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Shortcuts: Escaping a maze

By CNN's Barry Neild
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(CNN) -- Stuck in a maze and can't find your way out? Here's how to plot an escape route.

Check your head: A few points before we lead you to safety. Are you actually in a real maze, or does your life just feel like a maze at the moment? It's an important point to clarify. If you're merely having an existential crisis, then guidelines about leaving trails of breadcrumbs will probably only make you feel more alienated. Our advice to you: Call up a few pals, go for a walk, watch a movie, avoid French literature.

Take the bull by the horns: If you're being chased by a Minotaur -- according to Greek mythology, this half-man-half-bull figure was a labyrinth regular -- you probably don't have time for complicated algorithms to work out your exit. Just run, keep running, and hope you bump into Theseus who, legend has it, came equipped with a magic sword for slaying man-cows. Theseus also came prepared with a ball of string to guide him from the maze, which isn't a bad idea either. The designer of the Minotaur's labyrinth, Daedalus, who was later imprisoned in the maze with his son Icarus, escaped by building wings out of feathers. Don't try this, it ended in tears.

Turn, turn, turn: Enough with the myths, let's stick to the facts. The simplest way out of a basic maze is to turn left (or right -- so long as you're consistent) at every junction. This may take you down a few blind alleyways, and may not be much fun, but will eventually lead to the exit.

Get direction: Sadly, the left turn principle will only work on simple mazes. If the labyrinth stretches into three dimensions or is a so-called disjoint maze, with sections that are not connected to the outer walls, things get more tricky. Disjoint mazes can still be solved with the left-turn method, but only if the entrance and exit are sited in the outer walls. If you're already lost in the maze with no idea which is an outer or inner wall, you could end up going round in circles. The solution is to use a compass -- presumably the one you packed with your string, magic sword, wings etc.

Cheat: Modern mazes are generally designed for fun rather than for imprisoning bovine monsters, so you probably want to get lost for a while to justify the entrance fee. But when the fun runs out and it starts to get dark, cold and past dinner time, there's nothing stopping you barging your way through the hedges, climbing over the walls, or shouting for help. If that fails, get your own back by sticking on a pair of false horns and terrorizing everyone else.


All is not lost: There are easy ways out of most mazes.

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