Difference between Maze and Labyrinth

Key Difference: Both a maze and a labyrinth involve a network of paths and passages through which one has to find a way. However, the primarily difference between them is the fact that a maze is multicursal, whereas a labyrinth is unicursal.

It can often be confusing to tell a maze and a labyrinth apart. Both look similar and have the same purpose, which is to fascinate someone with their twisty and complicated ways. However, they are somewhat different.

Both a maze and a labyrinth involve a network of paths and passages through which one has to find a way. However, the primarily difference between them is the fact that a maze is multicursal, whereas a labyrinth is unicursal.

Multicursal means that the maze has various different path and join or separate in a branch like network. It also means that the maze may have more than one entry and exit to the maze. Hence, a maze is likely to have more than one possible route between the center and the outside. However, most maze puzzles tend to have only one direct route from the entry point to the exit; regardless of the fact that it is possible for a maze to have more than one entry or exit point and multiple solutions.

A labyrinth on the other hand is unicursal, which means that it has only one path from which one enters and exits. This path makes various twists and turns until finally exiting back through the same point as entry.

Due to these similarities, it can be said that they labyrinth is a type of maze, albeit one with special modifications. It is also generally believed that as the labyrinth only has one path, it is easier to solve as all one has to do is follow the path.

In myth, the labyrinth was a maze structure that was created to hold the Minotaur who killed anyone that dared to enter the maze. However, every year people were sent into the labyrinth as a sacrifice to the Minotaur, until Theseus killed him. Examples of the labyrinth dating back thousands of years can be found all around the world.

Comparison between Maze and Labyrinth:

 

Maze

Labyrinth

Definition

A network of paths and hedges designed as a puzzle through which one has to find a way.

A complicated irregular network of passages or paths in which it is difficult to find one's way; a maze.

Type

Type of structure

Type of maze

Etymology

Middle English (denoting delirium or delusion): probably from the base of amaze, of which the verb is a shortening.

Late Middle English (referring to the maze constructed by Daedalus to house the Minotaur): from French labyrinthe or Latin labyrinthus, from Greek laburinthos.

Entry/Exit

May have multiple entry or exit points, at least two or more.

Has only one path with only one entry point. The same point must be used for an exit.

Path

Multicursal – Many different paths that branch out and may even result in dead ends.

Unicursal – One path that twists and turns and leads back out through the same entry point.

Puzzle

Have to get from one side to the other

Have to get to the center or from the center out.

Reference: Oxford Dictionaries (Maze and Labyrinth),
Wikipedia (Maze and Labyrinth), Financial Times
Image Courtesy: wikimedia.org, wellfedspirit.org

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