A New Maze
And a Quick Story About an Old One
My dad being a math teacher, I had the privileged access to the finest Texas Instruments graphing calculators many, many years before I would ever use one to solve a differential equation. But what does an 8-year-old, sitting in the back of a high school pre-calc class on Bring Your Child to Work Day, do with a $90 calculator that has more buttons than a laptop keyboard? I now know that there were games like hangman and tic-tac-toe on that bad boy, but I had only just mastered how to turn the thing on, let alone navigate the prehistoric menu system. So, with only access to the immediately available numbers, symbols, and letters (the presence of which confused me to no end) I built mazes, all inside the calculator to be solved by my dad in between classes.
A TI-83 will let you type for what I suspect is forever, scrolling down endlessly when you fill the whole screen with characters. Using the arrow keys, you can move the blinking, rectangular cursor to any point in the “equation” you are building. I would fill the screen with tall stalks of nines or zeros, and carve a twisting path with sparse decimal points leading in ever branching directions to be explored using the cursor as a rudimentary avatar. There would always be a letter (usually an A or E) placed carefully to mark the end, and sometimes there would be more than one and my dad had to find them all in order to truly complete the maze. I came up with some pretty good calculator mazes, if I can say so myself – countless dead-ends, red herrings, sneaky hidden 8s placed as shortcuts because they weren’t zeros and that meant you could technically go through them if you knew where to look. I won’t pretend like I was making the Legend of Zelda inside this mathematical instrument, but it did feel like I was creating something.
The feeling back then of watching my dad solve these mazes (maybe feigning some struggle so as not to discourage me) is very similar to the feeling I get now when people open a book I’ve made or look at prints I’ve put on the wall. Knowing someone is working through, thinking about, silently criticizing, openly questioning, or in any way interacting with something I’ve created is maybe the most satisfying part of my art making practice. I guess I’ve known this for a long time, draining the AAA batteries of graphing calculators long before I ever picked up a camera.
I haven’t made a calculator maze in many years, but I have been busy the last few weeks updating my website with a new image-based maze. It is a compilation of recent pictures, older projects that have yet to be fleshed out, and more hyperlinks than any portfolio website has any right to have. Like the last website picture maze I made, there is a free print at the end of this one. All who make it there will be able to claim their prize. The maze only works on the desktop version of my site, and the link to it is right here.