Atomically Correct

Nov 01, 2010

RAY: This was submitted by Dave Berdell. He writes:

"My brainy, smarty-pants nephew got recently as a present the snazzy new Atomic Watch. Now for those of you who don't know what an atomic watch is, it's a watch that receives a radio signal from the atomic clock in Fort Collins, CO. It's beamed out all over the country and when your watch receives this signal, it synchronizes it. It's accurate to one second every 6,000 years or something like that.

"The styling is very sleek and modern. There are no numbers, no stem, just twelve little dots and two hands. It has a smooth, featureless expansion band. In fact, the whole thing is very simple and perfectly symmetrical.

"I studied his fancy time piece for a few minutes, and I looked at it very carefully, and I said, 'I think this watch is stupid.'

My nephew asked, 'Well, how so?' So I explained how I thought it was a stupid watch.

'Oh no!' retorted my nephew. 'You're wrong,' he says. And the little twerp was correct. So the question is, what did I say to him? And what was I wrong about?

RAY:  Here’s the answer. I thought my nephew’s watch was stupid because I thought it could be put on upside down. How do you know which way to put your watch on?

TOM: There's a stem on the watch.

RAY: And there are numbers on watches. But this watch had neither of those. And I was wrong because you can't put a watch on upside down. You can always tell when a watch is upside down by the relative positions of the two hands. There is no time during the day when the hands of a watch represent a valid time when it is upside down.

Take 6 o'clock for example. When it's 6 o'clock, the hour hand points straight at the 6 and the minute hand points straight up. If you turn the watch 180 degrees, you might say it's 12:30. But it’s not because the little hand is pointed straight up. So you could discern with accuracy where the where the hour hand is. So it can't be put upside down. So my critique was ill-founded and what? Stupid. Anyway, do we have a winner?

TOM: We certainly do. Our winner this week is Paul Long from Edgewood, Kentucky. And for having his answer selected at random from all the correct answers that we got, Paul's going to get a $26 gift certificate to the Shameless Commerce Division, with which he can get a set of Car Talk reusable shopping bags.

RAY: Congratulations, Paul!

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