Aztec Fun For All The Family

A letter to John Waddington Ltd…

I understand your firm is the leading manufacturer of playing cards and games and that you are always on the look-out for novelties in this field.

Enclosed herewith please find reproductions of two pages from an ancient Aztec codex; kindly take a look at them.

I am a philosopher-psychologist, former lecturer at the University of Budapest. For the past few years I have been engaged in some rather abstruse socio-anthropological research. In the course of this work, as a sort of ‘spin-off’, I happen to have cracked the code of the Aztec-Maya-Omec Tonalpouhalli (‘ritual year’). This, even if I say so myself, is quite an important academic achievement and will undoubtedly create quite a stir in the appropriate circles when I publish my findings.

For your information – in case your acquaintance with the extinct Meso-American cultures is no longer up to specialist standard – the Tonalpouhalli was a ‘year’ consisting of 13 20-day ‘months’… The Nahuatl word ‘Tonalpouhalli’ translates as something like ‘the arithmetic of destiny’ and it forms the foundation of the Tonalamatl (‘The Book of Fate’) which consists of pictures only…

The reason I am telling you this is that, with the riddle solved, the Tonalamatl lends itself eminently well to a transformation into a game akin to the phenomenally successful Monopoly, as well as to an ordinary card game, as well as to a divinatory system similar to the Tarot cards… I feel that this holds considerable commercial possibilities.

A letter from Dr Charlotte Bach to John Waddington Ltd, quoted in Who Was Dr Charlotte Bach? by Francis Wheen (2002). Wheen notes “Messrs Waddington felt otherwise”.

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