Theme Park, Amusement Park and Attractions Industry News

Adrian Fisher

Maze Maestro

Adrian Fisher created his first maze at the age of 20 in his father’s garden and has had a lifelong fascination with puzzle solving and creating a sense of space. Based in Dorset, England, Adrian Fisher Mazes has gone on to create hundreds of mazes in stately homes, shopping malls, amusement parks, aquariums and as standalone attractions, using a variety of materials and techniques. Each year between five and six million people worldwide experience an Adrian Fisher maze, in fact someone is probably lost in one as you read this. Park World speaks to the maze maestro.

How did you turn your hobby into a business?

We have a labyrinth and a hedge maze at my home in Dorset, and they feature every trick in the book. It’s very useful when people come round because you can see their behaviour, and get some great feedback as to what would work in a commercial maze.

We started off as a company doing maze designs at places like Leeds Castle and Blenheim Palace, but now we work with such a wide range of clients. There was a time I used to go round all the mazes myself and stake them out in the ground, but now we use things like GPS.

Describe some of the different types of maze you have produced

We’ve pioneered about half the forms of new maze construction in recent years. In 1991 at Wookey Hole Caves in England we reinvented the idea of the mirror maze, and have now produced about 25 of them. We looked at every facet of some of the older ones built at the likes of Blackpool Pleasure Beach and some of the some of the American parks in the ’30s and ’50s, quite small, quite simple, and introduced a new layout of the mirrors, the concept of multiple episodes and pre-shows to make it much more of an experience.

We’ve done a few water mazes, I see a lot of scope there; we did one on the island of Jersey, using jets to create walls of water. I also design a lot of puzzles for the World Puzzle Championships, where we do what we call six-minute mazes for courtyards.

Fence mazes are having great success lately. If someone wants one put up in a hurry they are quite effective, as are things like inflatable mazes, and we carry a few of those off the shelf.

The education industry is looking to mazes for mathematics, so we are working with schools to teach problem solving, skills that many pupils now are beginning to lack. We even got asked to do a maze for the blind, and that was a very satisfactory thing to do.

In the past decade or so, your maize mazes have almost created a new sub-sector of the industry. What has been the attraction from an operator’s view?

I did the first corn maze in 1993, in Pennsylvania, and by 1996 we had about 12 around the word. Now we have about 50 in the States, Europe and we will be having our first one soon in New Zealand. It’s based on a short six to eight week season, you plant them in the spring and they come up about July or August, or a few months later in Australia and New Zealand.

It’s a relatively low capital investment, and they can be quite local attractions – we’ve got over 30 of them in the UK alone – but a good corn maze can work as a standalone attraction and if you do it every year you build up quite a loyal following. In the UK, they have been quite important to farm diversification, as farmers begin to turn their farms into attractions.

What makes a good maze and why can’t people just design one themselves?

I think the attention to detail really. We’ve got a terrific design and installation team who can take a really potent concept and turn it into something that visitors regard as a highly compelling part of a day out.

We produce very tight designs and design most of our mazes, including the corn mazes, as if there were hedge mazes. The most elaborate maze in the word is a corn maze, Davis’ Mega Maze in New England, and it’s got a dozen or more bridges, crossovers etc.

The 19th Century hedge maze was still very engaging, but what we’ve done is try to take that idea of feeling lost, exploring, finding out what’s around the corner, and bringing it right up to date, throwing in everything we can to make it 200% more impressive. In a world where teenagers have everything at their fingertips, you need to have something that has that extra excitement about it.

How much fun is it getting lost?

There’s quite a lot of psychology and physical deception that comes into play when we design a maze, but you’ve always got to let the public win in the end. I remember doing a television interview when we opened the maze at Leeds Castle and they asked me how long it would take to solve. I said it takes 22 minutes. Stood at the side of me was this gardener shaking his head, he said it only takes 15 or 16 minutes and asked why I said 22. I replied because it makes everyone feel like a winner. That said, our advice would always be if you going to an attraction and there is a maze, always do they maze first or you may miss the bus home!

What is the typical life cycle of a maze?

Well the Hampton Court hedge maze outside London is still going after 317 years! In some of the historical properties, the mazes can take several years to grow. We had one client in France where it took eight years; they planted the bushes very small because they didn’t want to spend too much money, but had all the land and time in the world.

With a maize maze they last one year because of the crops, but it really depends on the operator, and that determines the overall look and feel of the maze too. You may know the attraction or the venue, but you don’t know the personality of the owner until you meet them and that chemistry is why every maze comes out different.

Can a maze match the impact of a ride when it is installed in an amusement park?

If you go to a park, there is obviously a place for rides, but they are all fairly expensive investments. A maze is about 10% the cost of some big rides and what they do is provide fresh air and exercise for your guests. I remember being escorted once around Disneyland, and it was pointed out to me how many trees and shrubs are there. No one realises that a large part of what makes the park so pleasant is the space that you cannot walk in. Now you could also have a hedge maze doing that, and have an attraction that people can go inside.

I got together with Geoffrey Thompson at Blackpool Pleasure Beach years ago. He had all this space underneath three rollercoasters, so we ended up putting a hedge maze under there. A lot of people think that hedge mazes take up a lot of space, but they also absorb a lot of people. On a busy day you can take 1,000 people out of circulation, and they are not standing in line waiting for a ride, they are enjoying active time in the maze.

If you look at the different elements in a maze, there are actually pretty similar to what you get on a flume ride or a major coaster, you’ve got that adrenaline, never knowing what’s around the next corner, but unlike a ride you’ve also got the challenge of deciding which choices to make, you can do it in a group and it’s a shared experience where families engage.

What projects have excited you recently?

We’ve just done something very special in the Czech Republic, where we designed a selection of 10 mazes to go into a castle called Castle Loucen. All the mazes opened on the same day – the 7th of the 7th, 07 – the first time it’s ever been done. It’s been very exciting making sure each of the mazes is different from the others. One of them is a light maze projected onto the ground.

At the Sea Life Centre in Birmingham, England, we have installed a new Atlantis-themed mirror maze, and are very pleased with the visitor numbers and feedback. Passing through the tube beneath the sharks etc is a pretty big wow, but we believe we have created an even bigger wow with the maze that follows. It is covered with coral reefs, dappled lights and a giant Pacific octopus lying on the seabed. It’s been quite exciting working with [Sea Life owner] Merlin, and we have also done mirror mazes now for all five of their Dungeon attractions.

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