Setting off for a new location? There is a good chance that you will program an address into your GPS and follow the instructions unfailingly to your destination. It’s all very efficient and, in an increasingly complex landscape, perhaps a necessity.
But what is this dependence on external guidance doing to our own spatial cognition? Although there is no conclusive evidence yet, some researchers worry that relying on GPS may decrease our brains’ ability to navigate our world.
Perhaps a subconscious need to tap our inner resources underlies the growing popularity of corn mazes, those a-maise-ing patterns carved out of cornfields by enterprising farmers engaged in “agritainment”—inviting visitors to come to their farms to pick their own pumpkins, fruits or vegetables or to pet animals and take hayrides. These corn mazes are often works of art, paths that when seen from above, illustrate a theme, while at eye level they invite the intrepid to find their way along twisting trails through towering corn.
Navigating the mazes makes use of a range of key cognitive skills and successful completion brings feelings of pleasure and accomplishment, according to psychologists. Besides which — it’s just plain fun.
Take for instance, Taft Farm at 119 Park Street in Great Barrington MA. The 200-acre farm sits on land farmed for centuries but now firmly entrenched in 21st-century agriculture. Operated by chef Paul Tawczynski, son of founders Dan and Martha Tawczynski, it has seen extensive upgrades to the farmstand market and kitchen operations, enticing patrons with all sorts of irresistible comestibles while the greenhouse bursts with beautiful plants under the direction of manager Susan Hayden.
A short walk along a farm road leads the visitor past an enclave of rescued animals—roosters Hanibel and Newt Newt, donkeys Storm and Don Quixote, a bevy of bunnies and a pony or two. Past these welcoming faces, however, the mood darkens as the visitor encounters the entrance to this year’s corn maze crafted around the theme of Alice in Wonderland.
A delightfully weird Alice stands in front of an entrance passage, complete with looking glass, while the White Rabbit guards the other side. A narrow path has been carved through the corn, demanding that the explorer make decisions whether to turn right toward Tweedledee or left toward Tweedledum. Along the way visitors meet the Mad Hatter, the Cheshire Cat, a creepy caterpillar and more—all “curiouser and curiouser.” The maze’s path follows the outline of a large white rabbit in the center.
Hayden and her greenhouse crew are responsible for the design. “We change it every year,” she said, “Last year we had the Addams Family. It’s free for the community and the kids look forward to it every year.”
She and her crew create the characters and special effects over the course of the year. “We buy some costumes and make others out of recycled materials and the scarecrows from past years,” she said.
With a theme in mind, a picture is drawn and a grid is marked out in the field with poles and flags. That pattern is cut into the corn when the plants are about waist high. “None of us have full time to work on it,” Hayden said. “The fellow who cut the pattern is our baker, Juan Cabrera, who went out at 5AM after he did the baking. We come up with the dream and he is our skilled cutter.”
She said the maze, despite its towering stalks, is designed for children to enjoy. “We get a lot of school groups, although adults and teens seem to enjoy it, too.”
The maze opened Labor Day Weekend and continues through October. “There are usually snowflakes in the air before we cut the corn,” she said, adding that it is “shalk” corn, used for decoration and less attractive to bears and other animals.
There seems to be no end to the ingenuity involved in creating mazes. Samascott Garden Center 65 Chatham Street in Kinderhook NY has been home to an elaborate seven-acre corn maze since 2012. Again there is a new theme every year with 2023 featuring the Albany Hudson Electric Trail. The path traces the image of an electric rail car, hikers and a bicycle.
The outline of the maze is carefully planned in the spring and mowed accordingly. The maze is open every day with the last entry at 4PM so visitors find their way out by sunset. Those that locate all the hidden stations within the maze receive a free soft serve ice cream or $1 off a hard ice cream.
Keep your eye open for announcements about the Haunted Corn Maze event put on there in late October by Ichabod Crane High School.
Regular admission to the Samascott maze is $9. Weather appropriate clothing is recommended. Children 12 and younger must be accompanied by an adult. Strollers are not recommended.
Venture down the Hudson River to Rhinebeck and find the, Kesicke Farm 299 Middle Road, (where an Autumn Festival will be held on weekends from September 24th through October 30th, 10AM to 5PM. The festival features not only a corn maze but also wagon rides, hay wagon rides, pumpkin picking and animals to pet and feed.
Over in Dover Plains NY Soukup Farms, 271 Halls Corners Road, Soukup Farms also entertains visitors in the fall with its increasingly large maze. Soukup Farms, a third-generation family farm now owned and operated by Mark and Jennifer Soukup, produces and sells pure New York maple syrup and is exploring other agritourism opportunities. It Fall Festival includes hayrides, a corn maze and a pumpkin patch. There will be yard games for children and food available.
“We have the maze during our Harvest Festival which is open weekends from September 30th through October 22nd,” said Jennifer Soukup. The eight-acre maze is designed by her husband, who cuts it into the young corn with a ride-on lawnmower. “He spends about half a day cutting it,” said his wife. “He has an engineering background so he finds it easier to just cut the angles as he goes.”
Admission is free for children younger than 3, $5 for those 3 to 10 years and $8 for those older than 10.
In Connecticut at 498 Maple Street Bunnell Farm in Litchfield opened its maze Labor Day weekend, 10AM through 5PM, with a few flashlights nights mixed in.
The owners thought long and hard about this year’s theme before deciding to make Litchfield its theme. Incorporated in the design are the Congregational Church, the Tapping Reeve Law School and the old Courthouse.
The maze is open weekends from 1 to 5PM.
March Farm, 160 Munger Lane, Bethlehem, also has a Hill Top Corn Maze among its attractions, featuring five acres of towering corn and more than two miles of pathways. The maze has a new design each year with fun trivia questions throughout to help visitors reach the end.
The maze is open only on weekends from 10:30AM to 4:30PM; admission is $5 per person (children 3 and younger admitted free.)
The corn maze opens weekends in September and October from 10AM to 5PM.
At the entry point visitors read a banner describing this year’s theme. There are then seven to eight points in the maze where a question is asked about what was read at the start with three different ways to go. Those who choose the wrong way will eventually loop back to the question point to try again.
Although there is no haunted version of the corn maze, a Haunted Pumpkin Patch is offered in October.
Wheelchairs, strollers and wagons can be brought on premises and are able to complete the corn maze, but the ground (like any farm) can be bumpy or in some cases muddy in spots.