Mazes By Joe

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Joseph Charles Barzantny, the son of Joseph and Irene Barzantny, was born in Denver, Colorado in 1970. At an early stage in his life, Joe (or Joey) showed signs of “remarkability”. The prodigious toddler would dazzle and amuse his parents and friends with his very organized and artistic displays all over the floors or on tabletops. Whether he used cheerios, playing cards or stuffed animals, his patterns and “pictures” were so neat and alluring, that the Barzantnys found themselves hopping over them to get around or readjusting their lifestyle in order to save the “masterpieces”. Eventually photographs had to suffice, but it wasn’t long before Joey was creating these configurations on paper.

Mazes By JoeThe seeds that had been planted for what would become Joe’s amazing mazes, all started growing after the family moved to Irene’s hometown, St. Louis, Missouri, when Joey was four. In his young primary years, Joey’s teachers kept bringing to his mom’s attention that her son scored so high on maze testing that he was off the charts. He also placed high in analytical/mathematical/spatial tests. And this came despite the fact that he exhibited signs of attention deficit disorder, being easily distracted and having difficulty concentrating. He was a power load of physical energy. In light of this, and knowing how much Joe loved to throw himself into maze books and find the answers in a zip, Irene encouraged Joey to make his own mazes. Alas, Joey’s first mazes were born, and he found his happy niche.

Soon, his classmates and friends stood awed, as well as adults at home and at school. But what completely astonished everyone was his uncanny knack for making his creations impulsively, before one’s eyes, in only minutes.  Not to mention the artful grace of his lines and his perspective eye for the use of space…and each drawing had its own crafted puzzle! It truly spelled amazement.  What was ironic and made it more interesting was that Joey was naturally a hyper, high-geared, restless child. It was very hard for him to sit still and be quiet. Yet his maze moods brought him to a temporary settled state, before he was up and running again!…quite the contrast from what people thought in seeing his finished work! They assumed that he had a composed nature and spent hours in careful preparation and composition. Another amazing fact about Joe’s work was his instinctive ability to construct and navigate his maze without any drafting beforehand or any erasing afterwards.

Joe’s most complex maze, which he really put his heart into, was what would become his most popular one and the most published, “The Brain Maze”. This fortuitous, gravitating maze was manufactured on a Sunday afternoon when he was eight and a half years old. On and off, between his ups and downs, it took him approximately one and a half hours of maze time. Significantly, this magnificent maze, along with the “Brain Teaser”, were the only ones he made that had the solution inside the maze itself. ( All of Joe’s other mazes have only one solution, which is typically found by an outside exit.)

Not long after, when Joe was a third grader and on his spring break, Irene knew her nine year old was fidgety and bored, as there were no plans for taking any vacation. She told Joe that if he made a maze a day during the two weeks, she would have them printed and make a book. Joey, fulfillingly, popped out specific, distinctive mazes, which she compiled with fun text. This became Joe’s first published book, You Amaze Me As I Amaze You. It exemplified not only this young man’s amazing gift, but also his developing talent for drawing subjects, shapes, logos and images into which he incorporated the puzzles. The book stirred a huge local sensation and paved the way for three more books. It also brought Joe much media attention. He was suddenly being interviewed by newspaper reporters and all the local television news stations, and it continued the next year with his second book, St. Louis Is Amazing.

Through it all, Joey never stopped being amazed by the steady attention. He couldn’t understand what the big deal was about something that came so easily for him. But it definitely brought him a comfort zone and a sense of achievement. What he really enjoyed the most was going to other schools and giving maze presentations for the kids. That stimulated him more than doing book signings at bookstores and fairs.

In the fifth grade, Joe received a national audience of schoolchildren with a feature story in the Weekly Reader with his photo in front of his renowned “Brain Maze” and a special “Polo Pony” maze that he drew for Prince Charles, whose engagement to Lady Diana was the top story in the issue. Soon, Joe’s third book was in the making, and this one was a challenge for him! Why? Because Joe was faced with making mazes that were basic and simple, as this book was specialized for teacher use in the primary grades! This publication, Mazes By Joe, was processed for master duplicating and served a need in schoolrooms across the country and internationally!

Joey was on an amazing roll, and many exciting credit adventures were on their way: National Geographic World magazine did a huge story with pictures about Joey in the Feb., 1983 issue with his fabulous “football” and “hot air balloon” mazes in the centerfold. CBS’ Kids World came to St. Louis to film a segment on Joey.     (which subsequently re-ran for six years!) Another book was published with the same title as the former Mazes By Joe, but this was the best of Joe’s mazes and designed for the regular retail market. Interesting and unique assignments were around the corner. A “Skipper’s” maze creation in the Skipper Fun Packet, a kid’s fold-out at ‘Skipper’s” restaurants across the West and Northwest; a Brooklyn Dodgers maze, incorporating their logo and autographs for the back cover of the book, A Fan’s Memoirs, by Bill Borst; an “AAO” maze for the American Association of Orthodontist’s national newsletter, featuring a story about Joe in  Smile of Health…’Amazing Maze Maker Wears Braces”, with photo of Joey showing off his braces. In Aug., 1984, Joey had the distinguished honor of being published in “PLAY  Crosstalk” of Psychology Today, with three of his extraordinary mazes, the “Revolution”, the “Amazing Eagle” and the “Devil”. Joe received more national exposure on USA cable’s In A Minute and on NBC’s Incredible Kids & Co.  In the fall of 1985, Joe’s tormenting “Devil” maze was published in the I Love English Level 4 Textbook.  In June, 1986, Joe was featured in the tabloid, Star. He was recognized as the “The Maze King of America” and “The Wizard of Maze”. Between 1984 and 1985, Joe had his own on-going maze panel, “AMAZEIN’ ST. LOUIS”, every weekend in the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, displaying his maze wizardry inside and surrounding his special drawings pertaining to the magic of St. Louis, from the “ hot dog”, born at the famous St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904 to McDonnell Douglas’ “F 15” to Anheuser Busch’s “BUSCH Beer can” to the landmark, “Eugene Field House”, and many, many more. These marvelous mazes are compiled in an outstanding book, A-MAZE-IN’ ST. LOUIS.

Mazes By JoeAll through Joey’s amazing years, he was known to, at the drop of a hat, upon anyone’s request, produce a customized puzzle, either with someone’s name or for a particular slogan, event or organization. That always delivered delights and brought Joe much pleasure!

Along with the gifts of being a handsome, lanky lad and having a most warm, loving and out-going personality, Joe also had various other talents as a young boy and growing teenager. He broke school records running track.  He played tennis and  collected several trophies. He was very musical, had a beautiful voice and played guitar. Way before the peak of his maze career, Joey was such a master at video games, especially “Pac-Man”, that he would draw crowds around him, people of all ages, eagerly entertained and entranced by his quick eye and hand coordination. He could easily make a quarter last for a half an hour. When the mind wrenching game “Simon” came on the market, Joe just blew it away! On his second try at this memory challenger of repetitions of sound patterns, he took it to level 36, the highest level.  His skate-boarding exhibited power and grace. His balancing act on the bongo board was phenomenal! He was so good that he could even suspend his body in a stationary state.

But no balancing act or combination of physical and intellectual prowess could ward off the impending, horrendous mental disease that Joey was to face and heroically battle in his late teens and early twenties. The tragedy and profound ramifications of schizophrenia and bipolar illnesses literally turned the life of the genius of maze into the complex, intricate maze itself, entrapping him in an unrelenting world of pain, delusion and confusion. Two and a half years after his first diagnosis and after too much suffering, Joe chose the only route he knew out of the maze. At the age of twenty-one, on January 11, 1992, Joey left this life to be in God’s place of peace. He has left us a legacy of amazing love and loving mazes. Quite symbolically, Joey’s most passionate and compelling maze, “The Brain Maze”, became his reality.  As stated earlier, this maze along with his “Brain Teaser” were uncannily the only mazes with the solution inside the maze.  He knew the answer to the mystery of the mind lay locked within the brain.

In the years since his passing away, there have been many tributes made in Joe’s memory and honor. A huge EVERYDAY cover story in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch  called “Lost In Life’s Maze” was extremely stirring and informative. Joe’s mother, Irene published several publications about her son: A touching and informative biography, The Maze Comes To Life, which featured one of Joe’s mazes at the end of each chapter; a combination puzzle book, cook book, generic calendar, On The Right Course; and a special compilation of Joe’s St. Louis mazes, A-MAZE-IN ST. LOUIS. This book’s launch raised funds for the Independence Center, a local non-profit organization dedicated to helping people with mental disorders. Numerous newspaper stories surrounded these publications. A sponsorship was set up at the St. Louis NAMI, National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, and the building was re-named “The Joey Barzantny Center”. Barnes Jewish Hospital sponsored an elaborate, walk-in, portable exhibit entitled “The Joseph Barzantny Story, A Journey through the Maze of Mental Illness”, which has been on display for numerous mental health events. A feature story in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “Maze Maker’s Mother Ready To Help Others” shows Irene with the exhibit and promotes her upcoming discussion. Joe’s two magnificent mazes, “The Brain Maze” and “A-Maze-America” were chosen for a national traveling museum funded by Narsad Artworks.

And, there have been many, many more ongoing recognitions and credits for Joey, from published articles to media interviews, etc. etc. to the continuing publication of his ingenius mazes including a continuing monthly series in the “Pulse” newspaper and a constant maze puzzle feature in the “Imo’s” kid’s menu.

Irene and Joey’s brother, Austin were proud to put together this special website in honor of Joey: The St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Suburban Journals provided the story, “A Short Life Remembered”, Mother Creates Web site for son’s mazes.

And, thus, Joe’s story is a truly amazing saga. He made an astonishing mark in his short lifetime. His achievement is enduring. His legacy is everlasting.