A Sort of Maze

June 26, 2010

Link: A Sort of Maze

When I was a child, I went through a period of maze drawing. There was something deeply compelling to me in the question of how anyone can tell the good direction from the bad. They were a stand in for all kinds of creative activities, where the choice seemed, well, random. Try writing a melody. You have some finite number of choices for what the next note will be. Choose right, and you end up arriving at the end, and your prize is the thing you thought you heard in your head, but which wasn’t really all there yet, even though you were reaching for it, and it felt like it was there altogether.

So mazes were a help in understanding both creativity and randomness, which themselves, to me, seem inextricably, tensely connected to each other. John Cage (“The first question I ask myself when something doesn’t seem to be beautiful is why do I think it’s not beautiful. And very shortly you discover that there is no reason”) and Jackson Pollock (“I don’t use the accident. I deny the accident.”) are both artists, though one is all chance and the other claims to be none.

That’s what I think of when I look at a puzzle game like this one, late at night, thinking of myself as a child, who wondered if it could be possible to play a perfect game of chess just by accident, just because you were that lucky.

(I wonder too whether playing games like these are good for students. I think the answer is yes, though I imagine a physical version, like you might find at ThinkFun Games, would be even better. I had a student once who couldn’t do algebra to save her life. I gave her a Rush Hour-like puzzle. To solve it, she kept having to look beyond where she was at the moment and see the whole puzzle. After she solved it, she could, magically, find x. It was a surprising correlation. I don’t know where the inspiration to give her that puzzle came from…)

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