M Puzzle: Time's A-Wastin'

by C. Scott Ananian

Each clock spells out a different message with its second hand, using a different encoding scheme:

Notes for the animated GIF version installed in 2010 by the archivists of Beginner's Luck: The following clock patterns were modified in order to make their cycles come out to nice fractions of a whole number of minutes, to reduce the size of the animations: The pauses in clock 2 were increased from 2 seconds to 3 seconds to make the length of the encoding 45 seconds. Clock 4 has an extra 4 seconds frozen at the end of each minute to make the cycle come out to 60 seconds. The word boundaries on click 6 were reduced from 10 to 9 seconds to make the length of a cycle 90 seconds.

Starting at the list UPDIKE, ECO, L'ENGLE, MÁRQUEZ, BUCK, HELLER you should have noticed that:

The key to the a-ha is probably L'ENGLE, which should stir childhood memories in at least one person on your team. [Editor's note: or else memories of the beginning of the hunt, where this book was used in 1.4, "Something in Common".]

If you then look up these books in MIT's BARTON library catalog, you will end up with the following books and call numbers:

These call numbers fit into the "scratch marks" left by your boss in exactly one way.


Reading the starred blanks (shaded here) in order, you obtain 998134. This is, in fact, a call number: if you enter this into Barton, you obtain the book "Scary Monsters and Bright Ideas" by Robyn Williams. The flavortext explicitly states that what your boss was getting at wasn't a "bright idea"; thus the answer is "Scary Monsters".