If you've ever spent an afternoon wandering around in a maze, you'll already know why the pastime has been a favorite of human civilization for, well, for pretty much as long as there has been civilization.
A good maze is a combination of a gentle walk, a brain-scratching puzzle, and a great pay-off at the center. From the shores of Switzerland's Lake Lucerne to the concrete slopes of San Francisco's Nob Hill , there's a whole world of amazing mazes out there. Find your way through some of the best.
Location: London, England
Situated on the outskirts of London, the palace at Hampton Court has been home to numerous English kings and queens since the 16th century, when Henry VIII lived there. Its famous maze was added in 1690, and covers one-third of an acre with half a mile of paths.
It's not in the best of shape -- well-meaning folks in the 1960s replanted it with yew, which proved nowhere near as durable as the original hornbeam hedges. And it's not especially big, or particularly difficult. But thanks to its storied location it remains among the most visited mazes in the world, attracting some three-quarters of a million visitors every year.
Location: Oahu, Hawaii
If half a mile is a bit on the short side, we suggest you head for Hawaii instead. (Actually, even if it's not, we suggest you head for Hawaii anyway.) There you'll find the Dole Plantation, home to not only a "Complete Pineapple Experience" -- whatever that is -- but also the world's largest maze, according to Guinness. Covering three acres and with two and a half miles of paths, you can't miss it. It's the one in the shape of a pineapple.
Location: Buffalo, New York
But don't think that you need sun, sand, and exotic fruits to make a world-class maze. Here's another record-breaker: an ice maze constructed in winter-gripped Buffalo back in 2010. It took fifty volunteers a week to build, and used over two thousand 300lb blocks of ice donated by a local specialist company. In total, it covered almost 13,000 very, very chilly square feet.
Location: Reignac-sur-Indre, France
Nestled in the Indre-et-Loire region of central France, the tiny community of Reignac-sur-Indre is home to one of the world's largest plant mazes. Covering an immense ten acres, it's one of the few mazes to reward repeat visits: it's replanted every year in corn or sunflowers with a fresh design...and yes, that means that your clever plan of taking along an aerial view of the region is unlikely to do you much good.
Location: Lucerne, Switzerland
If you ever find yourself in the Swiss city of Lucerne, you owe it to yourself to take a stroll through the corridors of this unique maze. Built in 1896 for a national exhibition, it uses almost a hundred mirrors to create all manner of bewildering optical illusions. If you decide to take up its challenge, here's a tip: learn to walk like a zombie. Holding out your hands in front of you is probably the only way you're going to get through without smacking headlong into one of its mirrors.
Location: San Francisco, California
Amid the splendor of San Francisco's Nob Hill district is the imposing Grace Cathedral, conceived way back in the 20s but not actually completed until well into the swinging 60s. It boasts two labyrinths: one indoor, and one out. The inside labyrinth -- a replica of a 13th-century French design -- is etched into the floor of the cathedral's nave, and plays host to candlelit processions, peace walks, and daily yoga.
Location: Sterling, Massachusetts
Exotic vacation hotspots like Hawaii and France have great plant mazes, but you don't have to go quite so far to see one of the world's best -- that is, as long as you live somewhere near the town of Sterling in central Massachusetts. It's home to New England's oldest and largest corn labyrinth, the Davis Mega Maze, which opens every August with a different (but always professionally designed) layout, and a new theme. Past years' themes have included pirates, Las Vegas table games, and the Olympics, but you'll have to wait a while to learn what 2012's will be.