Lost in her own corn maze. It does happen, Angie Treinen allows. It happened last year, when she went in search of a school group. She was carrying a flag on a long pole taller than the corn itself. Her husband, Alan, was up on the tower overlooking the 15-acre maze, directing her toward the school group's flag.
"I find the group," she recounts. "I start walking with them and get them more lost." She laughs, gesturing at an aerial view of the Treinens' 2007 corn maze, designed to resemble an elaborate fairy-tale castle. "And then I'm trying to pretend I'm not lost, reading the map. Their bus is leaving, and I designed the maze and I can't find my way out."
She did eventually lead the group to the exit in time to make the bus. One year later, it's the sort of anecdote that heralds the delights awaiting visitors to this year's corn maze at the Treinens' farm five miles west of Lodi. From an aerial perspective, its four miles of trails depict an enormous dragonfly framed by water lilies and a Celtic knot - the latter a tribute to Angie's Irish heritage. On the ground, it resembles an hour or more of puzzle-solving fun - a centerpiece to the farm's other attractions, which include a pumpkin patch, hayrides, a pumpkin slingshot and a tractor-tire playground and food.
Visitors to the maze begin with two maps. One is complete but folded up and stapled shut. The object is to return with this contingency map unopened. The second map depicts one-eighth of the maze - the upper right-hand corner. Visitors set off in search of the mailbox marked on this first map. Inside the mailbox is a map for the second eighth of the maze, where a second mailbox contains a map of the third section, and so on. Those who complete the maze move from right to left across the top four quadrants, drop down to the lower left-hand corner and proceed from left to right across the bottom four sections.
Most people complete the maze in 45 minutes to an hour, Angie Treinen says. But there is a second challenge, she adds, involving a series of paper punches mounted on fenceposts. Unlike the mailboxes, these are not marked on the maps. These might take people two hours or more to find.
There is also a smaller corn maze for kids, designed in the likeness of a frog prince.
A veterinarian, Angie Treinen notes that this is the seventh corn maze she and Alan have built. Theirs is not the oldest corn maze in the state, but they do bill it as Wisconsin's largest at more than 14 football fields in area.
The 200-acre farmstead itself has been in her husband's family for three generations. About 20 years ago, the couple decided to establish a pumpkin patch as a supplement to their corn, soybean and hay crops. "It was a nice little business in the fall," she says, "but it hadn't really grown, so we started thinking of other things people could do while they were out here."
They were at first skeptical of corn mazes. "Why would people pay to walk in corn?" Treinen asks. But their inaugural maze, designed in the likeness of their draft horse, proved a strong attraction. Their 2002 maze celebrated the Ice Age Trail by depicting a woolly mammoth. This was followed by a fire-breathing dragon, a pirate ship, a cat-and-fiddle maze, a T. rex and last year's castle.
"I've always liked to draw," Treinen continues, "so this is my perfect opportunity to express a little creativity." She renders her designs on grid paper, so Alan can stake out the cornfield with precision. Using a tiller, he establishes the paths when the corn is no more than an inch or two out of the ground, then retills as the corn grows.
Over the years, Treinen notes, she and her husband have learned to strike a balance between engaging challenge and ordeal. "We don't want people to be so frustrated that they're like, 'Get me out of this maze! I can't stand the corn!'"
Visitors who do get lost tend to find their way out eventually, she adds. This is fortunate. The maze closes for the season Nov. 9. About a week later, her husband runs a combine harvester over the maze. "Pretty much everybody's out of there by then," she laughs.