Taking Inventory: Compass
Will you need one to successfully navigate this article? Er, no.
Some people are natural wayfinders, others less so. I once had a friend who got lost on a three-minute walk between home and school. If only he’d he’d had our item of the week, he might have made it to geography class on time.
Compasses were added to Minecraft in alpha version 1.1.0, released in September 2010. They serve a single purpose — pointing to the world spawn point. If you’re planning on wandering off into the wilderness, then it’s highly recommended to take one with you so you can actually find your way back home again.
Minecraft’s compass is fairly cheap to make — you’ll need four iron ingots arranged around redstone dust. You can occasionally find compasses in villages, strongholds and shipwreck chests... even librarian villagers often have one for sale.
In the Overworld, the needle of the compass — the red bit — always points towards the world spawn. That’s true whether you’re holding the compass in your hand, in your inventory, on the ground, or in an item frame. Watch out, though — in other dimensions the laws of Minecraft physics don’t apply in the same way, and following a compass could lead you dangerously astray...
Already out in the wilds and forgot to bring a compass? Here’s a pro tip — the compass on the uppermost tab of the recipe book in the inventory screen will also always point to spawn. So you’ll be able to find your way home without needing to make a compass. But do us a favour when you get back, and make one anyway and then throw it into some lava as a sacrifice to the god of compasses. Otherwise we’ll never hear the end of it.
Real-world compasses don’t point to your spawn point on Earth. If only. Instead, they point to “magnetic north”, which is close but not exactly at the geographic North Pole, and also moves slowly over time. The reasons why are complicated, but mostly to do with the molten iron swishing around in the Earth’s core.
Magnetic compasses were invented way back in the Chinese Han Dynasty, around 200BC, for use in fortune-telling. They were made of lodestone, a naturally magnetised iron ore. It took about 900 years before their descendents in the Song Dynasty figured out that they could be used for navigation too. The first recorded use of a compass in the Western and Islamic world wasn’t until 1190.
After that however, they got popular and fast. Sailors found that they could use them to guide direction of travel when there was no sun or constellations visible — allowing them to make much safer and more accurate journeys, particularly in the wintertime.
So enjoy exploring the Minecraft Overworld with ease! Wait, where did I put my compass again? Oh, it’s getting dark...