In the Land of the Lost and Found, a New Amusement Park Gives Those with Wanderlust the Runaround

updated 08/22/1988 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/22/1988 01:00AM

If you can't get there from here, or if it just feels that way, you might be wandering in WOOZ, a new 12-acre tourist park in Vacaville, Calif. The news about WOOZ, you see, is its primary attraction: an open-air array of seven-foot-high panels laid out as a sprawling—and dizzying—labyrinth. Fast trackers who weave through the 351-turn, one-mile maze in less than 40 minutes win a free go at an even more circuitous course. (There are three mazes, Mini, Regular and Super, in the park.) Sluggards in the recreational rat race can take up to half a day to finish, and if they panic, they can bail out through exits along the way when the maze makes them too, well, woozy. The man behind the labyrinth is 35-year-old Yasushi Tsumura, a Japanese businessman who hopes the maze craze will catch on here as it has in his native country, where more than 100 such parks have opened since 1984. Tsumura already owns three maze complexes in Japan and one in Taiwan and wants to expand his U.S. beachhead by franchising 60 sites here within two years. "Americans like outdoor exercise, walking and a challenge," he says, "which a maze offers."

Mazes, of course, have been around at least since Theseus took a turn—make that turns—through the Cretan labyrinth to kill the monster Minotaur. But WOOZ (which, for reasons apparently clear to the Japanese, stands for "Wild and Original Object with Zoom") may be the first designed by computer. Completely new patterns can be hatched in two or three days and the panels repositioned in a matter of hours. To promote return visits to the labyrinth, which attracted some 1,600 patrons daily at $4.50 to $7 a pop during its first weeks, the maze will be modified monthly and perhaps made even trickier. "It's not so difficult right now," insists Tetsushi Hirakawa, the maze's designer. "We want to learn how you Americans think. Then we'll make the course more challenging."

They may have already made it tough enough. Construction cost on the park, which includes a restaurant, was originally set at $10 million, but the final tab was more than $13 million. One reason for the overruns? Workers kept getting lost in the maze, and their overtime went up and up as they went around and around.

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