QUIZ: What time is Midnight?

 

 

The purpose of this quiz is to demonstrate yet another ambiguity in our language.

~Yale Schwartz

 

 

=== PUZZLE 1

Assume the current date and time is 11:00 PM on Wednesday, January 17.  The TV ad you just watched said that the TV Show XYZ will be on tomorrow at midnight.

 

Does that mean the TV Show XYZ will air…

(A) Thursday at 12:00 AM

(B) Thursday at 12:00 PM

(C) Friday at 12:00 AM

(D) Friday at 12:00 PM

(E) Who cares?  I’ll wait for the re-run.

 

 

=== PUZZLE 2

Assume the current date and time is 11:00 PM on Wednesday, January 17.

A friend says let's phone Joe today at midnight.

 

Does that mean you'll call Joe...

(A) in one hour, or

(B) if you're male and your friend is male, you'll say "You're an idiot", or

(C) if you're male and your friend is female, you'll say "Yes, Dear, just remind me", or

(D) if you're female, you'll know what your friend meant even though I don't know the right answer and I made up this puzzle.

 

 

 

=== The 12-hour Clock - general background

Before answering these questions, let's review how the 12-hour clock works.

The notation AM (ante meridiem) means before noon.

The notation PM (post meridiem) means after noon.

 

With that in mind it becomes obvious that neither notation can be used for noon because noon itself is neither before nor after noon.  Likewise, neither of these notations can be used for midnight because midnight is equally before and after noon. 

 

It is also important to keep in mind that both noon and midnight exist for only a moment, and then time moves on.  The very next moment can then be properly designated as either AM or PM, i.e. a moment after noon is PM, and a moment after midnight is AM.

 

Thus, a convention was established to handle these moments.  The convention is this.

Each day begins at 12:00 AM and continues through 11:59…9 AM.

The day then continues from 12:00 PM through 11:59…9 PM.

 

Terms like "morning, afternoon, evening, night time, and tonight" are ambiguous at best.  Consider, for example, this question.  What time does "tonight" begin and end?  The question of time is further complicated by the way television schedules treat the beginning and end of a broadcast day.  "Later tonight at 1:00 AM on Frazier, Roz encounters a suitor that doesn't suit her."

 

So, by the conventions established for the 12-hour clock, we have:

Midday or noon represented as ... 12:00 PM.

And midnight represented as ....... 12:00 AM.

 

For a more detailed look at the 12-hour clock conventions, check out these articles.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/12-hour_clock

http://www.12pm.com/index.html

 

 

 

=== The ANSWER to PUZZLE 1

Assume the current date and time is 11:00 PM on Wednesday, January 17.  The TV ad you just watched said that the TV Show XYZ will be on tomorrow at midnight.

 

Does that mean the TV Show XYZ will air…

(A) Thursday at 12:00 AM

(B) Thursday at 12:00 PM

(C) Friday at 12:00 AM

(D) Friday at 12:00 PM

(E) Who cares?  I’ll wait for the re-run.

 

Using a phrase like "tomorrow at midnight" is just begging for trouble.  By convention "tomorrow" begins at midnight, i.e. the first moment after today ends is 12:00 AM of the next day.  So, the answer to PUZZLE 1 should be A.  However, based on TV conventions, if that's what they intended, they'd should have said, "tonight at midnight”.  While most people understand what's meant by "tonight at midnight," in accordance with the rules for the 12-hour clock, there is no such thing as "tonight at midnight" because midnight begins the morning of each new day.  It's not tonight anymore; it’s tomorrow morning. 

 

Confusing, of course.  That's why I also presented PUZZLE 2.  Because regardless of the 12-hour clock conventions, in normal conversations we have to consider who’s talking.

 

 

 

=== The ANSWER to PUZZLE 2

Assume the current date and time is 11:00 PM on Wednesday, January 17.

A friend says let's phone Joe today at midnight.

 

Does that mean you'll call Joe...

(A) in one hour, or

(B) if you're male and your friend is male, you'll say "You're an idiot", or

(C) if you're male and your friend is female, you'll say "Yes, Dear, just remind me", or

(D) if you're female, you'll know what your friend meant even though I don't know the right answer and I made up this puzzle.

 

If you answered A, you're assuming you knew what your friend meant.

If you answered B, you know that "today at midnight" is long gone and you enjoy correcting your male friend.

If you answered C, you have no clue what your female friend meant, but you don't want to start an argument, so you put it back on her by asking her to remind you.  After all you're just a dumb guy who has to be reminded to do everything.

And finally, if you answered D, you don't worry about this technical nonsense.  You always know what people mean and if it turns out they meant something else, it's their fault for not stating it clearly in the first place.

 

 

 

=== Final thoughts

There are two important distinctions between these two puzzles.

(1) Puzzle 1 uses the phrase “today at midnight” while Puzzle 2 says “tonight at midnight”.

(2) In Puzzle 1 the phrase is governed by the television scheduling conventions, but in Puzzle 2, your friend is talking to you and your entire relationship with that person comes into play.

 

Corollary: If a man makes a statement in the middle of the woods and there's no woman around to hear him, is he still wrong?

 

By the way Puzzle 1 really happened to me.  And because I was interested in taping the show I checked the TV schedule to make sure when the broadcast would take place.  Ready for the laugh?  The show wasn’t listed  -- on Thursday or Friday or anytime in the next 14 days.