzles are exceptionally harder than the more traditional maze puzzles, but they're quite a treat for the experienced puzzlers who are looking for a serious challenge.
If you're a more adventurous type and sometimes feel like a kid on a toy fair, the Perplexus puzzles are a perfect way to immerse yourself with a really cool and fascinating 3D maze. These original and unique puzzles let you explore and navigate with a ball bearing within a large sphere full of contraptions and winding pathways, reminiscent of a roller coaster.
If none of these are your thing, why not try a 3D maze with a classic feel but with a new and completely different approach in design. These examples below, from Jean Claude Constantin (right) and Jez Goode (left and center), show what 3D mazes have achieved in recent years and how good they can be with a gorgeous but functional design. They are also quite challenging.
Mazes that require a good dose of dexterity on your part are also a fun alternative to the previous, more demanding, examples. In these puzzles, perfect hand-eye coordination will dictate your success or your failure as you try to guide a metal sphere with the help of your steady hands and...Gravity.
Double mazes (and so on) are also fascinating in the sense that you have to keep in mind your progress on both of them simultaneously. There are many good examples, and Jean Claude Constantin is a craftsman that knows very well how to make a good maze puzzle, especially when two, or more, mazes are involved. His puzzles have a great complexity, and are mostly appreciated among expert puzzle enthusiasts for their unique designs and mechanisms.
There are still more types of mazes and unique puzzles to discover, but these are the most important ones within the realm of mechanical puzzles. There may be some missing ones here and there, but I believe I compiled enough for you to have a general idea of the subject and to encourage you to research further if some puzzles interest you more.
Mazes have evolved so much over
the centuries that it's unfathomable to even think of how they will continue to
baffle us in the coming decades. Judging by what history taught us time and
time again with new inventions, it's safe to say that mazes are here to stay
for as long as civilization exists. It's part of who we are, part of our
curious minds, and it's essential to our development as an intellectual
species. I sincerely hope that, after reading this, you'll be more inclined to
try a maze puzzle - any maze - and see for yourself how fascinating these
puzzles can really be.
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