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"Look at the clock!"
Ingoldsby Legends.

In considering a few puzzles concerning clocks and watches, and the times recorded by their hands under given conditions, it is well that a particular convention should always be kept in mind. It is frequently the case that a solution requires the assumption that the hands can actually record a time involving a minute fraction of a second. Such a time, of course, cannot be really indicated. Is the puzzle, therefore, impossible of solution? The conclusion deduced from a logical syllogism depends for its truth on the two premises assumed, and it is the same in mathematics. Certain things are antecedently assumed, and the answer depends entirely on the truth of those assumptions.

"If two horses," says Lagrange, "can pull a load of a certain weight, it is natural to suppose that four horses could pull a load of double that weight, six horses a load of three times that weight. Yet, strictly speaking, such is not the case. For the inference is based on the assumption that the four horses pull alike in amount and direction, which in practice can scarcely ever be the case. It so happens that we are frequently led in our reckonings to results which diverge widely from reality. But the fault is not the fault of mathematics; for mathematics always gives back to us exactly what we have put into it. The ratio was constant according to that supposition. The result is founded upon that supposition. If the supposition is false the result is necessarily false."

If one man can reap a field in six days, we say two men will reap it in three days, and three men will do the work in two days. We here assume, as in the case of Lagrange's horses, that all the men are exactly equally capable of work. But we assume even more than this. For when three men get together they may waste time in gossip or play; or, on the other hand, a spirit of rivalry may spur them on to greater diligence. We may assume any conditions we like in a problem, provided they be clearly expressed and understood, and the answer will be in accordance with those conditions.


"I say, Rackbrane, what is the time?" an acquaintance asked our friend the professor the other day. The answer was certainly curious.

"If you add one quarter of the time from noon till now to half the time from now till noon to-morrow, you will get the time exactly."

What was the time of day when the professor spoke?



How many minutes is it until six o'clock if fifty minutes ago it was four times as many minutes past three o'clock?



A friend pulled out his watch and said, "This watch of mine does not keep perfect time; I must have it seen to. I have noticed that the minute hand and the hour hand are exactly together every sixty-five minutes." Does that watch gain or lose, and how much per hour?



There was a great commotion in Lower Thames Street on the morning of January 12, 1887. When the early members of the staff arrived at Wapshaw's Wharf they found that the safe had been broken open, a considerable sum of money removed, and the offices left in great disorder. The night watchman was nowhere to be found, but nobody who had been acquainted with him for one moment suspected him to be guilty of the robbery. In this belief the proprietors were confirmed when, later in the day, they were informed that the poor fellow's body had been picked up by the River Police. Certain marks of violence pointed to the fact that he had been brutally attacked and thrown into the river. A watch found in his pocket had stopped, as is invariably the case in such circumstances, and this was a valuable clue to the time of the outrage. But a very stupid officer (and we invariably find one or two stupid individuals in the most intelligent bodies of men) had actually amused himself by turning the hands round and round, trying to set the watch going again. After he had been severely reprimanded for this serious indiscretion, he was asked whether he could remember the time that was indicated by the watch when found. He replied that he could not, but he recollected that the hour hand and minute hand were exactly together, one above the other, and the second hand had just passed the forty-ninth second. More than this he could not remember.

What was the exact time at which the watchman's watch stopped? The watch is, of course, assumed to have been an accurate one.



The above clock face indicates a little before 42 minutes past 4. The hands will again point at exactly the same spots a little after 23 minutes past 8. In fact, the hands will have changed places. How many times do the hands of a clock change places between three o'clock p.m. and midnight? And out of all the pairs of times indicated by these changes, what is the exact time when the minute hand will be nearest to the point IX?



One of the big clocks in the Cogitators' Club was found the other night to have stopped just when, as will be seen in the illustration, the second hand was exactly midway between the other two hands. One of the members proposed to some of his friends that they should tell him the exact time when (if the clock had not stopped) the second hand would next again have been midway between the minute hand and the hour hand. Can you find the correct time that it would happen?



We have here a stop-watch with three hands. The second hand, which travels once round the face in a minute, is the one with the little ring at its end near the centre. Our dial indicates the exact time when its owner stopped the watch. You will notice that the three hands are nearly equidistant. The hour and minute hands point to spots that are exactly a third of the circumference apart, but the second hand is a little too advanced. An exact equidistance for the three hands is not possible. Now, we want to know what the time will be when the three hands are next at exactly the same distances as shown from one another. Can you state the time?



On Friday, April 1, 1898, three new clocks were all set going precisely at the same time—twelve noon. At noon on the following day it was found that clock A had kept perfect time, that clock B had gained exactly one minute, and that clock C had lost exactly one minute. Now, supposing that the clocks B and C had not been regulated, but all three allowed to go on as they had begun, and that they maintained the same rates of progress without stopping, on what date and at what time of day would all three pairs of hands again point at the same moment at twelve o'clock?



A clock hangs on the wall of a railway station, 71 ft. 9 in. long and 10 ft. 4 in. high. Those are the dimensions of the wall, not of the clock! While waiting for a train we noticed that the hands of the clock were pointing in opposite directions, and were parallel to one of the diagonals of the wall. What was the exact time?



A facetious individual who was taking a long walk in the country came upon a yokel sitting on a stile. As the gentleman was not quite sure of his road, he thought he would make inquiries of the local inhabitant; but at the first glance he jumped too hastily to the conclusion that he had dropped on the village idiot. He therefore decided to test the fellow's intelligence by first putting to him the simplest question he could think of, which was, "What day of the week is this, my good man?" The following is the smart answer that he received:—

"When the day after to-morrow is yesterday, to-day will be as far from Sunday as to-day was from Sunday when the day before yesterday was to-morrow."

Can the reader say what day of the week it was? It is pretty evident that the countryman was not such a fool as he looked. The gentleman went on his road a puzzled but a wiser man.


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