Dazed and Corn-Mazed

Not all those who wander are lost...
but a heckuva lot of us are.
September 20, 2010 — Humanity has done some pretty awesome things. Skyscrapers. Organ transplants. Space missions. And some God Damn Swollen Genius invented the corn maze.

Somewhere along the way, that GDSG figured out that everybody who has ever seen a corn field has fantasized about running through it, getting lost in it, settling down and starting a family in it.

As a result, we now have the chance every Fall to tear off through a large swathe of our local farmer’s soluble assets. This past weekend, we took advantage of the tradition and went to two different corn mazes…because making generalizations about corn mazes is a much more legitimate enterprise when you’ve visited two.

If one’s never done a corn maze, I can understand how they might be slightly intimidating. Really, I get it. There’s always that little Ernest Borgnine on your shoulder (or however you personify your own self-doubt) whispering about how embarrassing it would be to not be able to solve something that’s ostensibly meant for children.

And Ernest Borgnine is right. That would be embarrassing. Except for two things. One, getting lost (or more accurate, experiencing the illusion that you’re lost…these are rows of corn after all, not three-foot-thick stone walls set in a Peruvian jungle) is actually part of the fun. Wandering through 10-foot-tall stalks of corn on a cool Fall day is a pleasant activity regardless of whether you’re heading directly for an exit or not. In fact, more often than not, finding the exit is the disappointing part.

The second thing is that you won’t be lost for more than minutes at a stretch. You see, placed at regular intervals and at all major cross-rows (see what I did there?) are usually some sort of sign or placard. These signs feature multiple choice questions, usually about farm life or, if the maze is themed, related to that theme. Each answer also features a direction. The right answer sends you in the right direction. A wrong answer, well that often takes you in the right direction, too. They don’t want you to actually get lost in their corn field. They want to harvest that stuff at some point, and bleached human skeletons really mess up their harvesting machinery.

Also, you should know that most American corn mazes don’t employ booby traps, and whoever finds David Bowie first is the winner.

On Saturday, we visited Coppal House Farm in Lee, NH. Their maze was shaped like an owl, or so their web site told me. I’m not tall enough to have seen the pattern, and shaped corn mazes always just look like rows of corn from the side. From what I know, most mazes pull this move. I’m thinking that the companies that they outsource this maze-building to throw it in at very little extra charge, and I’m pretty sure it’s just so they can have that cool picture for their web site. However, they did continue the owl theme throughout, with hands stamps in the shape of owls, owl merchandise in their farmstead store, and all the questions in the maze being owl-related.

It turns out me, my wife, and my infant child really suck at owls, but at least it’s good to learn stuff like that about ourselves. We got like 8 out of 10 answers wrong, yet we were still out in about half an hour. And most of that time was spent just trying to avoid everybody else who was in the maze. As always, everything is more enjoyable without everybody else.

After we exited the owl, we went back to the farmstead store and barn to pet the farm animals, resist the temptation to buy pumpkins too early, and leer at whatever atrocities of gourd that they’d tortured into existence this year.

Sunday found us in Haverhill, MA, at Kimball Farm. This time, we met up with some friends who had four- and five-year-old boys. Consequently, we did that maze at the speed of children, and ended up sweaty and exhausted for it. It also didn’t help that it was a larger maze, and on the side of a hill. Although that’s pretty cool, otherwise. This time, the maze was shaped like a buffalo, and the questions were all related to farm animals. A nice little added touch close to the end of the maze was the option of exiting on all fours through a long black plastic tube.

For this maze, instead of whipping out our cell phones to find the answers to the questions like we should have done the day previous, we let the four-year-old make every one of the path decisions. And, naturally, we still made it out without coming even close to that lost-and-possibly-never-found panic I feel every time I leave the GPS unit at home.

Kimball had a few things to do as well, including barn animals, face painting, a pumpkin catapult. They even had buffalo, which explains the maze shape. Apparently sometimes buffalos are farm animals.

Now, in all this fun-for-the-family maze talk, there is something that I’ve completely left out about corn mazes. Truth is, there’s something sinister about corn fields. They hide too much. That’s why people got wished there in The Twilight Zone, that’s why Stephen King had children there. And then there are the scarecrows. I assume no elaboration is needed there. In addition, there’s also something sinister about mazes, whether they are made of corn or not, which is why we populate them with minotaurs and axe-wielding men with writer’s block.

Of course, terror is somehow fun, too. In general, these types of farms, including the two abovementioned, take advantage of this aspect of corn mazes, and open their mazes after dark. At Coppal House Farm, it’s so you can do the maze by flashlight and imagine somebody is stalking you (see what I did…nevermind). At Kimball, it’s so they can turn it into a haunted attraction and you can know for sure that somebody’s after you. Because the only thing better than being lost is being lost and having people in gruesome costumes jump out at you. Shut up, Ernest Borgnine.

"Are you sure? Last time I listened to you
the cat wouldn't come out of the basement for weeks."

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