For most people, mazes are brief but amusing distractions. For Joe Wos, executive director of Pittsburgh's ToonSeum, they're opportunities to test one's limits.
Barring any major mistakes, Wos will finish creating what he believes will be the world's largest hand-drawn maze in the next two weeks or so.
He began it on July 27, in Geppi's Entertainment Museum, in Baltimore, and this past Sunday returned to Pittsburgh to continue his work. (A close-up detail is pictured.) In a week and a half, he'll depart for San Francisco, by which point he estimates that the maze — drawn on a 120-square-foot smudge-resistant roll — will be 90 percent complete. (He'll finish the maze after returning to Pittsburgh.)
Despite the project's scale, Wos says it involved relatively little preparation.
"About three months ago I decided I was doing a lot of very stressful work here at the ToonSeum," he said in an interview in late June, as he was gearing up to take on the maze project. "I was like, ‘I need something to relax me — I need to draw the world's largest maze.'"
If that sounds counterintuitive, Wos notes that traditionally, mazes were used as contemplative exercises. And Wos says he doesn't plan the layout of mazes he draws — he improvises them as he goes.
"I never sketch it out first, I just sit down and I start drawing," he says. He works partly in the ToonSeum itself, unrolling the maze on the floor (as pictured).
To ensure he doesn't block every exit by mistake, he always leaves at least two routes open at any given point during the drawing process.
"I've learned not to worry," he says. "You make a mistake, you just keep going."
In order for Guinness World Records to recognize this as the world's largest hand-drawn maze (no previous record exists), someone must actually solve it. That's an ordeal Wos estimates will take roughly 48 hours.
"That'll probably be the toughest part," he says, recalling that a previous maze he drew in 30 hours took roughly 14 to solve. He plans to hold some sort of competition to determine who's most qualified to attempt the solution.
After San Francisco, the maze will travel to Indianapolis, then back again to Pittsburgh in September. Then the ToonSeum will hold a small party for the sponsors, whose symbols appear in the maze itself — entities like StarKist, Schell Games and Visit Pittsburgh, among others.
All this might sound exhausting, but Wos says it's time well spent.
"I'll never be the guy standing up and saying, ‘Try and knock me over,'" he says. "But in this one thing, I can stand and say, ‘Okay, I have put forth my best effort, try and beat me. Try and solve it.'"