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How To Escape From Any Maze: Blindfolded! (For The Family Trapped In A Corn Maze Last Week)

Perfecting Parenthood:  Using Math To Escape A Corn Maze (Connor's Farm)Imagine stumbling through a friendly family corn maze, dizzily spinnng, careening off the vegetation walls.  The sky has long since turn from blue to orange and is now a darkening gray.  Corn shadows lengthened as you bravely searched, until the stalks became simple, evil, black silhouettes cut from the heavens.  Every junction looks like every other.  Did you turn left last time you were here?  Right?  You hear the panicked breathing of your spouse.  Both of you have the same thing in mind, but neither will mention it: Should you eat the spouse or the children first if it came to that?  You shake the thoughts from your head.  Then you realize it: Your cell phone.  You dial 911 and within minutes you hear sirens and bloodhounds.  You are rescued.  Never again, you swear, will you try a corn maze.

That was the harrowing true story of suffering by a family trapped in a corn maze at ol' Connors Farm last week.

So that you don't have to suffer injury or embarassment, I'm going to teach you how to escape from any maze.  It is a simple trick.  So simple that you don't need a map or even vision.  You could do it blindfolded.  Here it is:


That is literally it.  Stick out your right hand and keep it on the wall as you walk and eventually you will reach the exit.  It is guaranteed.  The unfortunate family that was lost at Connors Farm was apparently in the horse's nose.  You can see from the map that they were very close to the exit by the shortest route, but let's suppose they were pointed the other way.  Armed with the right hand rule they would have followed the red path below.  Try it with an equivalent left hand rule, you'll see that the family still escapes by a different route.  Going south with the left or right hand rule leads to the exit very quickly.

I was prompted to write this because literally the next thing I read on the Internet, after reading about this lost family, was someone commenting that school was a waste of time since there is no use for higher math.  I had to laugh, because it is exactly a slightly higher mathematical understanding that leads to knowing how easy it is to escape mazes.  The one hand technique works because a maze is just like a string.

Imagine a long string on the ground.  You can follow that string from start to finish by holding it with one hand and walking.  If that string were looped around in a circle so that the beginning and end were close to each other it still wouldn't matter, you could walk the string from beginning to end.  What if you poked in bits of the string?  Doesn't change it, it's a string and can still be walked.  What if you poked in the string and distorted it into really complicated shapes?  Still you could walk it.  That's exactly what a maze is and that's why you can get out by following a wall.

Perfecting Parenthood:  A Maze is like a loop of string

Now, there is an exception.  You have to be lucky enough to touch an outside wall, but the good news is that most mazes are composed exclusively of walls connected to the outside.  If the maze has disconnected islands then you have a problem using this trick becauses you would circle the island you had your hand on.  In the string analogy, this is like a second loop of string inside the larger loop of string.  If you grab hold of the second string then you will forever walk around that one, never moving to the larger string.

At Connors farm such islands do exist in many places.  The hooves and legs, for example, contain many of these islands.  You have to use a slightly more complicated algorithm to get out of a maze that has islands in it.

You must think of a way to leave messages for yourself on the ground, like breaking off a corn stalk and laying it down.  This is because you need to keep track of where you've been and which paths turn out to be dead ends.  Such a system might work thusly:

  • At the junctions lay down a stalk along the path you came from and along the path you left by.
  • If you hit a dead end, go back to the last junction and close off the path by turning the stalk 90 degrees (see step 3-4 below).
    • Now if you ever go to that junction again, you can quickly see which paths are dead ends for sure and which you've never visited
      1. empty paths are unvisited
      2. in-line stalks mean the path you are currently trying but might have to backtrack
      3. blocked paths are proven dead ends.
    • Then pick a new path, or of none exist then continue backtracking by paths that you haven't blocked yet.  Remember to block paths behind you as you backtrack by turning the stalk 90 degrees.
  • It is also a dead end if you return to a junction you've already visited even if it's by a different path.
    • Just mark that path with a 90 degree stallk and turn around (step 4).
  • Eventually you will reach the exit.
    • The path you took (without the dead ends) are marked by stalks that are in line (step 6)


   Perfecting Parenthood Alternate Maze Solving Method   

 There you have some examples of how a little higher education, at least a little lesson in logic, could save you from an embarassing 15 minutes of fame.

What's your take?  Are you going to teach your children these lifesaving techniques?  Do you think higher logic and math is useful in "REAL" life?


Hope you liked the post. Please do me a favour ...


What a great application of

Bogusia's picture

What a great application of higher math!  I wrote a post once about why it's useful to know higher math, but this is a real life application...  Being a math teacher, I love math, and I see math everywhere, but I know a lot of people hated math in school and see no point in it.  If they don't like math, they will obviously try to find every way of discounting its worth.  But let's face it, without math there would be no advancement in technology.  There would be no computers, no TV's, no smart phones.  All the technology (new and old) is based on math principles.  Just because there is something more difficult than we can understand doesn't mean it's actually not useful.  Thanks for this wonderful and simple application of higher math.  BTW, I always wanted to do a corn maze like that... now that I know how to get out if I get stuck, I'll have to get into one with my kids before Hallowe'en.

I love your approach. But

dadsprimalscream's picture

I love your approach. But there seems another way to figure this out... Choose a direction, any direction, and WALK THROUGH THE EVER-LOVIN CORN for crying out loud! Forgive me because I'm a city boy, but it's CORN right?  We're not talking real walls here.

As a father myself, if I had truly felt that panicked with my wife and children I would have trampled the corn and told them to follow me. Looking at the aerial view above, it looks like they would have eventually hit a dirt road and been able to then walk around the corn field to "safety." The corn ends no matter which direction you go.

In any case, what a great metaphor for life...feeling trapped and panicked when all you have to do is ignore the imaginary walls someone else has led you to believe are there but which you can easily trample and create your own pathway.



Hmm... How high are the walls

Jimmy's picture

Hmm... How high are the walls of the maze? Could the family have climbed the wall and head straight in one direction? That was the way we were taught to get out when we get lost navigating in the jungle. Also I am just wondering what happened to the people who are running the place.

Back to the importance of higher maths for people. I agree Bogusia that without this we will not have the high tech gears we have today. Life would not have been better. But if you look at it, these high end maths stuff and any other subjects end up being the niches of a few select. Application wise, many people in the world still do not need these skills. Rather there are other skills that must be mastered by different people. This combination will be more beneficial to all.

This is fantastic! We were

kelly @kellynaturally's picture

This is fantastic!

We were "lost" in a corn maze once. Three toddlers, one crying baby, one VERY HOT September day. We finally found an outer wall, pushed the corn aside, snipped the fencing around the outside (ooops), and escaped. I'd planned never to do another corn maze with small children again... but now that I know the "trick" to getting through it, I may reconsider!


Great post; I'll be sharing!

Just a fun point to add to

Andy's picture

Just a fun point to add to the math discussion:

Going just left (or right) will often work.  But sometimes mazes can be more complex than just a simple smushed string.  Islands, bridges, etc.  So another strategy you could use (assuming other people are still around in the maze):

Fear the Known - When choosing which way to go, if you see people walking toward you, assume they are coming from a dead end.  Go the other way.

Statistically speaking, this should speed up your escape (more so than just wandering aimlessly).  Don't believe me?  Check out this simulator to test it out

You're spot on that the

Andy's picture

You're spot on that the strategy depends on some details of the maze.  With separate entrances and exits, there will, as you say, be a flow.  Standing in one intersection waiting... you'll count extra people 'arriving' from a direction facing the entrance and extra people 'leaving' in the direction of the exit.  Even when those people are totally and completely lost, too.  (Assuming once they hit the exit, they don't just turn around and keep going, to foil your plan)

As a strategy, though, it is statistical, so you win some, you lose some.  With the simulation, you can do a vast number of trials to get it to settle down to an average.  Depending on the maze, different strategies come out the winner.

And indeed, this is no good if there aren't people around.  Just a curiousity for a fun day in a crowded maze.

I don't mean to poke fun at

Ado's picture

I don't mean to poke fun at the lost-in-the-corn-maze family but your post was really good - esp. the diagrams. (-: And of course I had a giggle at their expense. 

The thing is - I do not go into these corn mazes for just that very reason: I have a fear of getting lost in them. And as for your higher math calculations - bully for all the mathematicians out there who won't be lost in corn mazes, I'm not one of 'em. I'm a writer. They probably wouldn't find me til the next Winter freeze melted. Nope. Not going in. (-: