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1996sep15. Corn-A-Go-Go.

Geared up as I was for Burning Man, I found the need to execute a desert dry-run. Hoping to prepare myself for the directional confusion and rampant dehydration of the playa, I went with some friends to a crappy corn maze.

As our convoy of two cars arrive at the outskirts of the maze, we are tortured by an over-zealous parking lot volunteer. This man clearly hasn’t parked a goddamn car in his life, and he wants to make sure that we know this.

“So you see over there, the man with the jacket ... you'll be taking a right into the parking lot, and there’s a little hump there ... and then he'll guide you to the parking place, it’s right where that car pulled in ... and then, on your way out, there’s a little hump, and then you go over the second hump and make a left to exit, and then you’re out of there.”
Perhaps by the end of his shift he'll just be randomly waving at cars to go “over there” and knocking down gin in a little parking lot shack that exists only in his head.
The Corn Car maze design was inspired by Henry Ford’s first working car, the 1896 Quadracycle. This “maize-mobile” [editor’s note: get it?] is located on the side lawn of the Lincoln-Mercury offices. It cuts a winding road through the 247,000 square feet of corn, a plot operated by Ford Motor Land Development Corporation.
– instruction sheet
The entry fee is $8.75; the money benefits four cancer foundations, two in the Detroit area. At the starting area, we’re given a blank map backed by an instruction sheet; there’s also a board here with various maze times posted.
Best maze times
Running: 11.00 [with full map]
Walking: 22.00 [with full map]
Walking: 27.32 [w/o map] “Wait a second, the rules say there’s no running, so what’s the deal here?"
“That’s just for comparison purposes.”
“We’re going to run.”
We’re led into a small corn nook for an operative briefing. In addition to just getting the hell out, there are sixteen mailboxes scattered throughout the maze. You’re supposed to grab little map squares from the mailbox that has the relevant map section. Get all sixteen, and you’re a “winner,” I guess. There are no rewards offered. You don’t get anything for finishing the best, the worst, or just finishing. You get squat. So who cares if you cheat?
“Please don’t cut through the corn, or under the bridges ... you don’t need to cheat to finish the corn maze.”
– corn briefing guy
The briefing guy goes on to explain that the maze itself creates the image of a large antique car (the “quadracycle”), where the water is, etc. We’re handed back to the starting gate; they punch our “official” starting time.
24 AUG 96 1 : 34
Several parties are racing through the maze with large, colorful flags. We don’t get any, because they’re out for the time being. Ray and Jennifer split off into one maze exploration party; Neal and I the other. We’re ready to kick this maze’s ass.
MAZE MASTERS: There will be several “Maze Masters” to assist you through the maze. They will be sitting in the Towers, watching out for lost Passengers and guiding them to the proper place.
– instruction sheet

The actual corn in the maze is ribboned off; the ribbons are color-coded according to what area of the maze in which you’re currently stuck. Neal has taken over the task of map master; I’m the “split-off guy,” rarin’ to check alternate routes and get lost.

The official Lincoln-Mercury Amazing Car Corn Maize Maze Map has several questions on it. One column is about cancer, the other Lincoln-Mercury. The answers are apparently hidden in dead-ends throughout the maze.

3. Which cancers can be completely prevented?

a) All cancers caused by cigarette smoking and heavy use of alcohol
b) Breast cancer
c) Throat cancer

10. Who is the Mercury spokesperson?

a) Kate Hepburn
b) Kate Capshaw
c) Kate Jackson

Our initial attack on the maze involves the infamous “right-hand wall” procedure all good computer programmer geeks learn in the womb: follow the right-hand wall, wherever it goes, and eventually you'll have traversed the entire maze. This becomes tedious. We switch to our second option, a carefully thought-out hodge-podge array of “random” maze path selections.
“Dead end! Did you know the Mercury Villager has the highest minivan customer loyalty?"
Within twenty minutes, Ray and I both end up getting flags from the starting station; now we can keep tabs on each other and yell obscenities in the proper direction.
TELESTALKS: There are four locations (marked by a flag) in the maze from which passengers may talk to the Maze Master. These poles, or “Telestalks,” [or, “large plastic tubes"] stand in the corn to aid passengers who feel that their directional engine is running on empty [WORK that metaphor, baby, WORK IT!]. Speak loudly into the Telestalk and the Maze Master will answer to assist you.
– instruction sheet
We practically run over the first Telestalk. It’s in a small clearing, so the Maze Master can eyeball you while you crack wise.
We are rapidly filling out our maze map with little squares. The Maze Master at the end of the maze is having an exit interview with a “winner.”
“So how many people are with you?"
“My sister, mom and dad, and grandma.”
“And you’re the first one out?"
I begin planning my exit interview. It will condemn Clinton’s posturing election-time attack on Iraq, even though at this time, it hasn’t happened yet. The American people must know. I will also try to work in the words “soft-serve” and “Frisbee®.”

There are two bridges tucked within the maze. There’s Ray’s flag, off too far to taunt. We use the high vantage point to scope out maze areas yet to be traversed, and to rest on the steps.

“Pay the toll, or you know, the thing with the troll ... ”
I can also see the starting station, and drag the flag back. Seven feet of PVC tube is just too damn heavy.
Passengers are free to ask each other for help to the next destination. However, do not share your secrets unless specifically requested to do so. Some Passengers said they could do it without any help, so let’s keep them honest for Henry Ford’s sake!
– instruction sheet
You know, usually, when you see a sentence with the words “honest” and “Henry Ford” in it, you automatically expect to find other words like “not very” and “the very antonym thereof.”

We’ve dragged our weary selves through most of the maze. There’s only one piece left, #8. Neal is sensing the greater scheme of things.

“There’s three consecutive rings to this thing ... this is incredibly vicious!”
All the rings run through the #8 area; if you can’t find the mailbox in one ring, you have to go all the way around again to test the next ring. A kid rustles through the corn and ends up between Neal and I.
“We’ve already been through the whole thing.”
“Sure, kid.”
I motion to his tentative compadres on the other side of the corn, fooled by our adult-like appearance.
“Come ON already! No one’s looking.”
Meanwhile, Ray’s off in another part of the maze, scribbling a mustache on a picture of Kate Jackson. He’s discovered the Lincoln-Mercury spokesperson! Spokesman, now, I suppose.

We can’t find the last piece. We’ve spent thirty minutes looking for it.


Watch what you say ... there will be children of all ages present. THE CORN HAS EARS!
– instruction sheet

We’re sitting on another one of the bridges, and the Maze Master notices our lethargy and/or the veins bulging out of our foreheads.
“Maze Master ... help us!”
“You know that there are three outer rings to the maze?"
“Well ... ” [thought trails off]
[whispering] “Let’s cheat and get the hell out of here.”
Up until this time, Neal had to hold me back. I nod slyly to the corn. We slip under the red ribbon and emerge in another ring, cutting fifteen minutes off our time. But we still can’t find the damn thing. More cheating is in order. This time, we sneak under the length of one of the bridges.
“Hey, don’t go under the bridge!”
“Screw you!”

Here’s another Telestalk.

Shortly thereafter, we run into Ray and Jennifer and we briefly confer about #8. We’re ready to quit. Ray’s going to stick it out. We consult the map, cut through some more corn rows to facilitate an easy exit. We walk through a group of people in one of the beginning corn nooks, getting their maze orientation. Good luck to them.
“Remember, there are many ways to traverse the corn maze ... for instance, these two gentlemen here have chosen to exit the maze through the entrance.”
No exit interview. No throngs of crowds. No ticket-tape parade.
24 AUG 96 3 : 19
Neal and I station ourselves at a picnic table right outside the stupid corn maze.
“Maybe if we regrouped and set the whole maze on fire?”
Jennifer joins us five minutes later. Ray is sticking it out inside the maze, trying to find #8. He is eventually successful, but at what cost?

I’d let you know if it was still going on, but our maze map doesn’t have any dates on it. I guess they figured we wouldn’t be telling our friends ...

97may20 Update. I was recently contacted by the ACTUAL DESIGNER of the Amazing Maize Maze, who lives and works in exotic Pennsylvania. An excerpt from his letter follows.

... had to keep from laughing out loud and waking the wife and kids. I’m forwarding copies to my partners. There have been many stories over the past four years, but few have taken the time and effort of putting the experience in print. I would like to know the name of the writer, and say thank you ... .

I thought that was pretty nice, considering I slagged the whole experience heartily. The letter continues:

When another one of our events appears in your area, or anywhere for that matter, consider this an invitation to the challenge.

I will accept that challenge! I will also bring a flamethrower. Here is the letter I sent back.

To: (corn maze guy)
Date: 3/19/97

Howdy. I wrote the corn maze article you referred to in your recent mail to [old email address]. I am glad and confused that you enjoyed it. But since I have your ear (get it? Corn? _Ear_ of _corn_?), I had a small meeting with the other people who went into the maze with me (the Tiger Team) about what went wrong. The consensus is that getting a piece of the maze map in the section you’re currently in is just completely useless. Also, there weren’t that many attractive, young women running around in the maze, getting lost and needing help by burly he-men like most of the members of the Tiger Team.

The Tiger Team suggests maybe having one mailbox, or a portion of the maze already sketched out. The Tiger Team can make such brash suggestions because we represent a combined total of over sixty years of programming experience, and we’ve done the maze thing. And it was too hot, you need sprinklers or something. And a pool in the middle. There’s a nice summer treat. Ice cream? These are only suggestions. The Tiger Team also has over sixty years of ice cream experience.

One member of the Tiger Team noticed that you could still see the maze from the airplane as he came into Detroit.

“When another one of our events appears in your area, or anywhere for that matter, consider this an invitation to the challenge.”

Get us tickets, anywhere in the US, and we’re there, like the song.