Maze: Solve the World’s Most Challenging Puzzle by Christopher Manson is an illustrated puzzle book where the pages of the book represent different rooms in a maze. When it was published by in 1985, there was a reward offered to the first person to solve the riddles of the maze. The reward was $10,000 and despite many enthusiastic attempts the riddle was never fully solved. The reward was eventually split between ten puzzle solvers who came close or had partially solved answers. There are still people trying to break through any lingering mysteries in this enigmatic book.
Maze is a simple enough concept where each of the pages is a room in this imaginary world. Each room is unique and offers one to several paths that you can take. If you see a door with a number above it, you may enter that door by turning to the corresponding page. There are many twists and turns and loops. You cannot always go back the way came and you might find yourself stuck occasionally with nowhere else to go. If you’re not careful, you’ll be abandoned in an abyss with no light and no way out.
The story is narrated by your guide, a mysterious figure who only refers to himself as Cerberus, the guardian dog of the underworld. He is guiding a group of individuals who are impatient with his riddles and hints and only want to be told how to solve the maze rather than accepting the challenge. In each room the guide comments on the objects, animals or people in the room, the reaction of his guests, and cryptic hints about who he might be and what this place is. You get the idea that he might be the devil guiding lost souls through a type of limbo allowing them to make the decisions that will lead to their ultimate outcome. There are a number of ancient Greek, biblical, and literary references in the story and the imagery.
The illustrations are gorgeous woodblock prints that the author created himself. They remind me of the “I Spy” type of games where you search for various objects in a cluttered room. Although there is no direction for what might be important and what is there to add to the confusion. Even the cover page has a doorway with a red herring above it as if to tease you immediately. The images are mysterious and foreboding. I have the feeling that this is not a place that you would like to end up as there are odd characters and dangerous landscapes to traverse. It is reminiscent of Dante’s Inferno as he travels through hell, although not nearly as dark.
There are three main goals that you must accomplish in order the defeat the maze. The first is to find the quickest route to the center of the maze and then back out. The second task is to find the riddle hidden in room 45 or the center of the maze. The last task is to solve the riddle contained along the shortest path. The is also a lesson to be learned for those willing to listen. Personally, I only focused on getting through the shortest path. I tried to make an elaborate map to help me but even that was a bit daunting. There is a trick to the shortest path though and it’s not as clear as I would have liked. Putting together the riddles from the images seemed impossible to me and I barely attempted it before cheating.
Maze was wildly successful when it was released and has been an inspiration for many other projects. Myst was the top selling video game from its release in 1993 until it was surpassed by The Sims in 2002. The creators of Myst claimed that most of their inspiration came from The Mysterious Island by Jules Verne. Christopher Manson also claimed this to be his inspiration for Maze. Myst is very similar as you go from room to room and try to pick out clues and hidden messages to help you along the path. There was clearly a major influence involved even if it was only a natural evolution in puzzle game history. There is also claims that House of Leaves was influenced by Maze, however I believe that was more influenced by Theseus and King Minos’ labyrinth of Greek mythology. Maze was originally going to be called Labyrinth, however, Jim Henson’s movie by the same name was released a few months before and the name was changed.
Maze retails for $12.99 and I believe is the quintessential puzzle book for all puzzle lovers out there. It has amazing art that will have you flipping through the book from time to time to discover new secrets that you missed before. Given enough time and assuming you don’t have a photographic memory, you can easily replay this from time to time. Christopher Manson has another puzzle book called The Practical Alchemist: Showing the Way an Ordinary House-Cat May Be Transformed into True Gold, by Means of Divers Methods and Practices, Heer Mo. I just had to write the whole title because it demonstrates his humor. The last two words make me think there might be an anagram in the title itself but I haven’t checked it yet. So when you feel the need to get lost in an amazing book, pick up Maze and solve the world’s most challenging puzzle. Never leave a maze unsolved!
-J.C. Mystery Detective