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Saturday, June 12, 2010

Roman Numeral Clock: IV or ΛI (what time is it?)

Sometimes I get confused easily and this is one of them. Several times over the years I have looked at clocks that have Roman Numerals on them and I have wondered why they all seem to be different. I'm not talking about the heated debate over the number 4 written as IV or IIII  (click HERE for more about that specifically) but I'm wondering why sometimes the '4' is upside down. To me this isn't just strange, it has been a source of confusion when I want to know what time it is and (as if Roman Numerals aren't confusing enough by themselves) they put the IV on the clock face upside down. Below are a couple of pictures that show what I mean:

This first picture above I got HERE and it seems to be one of the most common ways that the numerals are placed on the clock face. Have a look at the number IV on that, it's right side up if you are standing in the center of the clock face.

Now have a look at this next picture above and compare it to the first one. The number 4 is upside down in relation to the other numbers on the face?! In other words if you were in the center of the clock looking out at the numbers everything would look OK and make sense until you got to the number IV which would look like ΛI - and be upside down. Every time I see a clock like this I get confused for a second as I look at it and I have to think for a second or two to figure out what is wrong before I can read the time. It's a subliminal confusion that makes me stop and think "it's upside down" before my brain figures out what time it is. By then it's too late!!! (kidding)
I would think that after so many years of clock making and a planet full of people constantly wondering what time it is that someone would have come up with a standard way of doing this but I guess I'm wrong - or maybe that is exactly the reason that there isn't a standard way...
The last picture I got from THIS site and it's an electronic projector version of a mechanical clock. They are selling this clock and I'm not endorsing it but I thought I'd put it in this post because it is yet another way that I have seen clocks made. In this case again the number IV is upside down relative to the clock center but so is V, VI, VII and VIII (relative to the center). The IX through XII are right side up relative to the center (the I , II and III work either way). Another way to say this would be that everything is upside down relative to the center except the last 4 numbers. I guess the reason for doing it this way is the IX and the XI would be easily confused as they would essentially be reversed if the entire face were upside down relative to the center (the 9 where the 11 should be and visa-versa).
I suppose the best way to deal with this is not to make any more Roman Numeral clocks! It's not like there is any advantage to using Roman Numerals except they look 'old' and 'sophisticated' but who needs that? I might build a clock just to see if I can do it any better when the time is right.

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