You may enjoy chess or Scrabble, but have you ever played a game based on the Quaternary geological period?

Correlations is a card game which was donated to the Royal Society archives in 1993. It was devised in 1952 by Dr Donald Walker and Dr Richard West, researchers at the Sub-department of Quaternary Research, Cambridge University, as a gift for their supervisor (and founder of the department), botanist and ecologist Sir Harry Godwin (1901-1985).

The game consists of a pack of fifty lovingly hand-drawn cards, created by Dr S L Duigan (also a researcher at the Sub-department). The instructions that accompany the game are very difficult to follow, so, rather like Radio 4’s Mornington Crescent, it appears to be a game with no fixed rules. The game is based around scientific studies of Quaternary deposits found in Europe. From what I can gather, ‘contributors’ (players) are to collect cards of geological evidence of the Quaternary period and challenge or add to published literature by ‘authorities’ on the subject . The ‘authorities’ are depicted in character cards in cartoon form and include geologist Donald Ferlys Wilson Baden-Powell (1897-1973), who is shown in scout uniform probably because he attended the first experimental scout camps with his uncle, Robert Baden-Powell, 1st Baron Baden-Powell. Another card depicts geographers and glaciologists Eduard Brückner (1862-1927) and Albrecht Penck (1858-1945) hanging from a branch on the side of a cliff whilst clinging onto a piece of rock evidence.


Six of the cards from ‘Correlations – a Quaternary card game’, presented to the Royal Society by Richard West FRS, 1973.
Royal Society MS/812


According to the instructions, ‘the contributor disposing of all his evidence and authorities in the shortest time is given an FRS.’ Both Richard West and Donald Walker who devised the game become Fellows of the Royal Society themselves (elected 1968 and 1985 respectively). West followed Godwin as director of the Sub-department of Quaternary Research and is now Emeritus Professor of Botany in University of Cambridge Botany School; and Walker is Emeritus Professor of Biogeography in the Australian National University, Canberra.

This game is a touching gift devised by students for a supervisor they admire; it gently pokes fun at the methods of research gathering and paper writing. It is very much an in-joke intended for specialists in the field so if like me you don’t know your epochs from your eras then you may struggle to get to grips with it; but if geology is your field and you think you know how to tackle it, then come and visit us in the Library and we’ll have a game!


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