Oct 17, 2008
Maze Designer Coming to a Farm Near You

If you have a corn maze or are thinking about creating one, you might have gotten a visit from Designer Dave a few weeks ago.

If you didn’t, you missed out on having a pair of expert eyes taking an on-the-spot look at your farm and it’s a-maze-ing (please humor me) potential – but don’t worry: He’ll be back around again next September. Sign up early, though. Others in your industry are starting to take notice.

Maze designer Dave Phillips has visited farm markets and other corn maze operations before, but the three-week cross-country “sojourn” he took with his wife, Pam Phillips, this year – from their home in Maryland, through the South, to New Mexico and California and back again via Chicago, visiting about 20 farms along the way – was the longest, most in-depth tour of corn mazes he’s ever taken. It’s something he hopes to repeat every September.

“I’m on the computer all the time, designing,” he said. “This enables me to really connect with all kinds of corn mazes.”

His employer, Maize Quest at Maple Lawn Farms in York County, Pa., a maze design company, encouraged the trip.

“His work is pretty much done for the year,” said Hugh McPherson, Maize Quest’s “maze master.”

“It’s a good time for him to get out and see how people are using our products.”

Before Dave’s departure, Maize Quest sent e-mails to its clients to find out if anyone was interested in a visit from the designer. The response was swift. Within 15 minutes of the e-mail going out, Dave had scheduled four stops, McPherson said.

That e-mail seemed to tap into a need among corn maze operators. Some of the interested parties already had a maze and wanted some fine-tuning from an expert; others didn’t have a maze, but wanted to find out how to make one work on their property, McPherson said.

Dave, 57, loved creating mazes as a kid and never grew out of it. Maze design and illustration became his career. His mazes have appeared in puzzle books, newspapers, electronic games and magazines like Reader’s Digest, Highlights and National Geographic. He has published about 40 maze books of his own, the first at age 21.

Dave’s corn maze career began by chance – at a Wal-Mart. He was standing in line with his wife and noticed the woman in front of them had a picture of a corn maze on the back of her shirt. He couldn’t help critiquing the design. The woman in the shirt, overhearing him talking to his wife, turned around and introduced herself. She happened to be Michelle Posey, a Maize Quest employee. After their initial conversation, Posey decided to introduce Dave to her boss, Hugh McPherson.

Dave was intrigued by the idea of creating a maze people could actually walk through, so he decided to give it a try. He designed his first corn maze at the Maize Quest home farm in 2000, at a time when corn mazes were only a few years old but were starting to pop up all over the country.

Soon enough, McPherson found other farmers who wanted mazes, and Dave was launched on a new career path. Eight years and hundreds of mazes later, he’s now the sole designer for Maize Quest.

What makes a good maze?

The creation of farm labyrinths keeps Dave busy from January to August. He works out of his home office, about 15 minutes away from Maize Quest, and though he still creates mazes for magazines and books, corn has become his main medium.

His work isn’t just restricted to corn, however. He’s designed mazes using bamboo, rope, fence – even an orange grove. Whatever the material, he said the most important thing you can do when designing a maze is to keep it interesting. (He said bridges are the best thing you can add to improve a maze.) If a person is walking through a big maze and all he sees is “corn, corn, corn, path, path, path,” he’ll quickly get overwhelmed, frustrated or bored.

“It can’t be just a walk in the stalks,” Dave said. “Mazes have to remain fresh.”

People need something to keep them occupied inside the maze – but not something they can break or take. Creating games to supplement mazes has become a big part of Dave’s job.

The Fabulous Finger Game is one of his most popular. There are several versions – Finger Funnies, Finger Fright and Finger Fortune among them. In Finger Fortune, you go into the maze and visit five stations. At each station, you stick your finger in a hole filled with differently colored nontoxic oil pastels. When you come out of the maze, all five of your fingers on one hand are painted with different colors. A large chart shows you every possible color combination. You use the chart and the colors on your fingers to figure out your fortune. Maybe you have a “sunny disposition,” or a “head in the clouds,” or you’re “kind to a fault.”

Dave said the finger games are great for maze operators because they’re both entertaining and practical. Not only do they keep people occupied; there’s nothing about them that can be broken or taken.

Maize Quest games can be used at any corn maze, even one created by another designer, Dave said.

When Dave or McPherson come up with an idea for a new maze, or a way to improve an existing maze, they’ll often test it out at the home farm. If it works, it goes into the Maize Quest catalog, launched four years ago as a way to sell products and ideas to other farms. The catalog is available online at www.mazecatalog.com.

Corn maze operators are constantly looking for new and innovative ideas, but they also need help answering practical questions: Where can visitors park? How can you move them through a maze efficiently? That’s when Dave’s cross-country trips will really come in handy. He can answer questions then and there. He’ll also find out what clients’ needs are, so he can be better prepared for the next year.

“He’s a real find for the industry,” McPherson said.


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P.O. Box 128
Sparta, MI 49345
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