The Guinness Book of World Records has a category called biggest zit, and one for the most people blowing their nose at the same time. But while a category exists for largest temporary maze, and largest permanent maze, there is no category for a portable maze — yet. That day may come, though, if you ask Sean O’Malley, Ryan O’Malley, Jared Koster or Perry Bliss. These enterprising 12 year-olds make up the board of the Giant Maze Project, and they’ve got a maze they think would easily dominate the portable maze category for a long time. It’s more than eight thousand square feet in area, and can be folded up and transported anywhere, on-Island or off.
They call themselves maze masters, and have spent much of their free time this past year working with Oak Bluffs School assistant teacher Alex Palmer, designing and sticking masking tape to plastic tarp to create a maze that’s 32 sections in total, and fills up a good portion of the soccer field in the back of their school. And while officials at Guinness dismiss their maze as a temporary one, like a corn maze or a straw bale maze, the boys insist theirs is permanent — just not fixed to one geographical location. The beauty of their maze is that it’s portable, they say, and can bring entertainment to anyone anywhere. Mr. Palmer has engaged in what the boys call an “argument” with the Guinness authorities, to get them to accept the maze as a legitimate new world record category.
But it’s an uphill climb. “They’re either lazy or set in their ways or both,” Mr. Palmer said.
Their current crusade involves raising public awareness about the project so they can prove their legitimacy to the Guinness Book. Last week, they brought their maze to the Agricultural Fair
The fair was an opportunity to receive the validation the Guinness officials had denied them. “I just like to talk to people about it because it’s cool,” Sean said. “And no one did this on the Vineyard.” Some off-Island visitors said they hoped to start a similar project at their local schools. “Obviously we don’t want competition, but it’s nice that they were interested in it,” Jared said. While many completed the maze several times, others refused to try, doubting their own spatial intelligence. “Some people were over-stimulated by it,” Ryan said. “They kept staring at it, and when we said do you want to try it? They said, no, I couldn’t do that.”
Hundreds of people passed by and asked questions, wanting to know what would make students interested in dedicating their time to such a demanding project. “The largest toothpick tower might be more understandable,” someone told Jared. “Visitors talked about the relaxation, and the calm they got from it,” Mr. Palmer said. One maze participant said he imagined it was like Temple Run, the popular iPhone video game, inventing that there were monsters attacking him at every wrong turn.
The current maze project began in September 2011, but the boys have been fascinated by mazes for years. Jared began sketching mazes in third grade. In sixth grade “Sean came up with the wacky idea to beat the world record,” Jared said. For a while the boys worked on the maze in relative secrecy, in the back of the stage after school hours. The big reveal came when the boys laid out their work in progress on the tennis courts and welcomed their fellow students to play on it. “We wanted to prove to ourselves we could do it before we told the Oak Bluffs school,” Sean said.
The four board members aren’t the only ones who have contributed to the maze. After they settled into a maze-making routine, the boys hosted maze workshops on weekends, opening up the project to the entire school. They estimate they had 150 helpers, including parents and kids, who made use of maze kits — complete with masking tape, black “correction” tape and a cardboard rectangular spacer that ensures all the maze passageways conform to a standard size.
Jared’s own section, titled Pipe or Plumber, features a set of faucets, pipes, leaks, and drains. Beware when the drain clogs up, because you may have to retrace your steps to locate where you took a fateful wrong turn. Jared sketched out the maze on graph paper before implementing it on tarp.
“When they first started, nobody thought they would see it through,” said Laurie Koster, Jared’s mother.
The students are still looking for a community sponsor and hope to continue to loan out the maze to local organizations to raise money for charity. In the future, they may host Maze Olympics and race each other through the maze. The maze teaches problem-solving skills and improves awareness spatial relationships, Mr. Palmer said. It also excites the imaginative capacity of adults and children. “It’s the whole idea of a heroic journey, or an epic quest,” Mr. Palmer said. “It’s setting out on a quest, finding another way around, and figuring out how you have to go to get there.”
If Guinness continues to ignore their accomplishment, the boys will “start an uprising,” Jared suggested, or better yet, “start our own record book,” Ryan said. “We will get all the rejects.” Jared added: “It will be a bigger and better book of world records.”