Labyrinths, Puzzles ... and Mazles
First published: Thursday April 27th, 2023
An Early Hook
If you're familiar with me on JetPunk, you'll know that I have a particular love of quizzes that involve wordplay. But ever since I was young, I have also enjoyed designing and solving mazes. It all started with a trip to the movies in 1986 to see Jim Henson's Labyrinth, now a cult classic. I loved the mystery and visual spectacle of the labyrinth that Sarah has to navigate, desperate to reach the castle at the center in time to save her baby brother from the clutches of the Goblin King. Growing up in New Zealand, I also lived not far from a town called Wanaka, which had - and still has to this day - an iconic wooden fence maze, complete with stairways to elevated bridges, and four corner towers to which you have to find your way before escaping the maze. It was incredibly fun, and I loved running around the passageways and getting hopelessly lost.
In the early 1990s, a friend of mine at school taught me how to draw mazes on paper. I was hooked. Throughout my teens, I created mazes in my spare time, coming up with ever more elaborate and challenging designs. At the time, I also enjoyed reading the series of books by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone known as Fighting Fantasy. In these books, the reader must choose from narrative options which send you back and forth through pages of the book just like a maze. Inspired by this concept, I created a 48-page maze. Travelling through the passageways, you arrive at 'portals' which tell you to turn to a specific new page and continue at a new numbered box.
This is what happens when you're the class nerd, don't play much sport, don't go to parties and have too much to do on a rainy Sunday afternoon.
A Golden Age for Puzzles
The years passed, and I got caught up in studies and a career. Drawing mazes became something I used to do. But during the pandemic, I, like so many others, began to think about what I might do if my current career came to an end, or what I could do to simply start something fresh and new. I began to think about mazes again.
In some part, this was due to a surging popularity in puzzles and games. Wordle became an overnight hit, and was bought by the New York Times to add to its puzzle collection that includes the popular Crossword and Spelling Bee among others. Youtube channel Cracking the Cryptic - with its brilliant daily solves of variant sudokus - went viral and has developed a cult following. People just can't seem to get enough of puzzles and games.
I wanted to get back into drawing mazes, but how to do it? By hand - as I had done all those years ago - would be incredibly time-consuming. I knew I needed to find a quicker way to design the mazes using digital tools, which would also ensure consistent, clean lines and passageways. This would be much easier on the hand as well, since drawing elaborate mazes on paper becomes quite tiring and even painful over time. After discovering some reliable digital options, and experimenting for a while, I had some satisfying results. The idea of a website now began to percolate. A hub for people to download and solve mazes. Over the last few months, the idea has developed into a reality, and today I'm excited to introduce you all to Mazles!
Mazles (a portmanteau of 'maze' and 'puzzles', and pronounced may-zills) is a subscription website, granting the subscriber access to a continually expanding Mazles Library. Currently there are four mazle types, - Classic Mazles, Mini Mazles, Pipe Mazles and Thermo Mazles - each with its own specific set of rules or mechanics. These range from the Classic Mazles, in which you simply get from Start to Finish, to the more challenging Thermo Mazles, in which you must travel through a sequence of numbered boxes in a single continuous path. On the website, you can read more about the different mazle types and how to solve them in the "How to Solve" drop-down menu.
All mazles, though designed with the convenience of digital tools, are hand-crafted and never auto-generated. This allows me to fully control the difficulty of each solution path (and to use every trick in the book to deceive solvers and manipulate them away from the real path!).
I'll be uploading new mazles to the library every week, on a day that I've nicknamed Mazles Monday. Over time I plan to introduce new mazle types, with different rulesets and mechanics.
I hope you enjoy exploring the site! If you are interested in being a subscriber, I'm offering a special coupon for the JetPunk community. At checkout, enter the code FRJP23 to apply a 25% discount to the first full year of access to the Mazles Library. The coupon is valid for two weeks until the end of the day on May 11.