Sunday, February 22, 2009



What have been around for thousands of years, and symbolize the
twisted path of life and fate? What were used by the ancient
Egyptians to torture their prisoners with, but at the same time are
used by some for recreation and sport? What have caused the
inspiration of Greek myths, and can often cause ordinarily
intelligent people to cringe with claustrophobia and refuse to have
anything to do with them?

Mazes and Labyrinths are vast, fantastic creations, and are one of
the only things that take compliment from being told that they're
worthless objects that waste both people's time and money. The whole
purpose of a Maze is to bewilder and confuse the uninitiated. A Maze
generally consists of a goal to be reached, and some starting point
to try to reach it from. These points are either within the body of
the Maze itself, or are out on an edge. There is usually only one
correct path from start to finish, and along the way are many
junctions with additional passages leading the solver astray. These
passages themselves fork, and eventually do one of two things: The
passage becomes a dead end, or it closes in on and makes a loop with
itself or another passage separate from the solution. Either way the
one solving the Maze must backtrack and try another route, until he
(to his joy) makes it to the exit, or (to the joy of the Maze's
creator) quits and gives up. A Maze that uses closed loops in its
creation, although harder to create, can be more difficult to solve
then an ordinary Maze of the same size, because it is harder for the
solver to know when he's taking the wrong path.

To solve a Maze, one can either follow passages at random, or use
some sort of a method. One fast way to solve a Maze is to fill in all
the dead ends (assuming it has any) so that only direct routes
remain. This of course can only be done on paper, and cannot be used
when the solver is inside the Maze itself. Another solving method can
be used inside Mazes, and although it won't work in every Maze, it is
guaranteed to work when both the entrance and exit are on an outside
edge. Simply always follow the left or right wall of the Maze, always
taking the left/right fork whenever encountering a junction.

There are as many ways to create a Maze as there are to solve one.
One quick way to make a Maze, in which there will be just one
solution, requires continually adding on to what has already been
built. Start with the outer wall, then continue to randomly add wall
segments to the portion already created in the interior until
complete. Each segment added should touch the older portion of the
Maze with one and only one of its endpoints. If a segment is put by
itself, it will cause a detached wall to be put in the Maze, and if
both ends touch the portion already there it will cause a section of
the Maze to be inaccessible, being surrounded on all sides by walls.
One can make a Maze with a "secret pattern", in which the pattern
indicates what the correct path is at a junction. For example, first
take the left fork, then the right fork, and keep alternating between
left and right. This allows those knowing the secret to quickly solve
the Maze no matter how large.

The advent of computers has allowed Mazes to be worked with in new
ways not possible before. A computer can create and solve a Maze
that's too large to be dealt with by hand. Robots can be programmed
to solve Mazes. From this have come the Seattle Robotics Society's
annual "Robots Through The Maze" contests, in which the contestants
compete to see whose robot can get through a Maze (this year's plan
shown on cover) in the shortest amount of time. Different solving
methods are demonstrated, as well as various levels of hardware and
software sophistication. Below is a 100% computer generated Maze, in
which the goal is to find your way to its center. Can you solve it?
Can you discover a secret pattern?


No comments: