Most people have childhood memories involving mazes. From tracing a paper maze printed in the newspaper or getting lost in an elaborate house of mirrors at the carnival, mazes are something familiar that most people enjoyed at one time or another. Now, thanks to a husband and wife team known as Jessica and Daniel Friedman, mazes have turned into customizable playthings via their invention known as “Maze-O.”
“Maze-O” is a toy that operates like a puzzle; children can assemble a number of colorful pieces to create an elaborate maze. The product gained acclaim when it aired on television in May of 2017 via the ABC show “The Toy Box.” Although it did not win a prize, the labyrinth game quickly got many people interested and it is now on Barnes & Noble store shelves and available through Amazon’s subscription Stem Club.
How a toy gets to market is a story in itself. Sometimes a lucky opportunity propels a new inventor to national prominence. This was the case for mom-and-dad inventors Jessica and Daniel Friedman. These computer science and computer engineering pros used an early 3D printer to create pieces to form a maze for their son, as he was too young to correctly draw a paper maze. They named their creation “Maze-O” and have been marketing it for children ages three and up. The toy has since gone on to become a success, including for people who have children with special-needs since the toy helps improve both small motor skills and communication skills.
Inside each set is a deck of maze instruction cards to create more than thirty mazes…or kids can branch out and create their own pattern. The bright pieces are so sturdy that children can build on a thick carpet. Produced in Wisconsin, “Maze-O” is entirely safe and is quite affordable since a set with 52 pieces retails for only $29.99.
Recently, Jessica Friedman–who previously worked as a teacher’s assistant and a software developer–discussed “Maze-O” and her hopes for the toy’s future:
Meagan Meehan (MM): When did you first get interested in creating toys and how did the concept fit Maze-O come to mind?
Jessica Friedman (JF): A few years ago, our son was building a maze out of wooden blocks. It took a lot of effort to create a simple maze, but it was also extremely unstable. His little sister would come over and knock everything over. We quickly ended up online, searching for an awesome maze toy that would be age appropriate for a preschooler. Needless to say, one did not yet exist, so we created it.
MM: What ages do you think Maze-O most appeals to?
JF: We see kids ages three-to-six as our sweet spot. Three-year-olds enjoy just putting the pieces together. As they get older, they build their own mazes and then they move on to the challenge or design cards.
MM: The game comes with a booklet of designs to make, so how long did it take you to come up with each one?
JF: More than you’d think. I iterated through lots of ideas of what the mazes would look like. At first, I just tried to build each maze out of Maze-O pieces, but eventually started using graph paper to plan out my ideas before building them. I would pencil out the outline of the whole maze and then draw in the pathways and finally the colors of each piece. I wanted each maze to be an interesting shape and also challenging to build and solve. There are so many mazes I created that we didn’t end up using for this release.
MM: How long have you been working on this toy and what have been the biggest challenges related to designing and producing it?
JF: We’ve been working on Maze-O for about five years now. The hardest part, by far, for us, has been manufacturing. We had to learn the language, the processes, and the costs. The costs really have to be considered carefully. Manufacturing plastic pieces has a large upfront investment, so you want a good price, but also a company that you can have trust and have a good relationship with. We have been working with a phenomenal small manufacturing plant out of Wisconsin. We love that we can create Maze-O here in America!
MM: You appeared on ABC’s contest show called “The Toy Box” so how did that opportunity come to you and what was the experience of being a part of it like?
JF: We were contacted by a casting company that was looking for toy-makers to appear on the show. They found us online and we were excited to participate. We filmed last July and had time to work on our product and get it market ready, but it was hard to keep the show a secret for so long! When I would tell people about Maze-O, so many would tell us, “You should get on a show like Shark Tank!” I would just say, “That’s a great idea!” knowing we had already filmed for “The Toy Box” but couldn’t say anything! It was a great experience and now our friends joke that we are celebrities.
MM: You didn’t win the overall contest, but what sorts of feedback and/or opportunities did your participation provide you?
JF: When we filmed for “The Toy Box” we had a great conversation with the mentors. Only a small part of what we talked about made the cut to be in the show, but it was incredibly valuable to hear critiques and advice from huge industry players. We incorporated the mentor’s feedback to improve the colors of the pieces, the design cards and the packaging. “The Toy Box” was filmed about six months before it aired, so all their feedback is already part of retail product.
One of my favorite moments was from a viewer who was watching the show with his son. His son loved Maze-O so much that when we lost, he broke down in tears and his dad sent us the video! That kind of devotion and excitement for Maze-O drives us to keep working on it and to take the big risks. We’ve had so many people reach out asking how they can buy Maze-O and encourage us. We are selling on Amazon and starting to get into neighborhood toy stores.
MM: What has public response to Maze-O been like and are you hoping to have it produced by any companies?
JF: The response to Maze-O has been great. Parents and kids really get excited about building mazes and how intuitive and simple Maze-O is to use. The most frequent comment is “I wish I had something like that growing up.”
We took the plunge and manufactured Maze-O and sell it ourselves. It’s already for sale at Amazon and a part of the Amazon STEM Club and we’ve had orders from retail stores all over the country. We will be exhibiting Maze-O at the International Toy Fair this month. I’m excited for the opportunity to bring Maze-O to the big leagues and see the feedback.
MM: How are you planning to expand and evolve the game in the near future?
JF: In the near term, we’d like to introduce more colors, bigger sets, and more challenges. There are also a couple more pieces we’d like to add, but that will probably be further out. We are pretty focused on getting Maze-O out to as many people as possible.
MM: Have you designed any other toys or games and what else is coming up for you?
JF: We are always looking for things that can be improved or that are missing from the marketplace, but Maze-O is a full-time endeavor for now so we don’t expect to be branching out to anything else in the near term.
* * * * *
To learn more, visit the official Maze-O website.