Minister of merriment leads kids on a-mazing journey

Posted: Sunday, October 29, 2000

Maze master Jeff Brown enticed kids into his world Saturday, with build-it-yourself mazes of Lego or bathroom tiles in the Mendenhall Library and a walk-through maze in a 50-foot-long room next door.

"This is a real Alaskan maze because I laid it out with duct tape," Brown said as he acted as sideshow barker for the walk-through maze, urging people inside. Some passersby simply wanted to touch his jacket, a beige blazer covered with glued-on jigsaw puzzle pieces.

Mazes have been popular since ancient Egyptian tomb builders tried to lead potential grave robbers to blind ends, and Renaissance gardeners planted coils and knots of evergreen shrubbery in royal gardens. They've returned as crop circles. But Brown builds with Lego tiles rather than huge blocks of Nile granite, clipped boxwood or corn stalks.

Brown is an adult who has stayed true to the joys of childhood, such as inflating balloons and twisting them into dachshunds and creating intricate designs.

He's the author of two books about mazes, "The Alaska Wildlife Maze and Puzzle Book" and "The Gold Rush Maze and Puzzle Book," as well as the mastermind behind a recent maze exhibit at the Alaska State Museum.

Kirk Parmer, 10, and his sister Amanda, 8, were working side-by-side on 14-inch-square Lego mazes. "I am going to try to use the whole space," Kirk said. "I have played with mazes, but I have never made mazes before. You want (a maze) to be hard, so people go places one by one," he said.

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Amanda was engrossed in creating dead ends in the middle of her board. "It is fun," she said. "You have to take out pieces to get from the beginning to where you want to go. You want to trick people."

At a long table at the other end of the room, Adrienne Scott, Rebecca Gaguine and Taryl Cordova were working on 6-inch-square ceramic tile mazes.

"This is crazy fun," said Gaguine, 14, who was passing time before going on the television game show Hot Seat, televised at the mall.

Scott, 15, was working with purple and red tiles, plus starting and ending tiles of yellow. "Mazes frustrate me terribly," she said. "But maybe I will come to terms with them by making my own."

Cordova, 14, chose red, purple, blue and yellow tiles to glue down in her mosaic. "I could make my maze like one big circle; that would confuse the young 'uns," she said.

Brown had on display a couple of large-scale, framed, glazed tile creations called "Yellow and Red Brick Road Maze" and "Alaskan Gold Maze." In the latter, the object was to find a route from the dancing and fishing Eskimo figure to an identical figure at the other end -- without moving diagonally.

"I started drawing mazes about six years ago, doing it with our kids (Colin, now 16, and Callie, 8)," Brown said. "And then about five years ago, when I couldn't find any good books on the subject, I started working on my books."

"You make some easy so they feel good abut it, and some hard, to give them a challenge," he said.

As added inspiration for the event, Brown displayed photos of large-scale mazes such as a tile design centered on Theseus and the Minotaur; the famous evergreen shrub maze at Longleat, England; and a turf maze which is walked upon rather than through.

The event was sponsored by the Friends of the Alaska State Museum and the Alaska State Museum, with funding through the Borough's Youth Grand Program.

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