The Maze

Labyrinth Day

May 6

Other Scottish Country Dances for this Day

Today's Musings, History & Folklore

"From right to left, and to and fro,
Caught in a labyrinth, you go,
And turn, and turn, and turn again,
To solve the myst'ry, but in vain.
Stand still, and breathe, and take from me
A clew, that soon shall set you free!
Not Ariadne, if you met her,
Herself could serve you with a better.
You enter'd easily—find where—
And make with ease your exit there!"

Although both mazes and labyrinths can be constructed to form complex and confusing pathways, the two are different. A maze is a complex, branching puzzle that includes choices of path and direction, while a labyrinth has only a single, non-branching path, which leads to the center. Prehistoric labyrinths may have served as traps for malevolent spirits or as paths for ritual dances. In the 16th century, European royalty began building elaborate hedge mazes on their property both to entertain, as well as to provide private places for secret meetings. Traquair Maze, near Innerleithen, Scottish Borders, is the largest hedge maze in Scotland, covering over half an acre formed with beech trees! Longleat Hedge Maze (shown below) in Wiltshire, England, is the longest maze in the world. The maze is constructed of more than 16,000 English yews, covering 1.48 acres and nearly 2 miles of pathway. Maze masters can make it through the hedge maze (which has several dead ends and multiple paths containing six raised bridges surrounding a central tower) in less than 2 minutes! Beginners, however, can take from 25 minutes to an hour and half to solve the maze. Amazing!

The Maze

Though topologically different, the maze and the labyrinth have been used synonymously throughout history.

 

A maze is a path or collection of paths, typically from an entrance to a goal. The word is used to refer both to branching tour puzzles through which the solver must find a route, and to simpler non-branching ("unicursal") patterns that lead unambiguously through a convoluted layout to a goal. (The term "labyrinth" is generally synonymous, but also can connote specifically a unicursal pattern.

 

Maze solving is the act of finding a route through the maze from the start to finish. Some maze solving methods are designed to be used inside the maze by a traveler with no prior knowledge of the maze, whereas others are designed to be used by a person or computer program that can see the whole maze at once.

The mathematician Leonhard Euler was one of the first to analyze plane mazes mathematically, and in doing so made the first significant contributions to the branch of mathematics known as topology.

 

Mazes have been built with walls and rooms, with hedges, turf, corn stalks, hay bales, books, paving stones of contrasting colors or designs, and brick, or in fields of crops such as corn or, indeed, maize. Mirror Mazes are another form of maze, in which many of the apparent pathways are imaginary routes seen through multiple reflections in mirrors.

 

For more about Scone palace and the Murray Star Maze (shown above), click the overhead view.  The maze planted with copper and green beeches to resemble the Earl of Mansfield's family tartan, Ancient Murray of Tullibardine, is in the the shape of a 5-pointed star, which is part of the Mansfield family emblem.

The Maze
The Maze

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