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Trumps triumph

TedNield024.jpgIt comes as a shock when people with minds like steel traps turn out to be ill-informed  - as though ‘intelligence’ and ‘knowledge’ always go hand-in-hand.  Lunch at the Old Bailey the other day provided just such a moment, as life imitated a well-worn newspaper cliché.  Over the grilled coley and fennel coleslaw, my bewigged companion asked: ‘So, what’s ‘hot news’ in geology just now?’.  I answered: ‘Well, just now it has to be fracking, obviously’.  The noble judge stared at me blankly.  He had somehow managed to get through life without ever hearing the term until that very moment.

No doubt, he would probably have been shocked by my ignorance of blood stains, or the Statute of Mortmain - most of us rarely notice how sheltered our lives are.  It took me well over half a century, for example, to hear about a card-game called Top Trumps - my only excuses being that a) I grew out of such things long before it first appeared in 1968, and b) I subsequently followed Philip Larkin’s advice about children.  So, if you too have never heard of it, before you read this month’s Online Special (about how the game is helping to fund education campaigns in areas threatened by active volcanoes) here are some basics. 

Each Top Trumps pack has a theme - cars, aircraft, dinosaurs, volcanoes – it could be anything. Each card displays various bits of numerical data.  The aim of the game is to compare these values to try to trump your opponents’ cards - and thereby win them. 

All cards are dealt among the players. The first player selects a category from the top card and reads out its value. Other players then read out the corresponding value from their top cards. The ‘best’ value wins; the winner takes all the cards of that trick, placing them at the bottom of their hand. The winner then chooses a category for the next round from their new topmost card, and so on.  Players drop out when they lose their last card.  The winner obtains the whole pack.

So, it’s not exactly Contract Bridge, a game requiring considerable brain-power and which my learned lunch-friend professed greatly to enjoy.  But its potential as an educational tool is obvious.  All credit, therefore, to Volcano Top Trumps’s authors for the way in which they have been able to plough back royalties into the sort of learning of which one can, for once, truthfully say: ‘it could save your life someday’.


[email protected], @TedNield @geoscientistmag