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Monday, September 24


Maze, by Christopher Manson, is one of my most prized books. It combines two passions of mine: the maze and the treasure hunt. Like the more well-known Masquerade by Kit Williams, Maze contains a puzzle that, if solved, points the way to a real-world prize. In Masquerade’s case, the book’s creator had made and hidden a physical treasure – a jewelled rabbit. By solving Maze, subtitled Solve the World’s Most Challenging Puzzle, you uncover a phrase or word, which, if mailed to the contest administrator by the deadline, would have netted you $10,000.

The deadline for claiming the treasure is long gone, but Maze still has the power to enthrall. You wend your way through the giant house, Choose-Your-Own-Adventure style, trying to figure out which objects in each room are true clues and which are red herrings. Manson’s meticulous yet almost primitive black-and-white illustrations get into your head in a weird way and you begin to experience a disturbing vertigo as you navigate through the book, often stumbling into endless loops and desperately trying to avoid the terrifying Room 24. (At one time, when I was looking at the book obsessively every day, the rooms began to appear in my dreams.)

Maze has two central goals. First, you need to find your way from the entrance to Room 45, the centre of the maze, and back out again in only sixteen steps. This task alone is a challenge, as you need to solve a visual puzzle in one room to find the shortest path. But to claim the prize, you would also have had to solve the riddle that is stated in rebus form in Room 45 and answered along the path in and out of the maze.

In the end, the book’s subtitle proved prescient: by deadline time, nobody had solved the prize riddle for Maze, perhaps because Manson’s clues were too ambiguous, as some have asserted, and despite the hint available to those who wrote in to the contest administrators to request it. The $10,000 was split among twelve entrants who had discovered the shortest path and come equally close to solving the riddle.

You can find the solution to the maze and rebus here but many questions remain. What is the true identity of the cheerfully malevolent narrator? (Many clues seem to point to this guy.) Does every room along the shortest path include indicators of which door to pick, and what are those indicators? (This guy has some thoughts.) Manson isn’t talking: he has been notoriously unwilling to say much to confirm or deny theories about Maze. I like this – it sustains the sense of mystery and uncertainty that surrounds the book.

Maze is still available to buy. There was once a colour hyperlinked version of the book online, but it has been taken down. You can, however, access a basic, black-and-white online version. You will need to use the room numbers below each image, as well as the room index, to work through the puzzle, and unfortunately the images are a bit blurry, which makes solving even trickier. Whether you search out a copy of the book or spend a few hours with the online version – beware. Once Maze and its menacing narrator get into your head, they don't leave.

Text by Sara Goodchild

UPDATE: Just found this incredible site by White Raven, a guy even more obsessed than I am. (In it he suggests that Manson may be considering a sequel! I can barely contain myself.) Also, there's this site, created by a small group of superfans of the book, which links to a series of podcasts discussing each room.