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Design your own maze

Intro --- Pre-maze --- Cretan --- Roman --- Chartres --- Turf --- Garden --- Other --- Design --- Lay out --- Designer --- Games

A mighty maze! but not without a plan; Essay on Man by Alexander Pope (1688-1744)

Before starting your design, you must decide which style of maze you wish to make. A unicursal maze has only a single path to the centre, without branches or choices. It may be a pattern to look at, or quite a long walk in a confined space. As you travel through it, you face different directions, and may even get bewildered, but you don't get lost. For that, you want a puzzle maze. A puzzle maze has a choice of paths, some of them dead-ends or leading you round in a circle.

Designing a square puzzle maze
Designing a hexagonal puzzle maze
Constructing a puzzle maze
Designing a unicursal maze
Constructing a flat maze
Laying out a maze
Interactive branching maze designer
Some good books on mazes

Designing a square puzzle maze

Here is a fool-proof way to make a branching puzzle maze.

Take some squared paper and draw out a rectangle with an odd number of squares on each side. This design has 19 squares on each side, but it could be a rectangle. When drawing the maze, use a soft pencil, as you'll be rubbing lots out.

Fill in alternate lines and columns like the picture on the right, making a waffle pattern. All the white squares will end up as part of the paths. All the dark blue squares will be walls. Medium blue squares will be either paths or wall. You don't have to use colour, of course, but shade the medium blue squares very lightly, as you will be rubbing some of them out.

If you want, save the picture on the right onto your own computer (right click on it, then click on 'Save As'), and use a Paint program and a Fill tool, letting the computer do all the hard work. Or click here for my interactive webpage designer which makes it even easier. Read the following paragraphs first, though, to see what to do.

Start of maze design

Design maze 1

From now on, you are rubbing squares out, and you must ONLY rub out medium blue squares (to make them from walls into paths). Dark blue squares are definitely walls, and so must NOT be rubbed out. (The interactive webpage stops you trying to rub out the wrong square.)

You need to choose an entry point to the maze which must be on the edge of the maze (and a medium blue square, of course). Make it white. Mine is top left.

You also need to choose a destination. Again, it must be a medium blue square. For my maze, I've chosen an exit on the edge, bottom right, but you could have a destination in the middle of the maze if you prefer. Make that white as well.

The rest of the outer edge of the rectangle will be the outer wall of the maze, and you mustn't make any parts of it white. I've coloured it all dark blue to remind me of this.

Now you need to draw the main path, or solution to the maze.

Start from the entrance and, rubbing out only medium blue squares, make a path to the destination. If you find the path on the right hard to see, try looking at it through half-closed eyes.

Make sure that the path is not too short, or someone may solve the maze very quickly. But don't make it too long, or you won't be able to have many choices or dead-ends, and then it wouldn't be a very challenging maze. It's quite fun to head for the exit and then turn away again.

Wiggle the path around, but make sure that the path never crosses itself. This can be surprisingly tricky. If your path does meet itself, then redraw a few medium blue walls and try again. I had to do this a few times while drawing this maze.

Design maze 2

Design maze 3

You still have some white bits that aren't connected to the main path. So you make dead-ends off the main path, to join the cut-off bits to the main path.

Find a white square all by itself. Make a path (remember, only rub out medium blue squares) towards the main path. This is now a dead-end.

You can have one dead-end branching off another, like the small spiral in the bottom left hand corner. However, don't make most of the maze into one dead-end. If someone doesn't happen to choose that particular wrong turning, then they'll find the rest of the maze easy.

If possible, try to make some dead-ends look more attractive than the main path, so the dead-end heads towards the destination, while the main path snakes away from it!

You now have the finished design. If you want, you can tidy it up a little. Change all the medium pale squares into dark blue, as they are now officially walls. Remove all the grey lines outlining the squares. Of course, you can just leave the maze as it is, and pretend that it's a Roman mosaic!

This type of maze is called a branching maze, as it has a single path to its destination (the trunk) and all other paths are eventually dead-ends (branches). It is possible to solve even if you don't know the design. Imagine that you are entering the maze, and put your right hand on the wall on the right. Walk forwards, but whenever there is a path to your right, turn right. This will keep your hand moving along the side of the wall. If you meet a dead-end, then turn round keeping your hand on the wall, and your right hand will now be on the other wall. Eventually, you will come to the destination, although you may go down several dead-ends. In fact, if you turn round at the destination, and re-enter the maze, still keeping your right hand on the wall, you will travel through the rest of the maze, and get back to the entrance, having travelled through every passage way twice (but not necessarily in the same order), and touched every piece of wall. You can use your left hand instead of your right.

Finished maze

A branching maze is the traditional puzzle maze. Modern maze designers decided to make more interesting mazes which can't be solved as easily, so they now tend to have island mazes instead. These are mazes with more than one path to the centre. In fact, it took the older maze designers some time before they worked out the principle of the branching maze (the Hampton Court Maze is an island maze), so there are a lot of island mazes around. An island maze may be solved by the 'hand on the wall' trick, or you may just go round and round without getting anywhere. One way to make an island maze is to make a branching maze, and then make one or two more gaps in the walls. Don't make too many, though, or you will have too many correct paths to the destination, which will make it too easy.

There are many complex maze ideas out there. Some modern mazes even introduce bridges, so the paths can cross without giving you an opportunity to enter from one to the other. Some may let you travel one way down a path, but not return. Some may give you plenty of paths, but you must travel past certain fixed points in a particular order. Good modern puzzle maze design is an art-form, and I do not claim any expertise. Practise with the techniques mentioned above, try the mazes out on other people, and then branch out on your own.

Click here if you wish to design a unicursal maze.

Designing a hexagonal puzzle maze

You can use a similar technique to make a hexagonal maze. Start with a grid of hexagons (see here for an online grid to print off or download).

Fill in the walls of ato make a big hexagon, and a pattern within as on the right. These fill-in parts are guaranteed to be walls.

Unlike the square maze, there are no guaranteed paths.

Mark the start of the maze (at an edge) and the end of the maze (in the centre).

Designing a hexgonal maze
Designing a hexgonal maze

Mark a path as before. In this example, we are filling in the path rather than rubbing it out.

Remember that the path must not meet itself, or you will make a loop, which stops it being a branching maze. Make sure that there are always unfilled hexagons between the hexagon that you are about to fill in, and the already filled in path.

Make the path long enough to be interesting, but not so long to fill every possible hexagon! You need to leave some areas for making dead-ends.

Now fill in the dead-ends. Start from the path, where there is an area of unfilled-in hexagons, and fill in blank hexagons to mae a branch.

Be careful, as before, not to create a loop. Make sure that there are always unfilled hexagons between the hexagon that you are about to fill in, and the already filled in paths.

Carry on until every possible hexagon is filled. Unlike the square maze, there may be clusters of two or even three hexagons still unfilled-in.

Designing a hexgonal maze
Designing a hexgonal maze

Fill in the rest of the hexagons as walls.

This is the finished maze. You could, of course, clean it up by removing the dividing lines between the shapes, and the surrounds to the whole maze. Of course, if you are doing patch-work, then the dividing lines will appear anyway.

Constructing a puzzle maze

Many puzzle mazes are on paper, which is easy of course. Use a soft pencil for the design, and a big rubber (eraser); you'll need it!

If you want to walk through the maze, then you need to think seriously about where you are going to have it, and in particular, how big it will be. The path must be wide enough to walk along, about two feet wide (although I have made a narrow path of one foot - it was quite difficult to walk along). But you must also think about the walls as well. This leads onto what the walls will be.

Most people think of hedges for big mazes, preferably more than head-high. But there are problems about hedges. You need the right sort of hedging plant (try asking your local garden shops for what will grow well locally). It will be quite tricky to grow the plants. The hedges will shade each other and steal water and nutrient from each other. The plants need to grow, so your maze won't be ready for some time. There are a LOT of walls in even quite a small maze, and all that needs to be planted (a lot of plants) and clipped to keep it tidy (a lot of work). You must allow enough room when planting the maze for the hedges to grow sideways as well as up. Finally, what will you do if some of the plants die?

Maze If you don't feel like tackling hedge mazes, you can make the walls of other things. There are maize mazes, made by mowing a path through maize. (Yes, it's a pun - see Adrian Fisher's web site.) You could use straw bales as walls. You can use other barriers - see these photos. The walls must be thin (or the maze will be too large). They must be stable. They must be cheap, as there are a lot of walls in any maze. Maze

Saffron Walden has maze festivals celebrating the town's own mazes, and making lots more temporary mazes. Here are some from the 2016 festival. There was a tunnel maze made of hay bales, a maze madeof empty plastic bottles taped onto string, a simple maze (but you had to walk it wearing speactacles which simulated having cataracts), a maze with boards meeting tribulations you might find in life (from Citizens Advice Bureau), a double spiral of bits of fabric from the 1970's onwards (by someone who hated throwing things away!) and a BMX bike track maze.

Saffron Walden maze festival 2016 Saffron Walden maze festival 2016 Saffron Walden maze festival 2016 Saffron Walden maze festival 2016 Saffron Walden maze festival 2016 Saffron Walden maze festival 2016

You could also make a flat maze.

Click here for some ideas for laying out a maze.

Designing a unicursal maze

This type of maze may seem strange if you haven't met it before, as you don't 'solve' it. However, when you walk it, you constantly twist and turn, getting closer and further from the centre, until finally you arrive there. You walk continuously, without pausing to make choices or back-track. Children love to run through these mazes! A unicursal maze can also make an attractive pattern.

Perhaps surprisingly, it is hard to design a good unicursal maze. When you make a unicursal maze, then the main path must cover the whole area. You can't fill in spare areas with dead-ends as you do with puzzle mazes. So I suggest that you start by looking at existing patterns to see how they work. The Cretan design has its own trick for drawing its maze; look at the Cretan webpage to see what it is. The Roman and Chartres designs have to be copied. This isn't too hard, and it teaches you something about how these mazes are made. Let's try to copy a Chartres maze. It's easiest to design the paths rather than the walls of the maze.

This is what we're copying.
The Chartres maze is based on concentric circles.
Rub out from top to bottom and side to side.
Now start from the top and join the lines as in the original.
Now on the left. While you have the same sort of join, they are not in the same order.
The right part has a different order again.
And the bottom. This is the most complicated.
For three of the arms, there are two types of joins: double backs, and rejoin the circle.
Designing maze Designing maze
At the bottom, while there are double backs, there are also more complicated double backs, overlapping the others.
But by concentrating on just one part you should be able to reproduce it.

The Roman maze is based on concentric squares rather than concentric circles. See how to reproduce one on the Roman maze webpage.

Once you have copied some designs, you can try your own! First choose your shape. You're not restricted to circles or shares. To save you time, here are some. (Right click, then click on Save As to save to your computer. Use any Paint program to make the maze.)

Concentric circles Concentric squares Concentric hexagons
Concentric pentagons Concentric stars Concentric octagons

Once you've chosen a shape, rub out where you're going to make the doubling back, etc. Then join up the paths similar to the Chartres or Roman. You can bend a path back on its tracks by joining it to the next shape. You can join it to a path further in. You can continue in the same direction on the same circuit (in which case you don't need to rub it out!) Or you can continue in the same direction, but jig inwards to the next circuit (although this is rare).

Designing maze Designing maze Designing maze Designing maze Designing maze

However, if you join paths at random, you will probably find that you don't have a unicursal maze, but several distinct paths. You may not be able to get to the centre at all! One way to check this is to colour in the path (if using a computer, try the Paint tool). This makes it obvious whether you have a single path or not (see right). Remember that you will need an entrance, and an end (probably in the middle). Start designing maze

So now look again at the existing patterns again to see how they work. The Roman patterns are easy, since you only need to get one quarter right, then repeat it. The Chartres pattern is trickier, since you swing from one quarter to another and back again. This makes it more interesting to walk, but harder to design. Remember that you can change shape quite easily, so you can make a circular Roman design, or a square or octagonal Chartres design (or even a hexagonal one with a few changes).

Once you starting designing mazes, you will start to appreciate what the problems are, and how existing mazes solve them. Even if you never construct a maze of your own, designing mazes gives you far more insight into their nature. You feel closer to the original designers of the traditional mazes. You can imagine a Roman, or medieval monk scratching in the earth, then saying "Bother, that won't work!" Like them, you will muse "Perhaps a Greek Key will get me out of there" or "Essentially I need a wiggly spiral..." But however you do it, and whatever your success is, by the end you will get through a lot of paper and rubber, or have an aching mouse hand!

If you want a more hands-on approach, you can mark the pathway in its final location with a long piece of rope. This way you can play around with it until it looks right, and you can guarantee that you have the correct pattern which does get to the centre, and the paths don't cross. This method allows you to design a more fluid, less structured maze.

You may wish to use a design from this site. There are modern designs which are copyright, and you should approach the designer before copying them, but you can copy any ancient design, or one of my designs, without asking permission. However, it's much more fun to design your own. If anyone wants to download the pictures or text on this website, and use the result on a computer or in print form, feel free to do so. I'd love to hear about any of your maze designing efforts, but it's not compulsory!

Click here if you wish to design a puzzle maze.

Constructing a flat maze

Most unicursal mazes are flat mazes, or almost flat. This means that the 'walls' are not really proper walls or hedges. One strange side effect of this is that you can get the paths and walls muddled up. For example, some turf mazes have the grass as the path, and some as the walls. Flat mazes emphasise the pattern. Hedge mazes are in fact rather dull to look at; all you see is a hedge. Flat mazes are usually much easier to maintain. Another advantage of a flat maze is that once you get to the centre, or if you get bored with it, you can just walk straight out. This does mean that you can't really get lost in a flat maze, and at all times you can see what you're doing. They're still fun, though!

All paper mazes are flat mazes, of course, and you can have other small mazes. These are sometimes called finger mazes, as you travel through them using a finger. A lot of the earliest mazes seem to be like this, treated as designs rather than big enough to walk through. I heard a nice idea, to have a large maze, and then when you get to the centre, there's a notice board with a small finger maze! Even if you have a large maze, it doesn't have to be on the ground or floor. You can have one on a wall, or even the ceiling. You can also have fun with using different materials; how about a patchwork quilt!

If you want a maze on the ground, then you can use Roman mosaic mazes as a model. You can use mosaic tiles, but you can use any pathing material (contact your local gardening shop or builders for suggestions). Make sure that you have two contrasting colours, one for the path and one for the walls.

Turf mazes were made originally by lifting the grass turf in strips to reveal the ground underneath. I suspect that this was often chalk. Now, the paths (or walls!) are usually emphasised with paths made of brick or other material, which needs less maintenance. Make the paths lower than the grass, and then you can mow over them easier. However, there are other mazes that you can make with grass. You can mow a path through grass to create the paths. Or you can get armfuls of grass cuttings and pile them up as walls. Both will tend to get trodden down or kicked, so this sort of maze is strictly temporary!

In Scandinavia, there are Cretan mazes marked out with pebbles. This is suitable for Cretan mazes, since you mark out the walls rather than the path, so you walk between the pebbles rather than on them. If you make any other type of maze, make sure you mark the walls rather than the path. The pebbles might get disturbed quite easily by people's feet, so perhaps you could set the pebbles in concrete, or at least, dig them into the earth a bit.

Even if you don't want a high hedge maze, you can still have a garden maze. You could make the walls into flower beds, leaving the paths as grass or pathing material. Then you can plant up the flower beds as you wish. I've heard of a lavender maze, which is a lovely idea! Or you can make tiny hedges, made of herbs perhaps, or box. This is getting back to the idea of a parterre or knot garden, which was the origin of garden mazes.

You may get inspiration from other places. How about a water maze as in Bristol? That may sound too ambitious, but you can make a wonderful temporary maze on a beach; see right, one of the few mazes that I've ever made in the real world. If you scrape a channel in the sand, then when the tide comes in, you have an instant water maze. It's very quick, and if you make a mistake, it's easy to correct, and the sea wipes it all clean again. Beachmaze

If you have a flat, or fairly flat, maze, you may like to think of something to put in the middle, such as a sun-dial, or a tree, or statue, or bench, or even a small finger maze!

If that all seems like too much work, then you can do what I do, and keep your mazes on computer! Or follow the intriguing idea of using beads to guide you though an imaginary maze.

Click here for some ideas for laying out a maze.