Case of the Whacked Out Clock

Sep 08, 2001

RAY: Ha! We're back. You're listening to Car Talk with us, Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers, and we're here to discuss cars, car repair and, uh, the new Puzzler. And as promised...

TOM: Oh, yeah. Long-winded. Obfuscated.

RAY: I'll try to make it as short and sweet as possible.

TOM: OK, man. Yeah. Go ahead.

RAY: We have a friend, Tommy and I, who shall remain nameless, who works at a government facility and does very, very important work.

TOM: Yes.

RAY: Very important work.

TOM: Yes.

RAY: And one day, he's at his desk working away, reading some very technical manual...

TOM: You call that work, reading a technical manual?

RAY: Oh, indeed.

TOM: Yeah.

RAY: When he's awakened. I mean, startled by the sound of his stomach growling.

TOM: Yeah.

RAY: He turns in his seat and looks at the electric clock on the wall behind him. This is one of these clocks that's been there for, like, a thousand years. It plugs into the wall.

TOM: Big analog round thing.

RAY: Big, right.

TOM: It says IBM on it.

RAY: Or something like that.

TOM: Yeah.

RAY: Or Simplex. Who made all those clocks?


RAY: IBM made all those clocks.

TOM: I don't know.

RAY: They made a lot of them. He looks at the clock, and as he turns back to his work, he says, "Well, it's obviously too early to eat lunch. I must have forgotten to eat breakfast."

TOM: Mmm-hmm.

RAY: He begins to work. A short time later, he's again awakened, startled, by the growling of his stomach. And this time, he turns to look at the clock another time. You with me so far?

TOM: I love it so far.

RAY: We'll see if you love it in the morning.

TOM: Yeah.

RAY: He looks at the clock another time, and he notices that it first of all says a time later than what it did the first time he looked at it.

TOM: The arrow of time.

RAY: Right?

TOM: Yeah.

RAY: The march of time. The second hand is sweeping. The hour hand has moved from where it was the last time he looked at it, and the minute hand is in a different position.

TOM: Mmm-hmm.

RAY: And as he turns back to his desk, again thinking that he must have forgotten to eat breakfast and he doesn't know how he's going to make it to lunchtime, his stomach growls a third time, and he says, "The clock is broken." And yet, everything seemed to be working.

TOM: Yeah.

RAY: I had mentioned, the hands are moving.

TOM: Yeah.

RAY: Now, I may have to give a hint. The question is: How did he know the clock was broken? That's the question.

TOM: Well, the minute hand, the second hand and the hour hand have all moved, you said.

RAY: Yeah.

TOM: But probably not in the right relationship.

RAY: Ah! The two hands are exactly 180 degrees apart, like they would be at 6:00. That's the hint I was going to give.

TOM: Mmm-hmm.

RAY: Now, if you think you know the answer, write that answer on the back of...


RAY: Well, I mean, I purposely made the narrative rather lengthy so as to obfuscate...

TOM: Yeah, of course. We knew that.

RAY: And confuse.

TOM: Yeah.

RAY: And did I do that?

TOM: You succeeded. I don't know the answer.

RAY: Well, you do know the answer.

TOM: I do?

RAY: You know, let's say he looked at the clock and he saw that the hands were 180 degrees apart, but the clock read 11:25.

TOM: Yeah.

RAY: But that's impossible.

TOM: It's impossible for it to be 11:25?

RAY: It's impossible for it to be 11:25 and the hands be 180 degrees apart.

TOM: Oh, of course!

RAY: Because when it's 11:25, in fact, the hour hand's...

TOM: It'd be beyond 11.

RAY: It should be 5/12 of the way to 12. When it's 11:30, shouldn't it be halfway between 11 and 12?

TOM: Yeah, but...

RAY: Right? But, if it's exactly on 11, and the minute hand is exactly on the five -

TOM: But you didn't say that.

RAY: I didn't. I just said that the hands were 180 degrees apart, and that's what he noticed.

TOM: And they could be 180 degrees...

RAY: Not at 11:25, they couldn't.

TOM: Who said anything about 11:25?

RAY: Well, that's what he noticed.

TOM: How about 11:27?

RAY: It wasn't 11:27.

TOM: But the hands would have been 180 degrees apart.

RAY: But that's how he knew the clock was broken.

TOM: Oh, jeez.

RAY: He knew the clock was broken because it read a time that was impossible.

TOM: Oh, man. This is really sucky.

RAY: No, it isn't. It's wonderful!

TOM: Oh, man! You are going to get so much hate mail! I'll be on your side; I'm your brother.

RAY: Oh, I doubt it!

TOM: And I'll defend you to the death.

RAY: I doubt it!

TOM: But I have to say that this stinks to high heaven!

RAY: I doubt you.

TOM: To high heaven, I tell you! This stinks a lot!

RAY: They're like rats leaving a sinking ship! Berman's run out!

TOM: You...I mean, sure! Sure!

RAY: I could have merely said, "The clock reads 9:15, and the two hands are opposite each other—180. Is that a possibility? And you would have said, "No, that's impossible."

TOM: No, it's not.

RAY: So, I had to make...I had to clever it up, so to speak.

TOM: Wow!

RAY: Come on!

TOM: Fine. All right. Fine. I'll give it to you.

RAY: It's wonderful to have such a ringing endorsement.

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