Maze by Christopher Manson

The Maze by Christopher MansonI can still remember the day we figured out Room 29.

Being a nerdy kind of guy my entire life, I went through a period of being enamored by puzzle books, in the sense of entire books being a puzzle. The first one I came across, and the one that remains, in my mind, the best example of them, was Maze by Christopher Manson. I don’t remember how I found it; by the time I came across it the contest portion (offering a $10,000 prize to the first person who successfully solved it) was long over. I didn’t care about the contest; the book itself was unbelievably cool.

There were others. There was the Merlin Mystery, which was unbelievably complex and zero fun. Zero, zero fun. Maze remains my favorite, by far.

Maze is a book that is also, literally, a maze. Each page of the book contains a drawing of one of the rooms of the maze – basically the pages are the rooms. The conceit is that you are part of a group of people who enter the maze along with a less-than-helpful guide, who narrates your progress (or lack thereof) through the maze. In each room/drawing there are doors marked with numbers; you choose which room to go to next by selecting a numbered door and then turning to that page. In the drawings and the text are clues both to which room to go to next and the overall puzzle. Your goal is to find the shortest path from room 1 to room 45 and back out again, and to decipher and answer the riddle hidden in room45.

It’s fucking genius. Part of it is the writing. Here’s the text from Room 1:

…the entrance hall of the Maze. They looked carefully at the bronze doors, trying to choose. The uncertainty of visitors is one of my little pleasures.
“It’s easy to get lost,” I said helpfully. “This can be a sinister place.” The sun glared at me through the gateway.
Something was ringing behind one of the doors. They spent some time trying to decide which door it was, not understanding that the silences of the Maze are as eloquent as the sounds.
“Decisions, decisions,” one said. “Too many decisions.”
“The story of my life,” said another.
“We don’t want to be late,” said a third, opening one of the doors.
“Nary a soul to be seen,” said the first, peering into the gloom.
I waited patiently for them to choose which was to go … into…

The sense of every little thing – every word, everything in the images – being a clue was enervating. I would pore over every room seeking clues. I drew matrixes of rooms, trying to figure out the shortest route. For a while we were stymied; we could not figure out how to cross over to what seemed like the second half of the maze, we kept dead-ending. And then one day I was examining Room 29:

Room 29

And we realized we were missing a door. We’d seen #8, #40, #35, and #2, but there’s one more door in there (unnumbered doors don’t count). Can you see it? It was pretty exciting when we finally did.

In the years since failing, pretty convincingly, to solve the riddle (our triumph of noticing the hidden door in Room 29 was our last intellectual Win with this) I’ve occasionally attempted to capture (i.e., steal) the tone of this little puzzle book for my own writing, with little success; the images are at least 50% of the atmosphere. In fact, I even attempted my own ersatz version of the Maze a few years ago (it was a Geocities web site, believe it or not). Check it out, if you want, but don’t complain to me if it makes no sense!

7 Comments

  1. Patty Blount

    This reminds me of your text adventure for EP. I was hooked on that. My son and I spent hours with it and then got busy with stuff. I thought that was genius.

  2. jsomers (Post author)

    Hey Patty: The EP text adventre was more Zork-inspired, but definitely in the same wheelhouse. I want to write a story where an unidentified narrator interacts with the characters without ever actually doing anything.

  3. Sarah W

    Kit Williams’ Masquerade kept me occupied throughout my childhood. The artwork is gorgeous.

    And didn’t Sean Ferrell already write that story?

  4. jsomers (Post author)

    Sarah: I have that one too! I still prefer Mze, for my own obscure reasons. Partly because I imagine I might have had a chance at actually solving it.

    Ferrell writes a lot of things. Most of them are incoherent. Did you know that if you take the first letter of every paragraph in his books, you’ll get a message, including my name repeated several dozen times? True story.

  5. Aileen

    Is there supposed to be a “Page Not Found” error when you choose “Queen’s Fianchetto”?

  6. jsomers (Post author)

    Aileen: Sorry! File name error. Fixed now.

    -J

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