Sarah Rush

A-maize-ing Corn Mazes to Get Lost In

Sarah Rush

Remember creating scale drawings in school? I do—I once designed an underwater scene, complete with fish and seaweed and bubbles. It was tedious to work the details into the tiny graph paper, but so rewarding to see the final picture! Imagine if that final picture wasn’t just on a page, but in a giant field, and the pencil lines were actually stalks of corn. What would this agricultural masterpiece look like?

A few farms have taken up the challenge, using graphing techniques and evolving technology to create astoundingly complex corn mazes. Mike’s Maze of Warner Farm in Sunderland, Massachusetts, has been using GPS to craft fine art into their yearly maze since 2000. Owned by Dave Wissemann and his family, the farm’s first maze was created by strapping a GPS to an ATV to help the family decide which stalks to cut in order to create the design (which in 2000 was the image on the back of that year’s Massachusetts state quarter). However, GPS at that time wasn’t particularly accurate, which made sharp detail near impossible.

That’s when Wissemann and Will Sillin, the farm’s original maze designer, got the idea to treat the field like a giant piece of graph paper. Wissemann planted the corn in extremely straight lines in 6-by-6-foot squares to help better adjust the maze as needed. By 2009, he downsized the squares to 3-by-3 feet, and the maze—a portrait of Charles Darwin—featured remarkably precise detail.

But Wissemann and Sillin weren’t fully satisfied. During the next three years, Sillin began treating each stalk of corn as an individual point on graph paper. An automated planter made sure each seed was placed into the appropriate point, allowing for even tighter detail. By 2013, GPS systems were accurate down to the centimeter, and the maze became even more beautifully complex. See, for example, last year’s maze, which commemorated the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service.

However, using GPS isn’t the only way to create stunning maze art. Treinen Farm in Lodi, Wisconsin, does it the old-fashioned way: using graph paper and volunteers willing to physically stake out the field. Alan Treinen and his family design the maze each year on a computer and overlay the design onto an image of the cornfield. The crew then places flags within the field to create rows and columns matching the graph’s lines, which allows them to chop the stalks in an orderly fashion. The 2016 design was inspired by cute things found on the internet, like rainbows and ninja kittens. Check out a gallery of Treinen Farm’s mazes here!

Let’s all give a shout-out to our math teachers and their graph paper art projects—without them, these gorgeous corn mazes wouldn’t be possible!

Did You Know?
About 30 years ago, a Japanese janitor spent nearly 7 years drawing an incredibly complex maze by hand on A1 paper. The maze surfaced in 2014 when his daughter posted photographs of it on social media. Deemed ”Papa’s Maze,‘ it’s reportedly unsolvable! Do you think you could figure it out?

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