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Mazed & Confused

I'm determined to outwit it. So is everyone else -- the family with the Virginia Tech banner, the couple with the Yankees streamer, the frat boys with the sunflower racing ahead.

The title of this exquisite aggravation is "100 Ears of Flight." Yep, it's corny. The switchbacks and dead ends are filled with "kernels of knowledge" on signs meant to teach kids and remind adults about the Wright brothers' history. Did you know the U.S. Army gave them their first contract for an airplane?

This year's five-acre corn maze at Cherry-Crest Farm is in the shape of a biplane (the wings run diagonally from the lower left).

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The word "army" fills in part of a crossword puzzle on that same game card we're all carrying, and a scramble of letters from the puzzle offers a further clue to the maze. Along the paths, meanwhile, the biplane, trees, clouds and so on in this huge design are outlined in different colors of tape. Though this is supposed to act as a guide -- "Ooh, orange. That means we're near the end!" -- it does more to keep up the momentum.

Swoosh! The little scamp dashes past us, brushing the green and brown stalks, hot on the trail of the elusive Way Out of this sector. She may move faster than I do, but I try to use height to my advantage, peering over a high row of corn to see whether the next path is worth pursuing.

The scamp's parents are taking a different tack. As Mom bops to Madonna's "Material Girl" -- the maze people are big on disco and '80s dance tunes, which emanate from the "corn-trol tower" where staffers track our progress -- Dad commandeers a speaking tube for help.

Two "Telestalk tubes" are planted in the corn to allow us to communicate with the tower. They're pretty low-tech; it's like talking into a paper-towel tube, only bigger. If you're stuck, you can call the tower for a hint. If you're really desperate, say "Bring me in for a landing!" and they'll guide you out.

Looking a bit silly, Dad asks for a hint. He appears more baffled than enlightened by the response, but they set off with renewed vigor.

Once we all triumph, eventually, there's more fun ahead. Saturdays through Nov. 1, the farm offers scarecrow making, face and pumpkin painting, pony rides and pumpkin slinging. Pick your own pumpkins, sunflowers, mums, chili peppers and ears of popcorn, too. And they hold nighttime Flashlight Mazes, complete with hayride and bonfire.

But for now, I'm standing on the wooden bridge near the top of Wilbur's main wing, shielding my eyes. This perspective should help us figure those few remaining angles.

We're getting close. Aren't we?

Escape Keys

GETTING THERE: The Amazing Maize Maze of Cherry-Crest Farm is in Amish country about two hours north of Washington in Ronks, Pa., just northeast of Strasburg (150 Cherry Hill Rd., 717-687-6843. www.cherrycrestfarm.com.)

THE MAZE: Open Fridays from 1 p.m. to dusk and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to dusk. Closed Sundays and for the season after Nov. 1. Flashlight Mazes, including hayride and bonfire, will be Oct. 11, 24, 25, and 31 and Nov. 1, from 6:30 to 11 p.m. Admission, $10.75 for adults, $8.75 for kids 5-11, $6.75 for kids 3-4, includes access to the maze and most other farm activities (which include a petting zoo, snack shop, wagon rides, chick hatchery and hayloft). Flashlight Mazes cost $9 for adults, $7 for kids 5-11, free for those younger (BYO flashlight).

STAYING THERE: Cherry-Crest has a two-unit guesthouse with rooms starting at $120 with a two-night minimum. But I treated myself to Intercourse Village B&B Suites, with Jacuzzi, fireplace, king-size bed and kitchenette (Route 340, Intercourse, 800-664-0949, $129-$289). As close, but more suited to modest surroundings, are Flory's Cottages (99 N. Ronks Rd., Ronks, 717-687-6670, $74-$179), Groff Farm Home Lodging (766 Brackbill Rd., Kinzers, 717-442-8223, $40-$60) and Hershey Farm Home Lodging (73 Oak Hill Dr., Paradise, 717-687-6037, $38-$48).

BEING THERE: For an appropriately paced tour of Amish back roads, AAA Buggy Rides in Paradise (717-687-9962, www.aaabuggyrides.com) offers narrated 25-minute rides ($10 for adults $10, $5 for kids 12 and under, 2 and under free). Two Ronks shops, Dutchland Quilt Patch (2851 Lincoln Hwy. E., 717-687-0534) and the Quilt Shop at Miller's Smorgasbord (Route 30, 717-687-8480), offer quilts, patterns, fabrics and crafts by Amish, Mennonite and other local artisans. The region is train buff heaven. Strasburg Rail Road in Strasburg offers quarter-scale 1920 Cagney steam locomotive, mechanical shop and equipment display, dinner train and "Thomas the Tank Engine" events (www.strasburgrailroad.com, 717-687-7522). The Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania is just across the street (www.rrmuseumpa.org, 717-687-8628).

EATING THERE: The Historic Revere Tavern (3063 Lincoln Hwy., Paradise) dates to 1740, with seven fireplaces and a large lunch and dinner menu; entrees from $9.95. Hershey Farm Restaurant & Inn (Route 896, Strasburg) offers three buffet meals a day for 11.99 at lunch, $15.49 at dinner (adults).

INFO: Pennsylvania Dutch Convention & Visitors Bureau, 800-723-8824, www.padutchcountry.com.

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