You may never have thought to ponder what distinguishes a labyrinth from a maze. But as Martin Fone explains, it’s something of a minefield.
In case it has escaped your notice, Saturday May 6th is World Labyrinth Day, an opportunity to celebrate these complex, often maddening marriages of geometry, architecture, and horticulture. According to Labyrinths in Britain, there are around five hundred labyrinths and mazes around the United Kingdom, each of which they have lovingly recorded on an interactive map. They do not claim the list to be exhaustive and welcome details of any egregious omissions.
The map’s preface makes clear that the distinction between labyrinths and mazes is a sensitive subject for those who care, one into which the unwary wander at their peril. The group agonised over whether their map should include mazes, finally deciding it should because of their similar lineages and many crossovers in design.
To the purist the distinction between the two is perfectly straightforward: a labyrinth is ‘unicursal’, having just one path that leads you from the entrance to the centre, no matter how windy its passages are. A maze, though, is ‘multicursal’, with several paths, most…