Last day of the Twitter Psychic Experiment!  Thanks to everyone who has joined in, and I am looking forward to the final trial today.  In the meantime, here is the Friday puzzle….

Albert gets a job in a clock factory.  On his first day he is asked to construct a clock.  He puts together the following clock…..


However, Albert has inadvertently created a clock that is different to almost every other clock of this type in the world.  Can you spot why his clock is so special?

The answer to this puzzle, and 100 others,  can be found in a new kindle ebook called PUZZLED, and is available in the UK here and USA here.


  1. Got it straight away. Strange thing with clocks and me being left handed – seem to be able to read them straight away even if they are odd. Once was asked the time as a trick question as it was a left-handed clock and didn’t even notice it was different.

  2. I think i’ve solved it too, it sort of jumped out at me. I’d say < 1 minute, more like 20 seconds. I'm not positive if it's right though.

  3. Got it right away because I learned this detail about clocks from Gene Weingarten at the Washington Post.

  4. Well, I see something wrong, though I’m not 100% sure it’s what other people are seeing, based on their comments. I think I noticed it so quickly (within a couple seconds) because of a bunch of supposedly tricky math questions I’ve seen, which all require you to know the same detail.

  5. I learned this interesting bit of trivia years ago. It’s a great example of how our brain behave in reaction to patterns. You ask someone to look at a normal clock (not like this one), then tell them to look away and ask them what…well…you’ll see when the answer is posted. They describe a clock like the one above because they don’t bother to look at the details – they just think “clock” and invent the rest in their heads. I’ve heard two plausible explanations for this weird anomaly, both of which I believe are on wikipedia.

  6. Other than that this clock does not have a moose on it (which the clock I am comparing it with has), I don’t see anything odd about it. Call me stupid if you will.

  7. I saw something almost immediately, but I’m not sure it’s something wrong … it just looks weird to me!

  8. Had an answer after a few seconds. There’s a related phenomenon in face recognition (if the solution I’m thinking of is the right one).

  9. This is interesting.
    There’s one “obvious” thing, but it requires some relatively obscure knowledge about the history of clocks (as Mr Wiseman put it) “of this type”.
    I’ll be interested to find out what the other one is that people are seeing.

  10. After seeing all the comments referring to history, i hope the answer does not refer to that. That’s no longer the common practice since the 19th century.

  11. Got it right away, only because I’d read about clocks of this type before. I’d say this is much more a “trivia question” than a puzzle, though. I thought puzzles required some kind of ingenuity to solve. 🙂

  12. I think I know the answer, but am I correct in thinking that this is not so much a puzzle that you can solve, but a test of obscure general knowledge/trivia?

  13. I don’t understand why the numbers are sideways and upside down, and therefore harder to read, but other than that, I don’t see why the clock wouldn’t work properly.

  14. Couldn’t answer it.
    I did not discover this “fact” about clocks until I looked it up on the inter-toobs, so I cheated!

  15. hi there – took 1 second. Notice 2 different things – but second one may be result of main difference. Cheers.

  16. Hmm – I just looked to my clock with the “IV” and noticed the numerals were also upside down 😛 – My newest and 3rd conclusion would probably be the correct answer, so it took me longer to solve this.

  17. Didn’t you mention this in your book quirkology?

    and yes i knew it straight away, i grew up with a big clock and always noticed the ‘difference’.

  18. I got it (I think) quite quickly – less than about 15 seconds. It was one of those things that dragged up an obscure memory of something I’d read a number of years ago.

  19. Sorry, I don’t get it. And I wear a watch with exactly that face at this very moment. So it must be something else…

  20. I noticed it immediately, but thought it was so obvious that there must be something else I wasn’t seeing. Like Bluebottle, I wonder whether being left-handed influences the perception of this. Although I saw the difference, it didn’t strike me as particularly odd and my first inclination was to look at the time and wonder why it was different from all the other clocks and watches shown in illustrations. Look at clocks/watches in shop windows and they virtually all show the time as 13.50 (providing they are not running in real time, of course).

  21. I thought I found 2 reasons within a minute, but had to research a bit to check one of my thoughts were correct and it was.

    1. Oops, that was in reply to someone who posted their answer, but their post has been removed now.

  22. I couldn’t see the answer for looking but now I know the answer (courtesy of my husband) it is a very simple answer and I think I was looking for something more complicated!

  23. I couldn’t see the answer for looking but now I know the answer (courtesy of my husband) it is a very simple answer and I think I was looking for something more complicated!

  24. Maybe you should start by stating that you should not post the answer instead of asking it after the question “Can you spot why his clock is so special?”

    Again, I knew the anwser as soon as I saw the clock.

  25. Noticed instantly because I was told of this oddity many years ago, and ever since my brain has automatically evaluated every clock with Roman numerals that I see. In what must be many hundreds of clocks I’ve only ever seen one clock that has this inconsistency. Must have been an apprentice clock maker or maybe it was very old?

    Here’s more clock trivia/psychology/illusion stuff. Next time you see watches/clocks in an expensive shop window, check the time on the watches. It’s almost always 21:50. Do a google search for “watches” and you’ll see what I mean. It’s because it looks symmetrical and supposedly because it looks like a smile.

  26. More trivia than puzzle, and yes, I’d heard it before. Coming up with a reason why it makes more sense to build clocks the other way is a good one, though.

  27. Less than a minute, but then I cheated a little by looking at my watch, which has roman numerals. That made me curious, so I Googled. How interesting! 🙂

  28. This one took me close to a half hour. If I have the correct answer now, the reason it took so long is because I found several pictures that match the clock above exactly so I initially ruled that out as an answer.

  29. You can’t spot it with a look a the clock presented, without looking (or knowing from memory) at samples of all other clocks of this tiipe.

  30. got it straight away – but then I remember seeing it in one of your books! (must admit I didn’t get it the first time when I saw it in the book though)

  31. Solved it almost immediately, but I was aware of this particular aspect of clockfaces already.

  32. Classic old skool question. Knew the answer straight away and a great one to throw in at parties.

  33. Got it. But had to check.

    Here’s an interesting observation:in almost every watch advert, the time is 1.50pm or 10.10pm!

  34. there are two clocks with Roman numerals that are the same as this one, one is the clock in the south transept of Norwich Cathedral, the other is commonly called Big Ben, at the Palace of Westminster in London.

  35. There’s actually two things different about it. I imagine the second one was an oversight on your part (or the part of the image maker).

  36. Fail puzzle is fail.

    “However, Albert has inadvertently created a clock that is different to almost every other clock of this type in the world.”

    The style of Roman numerals used on a clock face is dependent on the form of counting utilized for its chiming of the hours. The face presented in this puzzle is not different from “almost every other clock” of the type that uses Roman counting.

    Effectively, we’re being shown a picture of a Beagle and asked what’s odd with it, and expected to come up with the answer “It doesn’t look like other chihuahuas.”

  37. I knew about this before, so I immediately knew what the question would be before I read the text.

    However, those who know (or have discovered) it and those who do not know (yet) about this traditional curiosity may be intrigued alike by trying to spot appearances of breaks of this tradition (whether due to ignorance or out of intention is unknown) in the corresponding scenes in the following two movies:

    – “Back to the Future”
    The alarm clock on the dashboard of the DeLorean giving the signal to start racing the car down the road towards the courthouse square vs. the infamous clocktower clock which is (to be) struck by lightning, and

    – “Once Upon a Time in the West”
    The pocket watch and train station clock at the beginning of the movie vs. the incompletely-painted clock at ground level at the side of a building in a brief street view shot shortly before the scene where a gunman is shot down who was hiding behind the face of yet another incomplete clock.

    Fun, eh?

  38. Ok, I just looked at TONS of images of Roman numeral clocks including the one at Westminster abbey and some are different in one way, but by no means is it a majority that are different from this one unless its a matter of this picture being incomplete in one respect. But seriously, compare this one side by side with the abbey clock… somebody tell me, does that clock have the same “error?”

    1. This is not the common type of clock. The “other” kind are more common. Have a look at the watches next time you walk past a jewelers

  39. I think I’ve got it based on the other comments here. If it is the solution I think it is, I knew about this but assumed this wasn’t the answer. I was expecting more of a puzzle.

  40. Yep, saw it straight away, like several of the others. It’s something that always bugged me about clocks as a child — it doesn’t follow the appropriate algorithm!

  41. I still can’t for the life of me understand why even when specifically asked…

    “As ever, please do not post your answer, but feel free to say if you think you have solved it and how long it took.”

    …why people put down what they think is the answer or so much detailed information about what they think, that it gives away the answer!! How hard is it to understand?

  42. I thought I had it right away, googled to be sure, and almost second guessed myself because of Big Ben.

  43. I got it straight away, but that’s ‘cos I read an article about it in the British Journal of Psychology, (I’d guess) in 1994 – I particularly remember the article because I used it as an open exam question.

  44. Got it instantly. But then it was mentioned at Chris French’s SitP talk. I love this little bit of trivia. I’ve only ever seen 2 clocks that conform to Albert’s clock above.

  45. I see two things possibly wrong, both of them occurring to me immediately. The one I believe Richard is looking for is something I noticed as a wee lad. I came up with my own reasoning as to why it is like it is. I’ll find out Monday whether or not I’ve been wrong for three decades.

  46. In my opinion, referring to this as a “puzzle”, is a puzzle in itself.
    The solution relies solely on special historical knowledge.
    No amount of strict logic is useful if you are not aware of the genealogy of this specific oddity.

    This is NOT a puzzle.
    It is a knowledge/learning quiz.

  47. I used Google Images to compare to other clocks with Roman numerals. Clocks, not watches, since this was given as a clock, not a watch. I had 2 possible guesses, but neither turned out to be true of the majority of other (RN’d) clocks but not of this one.

    I suspect that the answer may have been true at one time, but no longer is. If that’s the case, then this puzzle should either be omitted from or changed in the book. Specify the year in the puzzle, for example, making it a question about historical trivia.

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