36 Comments

  1. The exact instant that the new year “begins” is an artificial concept that is dependent upon the local time zone. There are people who take advantage of that to offset the celebration. Simply set the clock time two hours later, and then you can clink your champagne glasses two hours earlier, and still hit the sack before midnight. Not everyone enjoys staying up until 1am just to see an idiotic orb descending upon Times Square.

  2. I think Kilby might have it. On a side note, that is one nicely-drawn, fancy clock, particularly when compared to the “cartoon-y” people.

  3. Kilby,

    That sounds reasonable, I guess it was just too subtle for me especially since it does not bother me to just go to bed at 9:00 PM on New Year’s eve and ignore the entire thing.

  4. @ Karl – That’s fairly easy to do in America (where the majority of New Year’s celebrations are indoors, except in NYC). Here in Germany it is a lot harder: the amount of fireworks is astronomical. In the past two years the German government passed an emergency “Corona” regulation forbidding the sale of all outdoor fireworks, but there was still enough armament (either smuggled in, or left over from previous years) to provide an amazing spectacle that lasted more than an hour (and I live in a small suburbian town).

  5. But but but…how is it relevant just for New Year’s? Seems like it would be true twice a day.

    The “right right” feels like the “the the” a day or two ago!

  6. Don’t know if this is it, but . . . some people calibrate their clocks on New Year’s Eve to more accurately tell when it’s exactly midnight. No clock keeps perfect time, so it would be most accurate on New Year’s Eve and then become steadily less accurate over the next 365 days.

    And if that is it, well . . . it’s not really funny.

  7. Phil,

    I’m assuming his wife is the one who changes the clock. Obviously without him knowing it. Maybe so she can get more sleep. He just notices that the clock tends to be off on the first day of the new year.

    Ya. Kind of makes sense, not all that funny.

  8. P.S. Speaking of timing offsets, the idiots in charge of reruns at GoComics are recycling “Birdbrains” with a two-month delay, meaning that the three panels intended for New Year’s (2010) have appeared on the first three days of March, 2022.

  9. I also noticed the “right right” in that light!

    I always hesitate a little when I find myself writing a repeated word. Most often it seems to be “that” – first relativizer then demonstrative. “We concluded that that book was incorrect.”

  10. The clock is stopped. Just before midnight (an hour before) he looks at the clock and thinks, “wow! It is right!” because it shows 11. After midnight he looks again, only to see the clock is now wrong. He might check the clock other times, but he has noted the accuracy just around that particular event probably because it is a noteworthy event so other things happening tend to be remembered easier.

  11. She changes the clock before midnight to ensure that they always miss the chance for a New Year’s midnight kiss.

  12. I do so love to nitpick: The clock is indeed well-drawn, but the Roman numerals are slightly off. On clock faces, ‘4’ is written ‘IIII’.

  13. @Chak: Roman numerals weren’t that standardized. Things like IIII were common.

  14. Phil, you’re getting Chak backwards. The cartoon shows the clock with “IV” and Chak is saying it ought to have been “IIII”.

  15. I think it was Isaac Asimov who said that the Romans used IIII instead of IV because they didn’t want to put the first two letters of their head god IVPITER on the sundial. That seemed dubious to me, and anyway it’s the Hebrews and Christians who have this thing about taking the name of the Lord in vain.

  16. FWIW, while the majority of examples found in a quick Google Image Search did indeed have “4” rendered as “IIII”, there were a few with IV.

  17. @ Grawlix – One prominent example that uses “IV” for “4” is “Big Ben“.

    P.S. @ MiB – I seriously doubt that Asimov’s theory ascribing the “IIII” form to polytheistic reverence has any basis in fact. There never was a uniform codex for the syntax of Roman numerals, and there are abundant examples of variant forms (such as “XIIX” for “18”). The most likely reason for preferring “IIII” over “IV” is optical symmetry, as a balance to the wide “VIII” on the other side.

    P.P.S. @ TedD – In one of his mass-market paperbacks, Richard Feynman wrote about a clock next to his wife’s hospital bed that happened to stop the moment she died. He disliked the supernatural explanation, and later remembered that the clock had often been known to malfunction. He thought the most likely reason for the coincidence was that the nurse had picked it up to note the time of her death, and the vibration had caused the clock to stop yet again.

  18. P^4.S. I remember seeing a Roman numeral clock that had the symbols for 4 to 8 in the normal “heads up” orientation, but I was not able to find an example; it appears that the “upside down” form is the (nearly?) universal standard.

  19. I haven’t looked at as many examples as some of you, but I had a subsidiary related question. The directionality with respect to which the numerals are aligned (and either up or down oriented) is in most of these cases apparently radial, with the center of the clock face located down from everywhere on the perimeter.

    That makes great sense if we were considering watches, which might be held at all angles. But for a large, permanent clock face, why not use the external real up-down frame of gravity, with all the numerals written to be readable right-side-up by any observer?

    And is this any different for clocks and watches using Arabic numerals?

  20. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a clock face with upside-down Arabic numerals. And I had thought it rare for Roman numerals as well.

  21. Powers, the question (about both roman and arabic numerals) wasn’t about upside-down. It was about alignment according to real-world verticals, versus on-the-dial radials.

  22. Oh I get it now.

    Looking at this Birdbrains for example, the letter I for one oclock (or five minutes past any hour…) is roughly speaking a single vertical stroke — but on the page it isn’t exactly vertical, it’s tilted to the right by 30 degrees. The II for 2 is tilted on the page by 60 degrees, and the III by a right angle.

    Where I say on the page it of course also means in their world of the characters and objects in the drawing.

    And Mitch is asking if that’s ever done to make them actually vertically upright on the page and in the real world. And if not, why not?

  23. Looking at real clocks around the house here, I see some that are radial and some that are vertical. The oldest one–an actual antique grandfather’s clock–is radial; the rest are vertical.

  24. And of course it’s only with the radial ones that upside-down is a possibly sensible option. The vertical one are sure to be right-side-up.

  25. A radial orientation of Arabic numerals would turn the “6” into a “9”. The “true” vertical arrangement of Roman numerals exists on at least a few real clocks, but it is very uncommon, and I was not able to find a postable image other than this clipart sample:

    The radial orientation of Roman numerals with 4,5,6,7,8 flipped is just as rare:

  26. A radial orientation of Arabic numerals would turn the “6” into a “9”.

    No, it could be radial but flip the orientation for, say, the 4 thru 8. Just as with Roman numerals.

  27. Small point – Big Ben is the (biggest) bell (in the set of five for that clock), though the name is often used to refer to the clock and the tower (which used to be “The Clock Tower” and as Kilby said was renamed “The Elizabeth Tower” for Queen Elizabeth’s Jubilee). Oddly, the clock itself seems to have no name.

  28. “I’ve been to the tower of a clock with no name,
    It honored Elizabeth’s reign,
    In the tower you can remember a time
    When the verse you wrote didn’t have to rhyme
    La, la.

  29. And also the tower with the clock is not “The Tower of London.” That is a different structure entirely.

  30. @ Mitch – “… it could be radial but flip the orientation for, say, the 4 thru 8 …”

    Yes, that would be possible, but that merely shifts the uncertainty from the six to the nine. The three would be lying on its “back”(*), and five, six, and seven would be close to their normal “heads up” position. The eight (like the four) would be closer to horizontal than vertical, so it would look a little like the “∞” symbol. Now we get to the nine: should it lie prone, or supine? Logic would say to put the loop end on the left (“up” being radially “out”), but that gives it the same (radial) orientation as the six. Yes, someone could make it, but I don’t think anyone would buy it.

    P.S. (*) Numbers don’t have faces (nor backs), but I think everyone understands the idea.

  31. I recently had to get a new cell phone. (The 3G phone discontinuance extends also to 4G phones which are not LTE and mine is not.) Finding a phone that is small and inexpensive has taken up much of Robert’s time and the one I ended up with is not small – it is about 15% larger than my last phone which is a carrying around problem for me, plus despite Robert saying it will look and work the same – it does neither.

    So I tend to carry both my old and new phone around the house (and since I actually like my Palm Centro better than any phone since – I also carry around same – used as a PDA as I like the software better, and my old Blackberry – just so it does not feel left out).

    At least for now both Android phones have my information in them – including my calendar. So why it is that while they are both set to the same time – but the alarms in the old one actually go off at the time scheduled,, and the alarms in the new one go off 2-4 minutes late? (6:45pm reminder that I have to start cooking dinner goes off at 6:45pm on my old one and at 6:48 pm on my new one – and that is per the time showing on the phones themselves and both show matching times.) Among the annoyances of the new phone is that the calendar app in the old can’t be put in the new one and the new app likes to add pictures so I had to change “dinner” to “supper” to avoid having a picture of a dinner showing up.

    And the size of the new one is and will remain a problem when out of the house.

  32. Every new generation of phones has been a functional regression for a long time now.

    (Get off my lawn.)

  33. @jjmcgaffey – before the refurbishment (completion date TBA) one could ascend the clock tower. Hard work – no lifts, a LOT of stairs. You got walk behind the clock faces, go out onto an open balcony at the very top, see the clock mechanism.

    And be present when Big Ben chimed. Dear God it’s loud.

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