Maze without a Minotaur

Happy Halloween! My housemates and I fulfilled a long-term dream of mine to create a completely pitch-black maze. It wasn’t meant to be inherently scary — no ghouls jumping out at you. Just dark and alone. Some could find it peaceful. I found it a to be a rush, scary yet intriguing. I framed the maze with this poem by Dana Gioia which touches on this wonderful (or dreadful) idea that perhaps we are the things that go ‘boo’ in our own lives.
Maze without a Minotaur
If we could only push these walls
apart, unfold the room the way
a child might take apart a box
and lay it flat upon the floor—
so many corners cleared at last!
Or else could rip away the roof
and stare down at the dirty rooms,
the hallways turning on themselves,
and understand at last their plan—
dark maze without a minotaur,
no monsters but ourselves.
                                       Yet who
could bear to see it all? The slow
descending spirals of the dust
against the spotted windowpane,
the sunlight on the yellow lace,
the hoarded wine turned dark and sour,
the photographs, the letters—all
the crowded closets of the heart.
One wants to turn away—and cry
for fire to break out on the stairs
and raze each suffocating room.
But the walls stay, the roof remains
strong and immovable, and we
can only pray that if these rooms
have memories, they are not ours.
We made the maze in the basement using wooden framing and thick black plastic as the walls. You entered through a door at the back of the house, navigated the maze in complete darkness (the kind where you can’t even see your hand in front of your face) and then faced an interactive puzzle which, if completely successfully, triggered a door to open to a small passageway that led to the stairway into the apartment.
It was amazing. It was incredibly dark. It had a section that narrowed dangerously. It had a section that required you to duck low. It had a section in which you climbed up and over an obstacle. People took anywhere from two to fifteen minutes to get through. There was this wonderful sound you could hear from the stairwell of the maze-goer feeling there way along the plastic walls, figuring out where to go next.
There were surprises. The interactive piece was at chest level and a bit above. Several people did the entire maze crouched down on their heels or on their hands and knees and so missed the puzzle entirely. Others got completely turned around at certain section and had to backtrack all the way to the start to figure themselves out. One person described the maze as ‘invisible’.
The interactive piece was a set of six cans, each a capacitive touch sensor that when touched would play a recording of my voice. Four played this: “you are the minotaur.” The others said one of the following: “unfold,” “the,” “room.” The original idea was that people had to play the cans in the correct order to make the sentence “unfold the room” and then the door would open. However, the capacitive touch sensors drifted over time. Some would not always get correctly triggered. In addition, the puzzle was not clear: it wasn’t clear if you were making progress, the cans that were not required to complete the puzzle were too confusing. We changed it on the fly to just require touching the “unfold” can to open the door. We still encountered the problem of people who never found the cans at all.
Still it was a wonderful experience. We had a party and I spent a good five hours shuttling people through the maze: taking them outside, giving them a pep talk, watching them walk into the darkness and closing the door behind them. The first several people who went through the maze got a debrief: we discussed if the door opened correctly, what worked or didn’t about the maze. The day after I took my nephews, 5 and 3, through the maze with the lights on. They loved it with that childish joy of dedicated experiences. So did I.

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