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Clock Discrepancy

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"A man with a watch always knows what time it is. A man with two watches is never sure."
Segal's law

The time of an event doesn't happen at the time it was said. Usually the clock or watch is off. The event either happened early or later, but the characters don't notice until quite after the event. In mysteries, such a discrepancy can make or break an alibi.

When this happens because someone manipulated the clock, you have a case of Clock Tampering. Compare Magic Countdown. Contrast Right on the Tick.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Happens occasionally in Case Closed; once, a police officer realized that his roommate was up to no good because he kept all of his clocks 5 minutes fast to make sure he was never late to work, but the roommate reset the clocks to read accurately as part of his plot to fudge with his alibi. (Fortunately, more substantial proof of guilt is also found.)
  • In one episode of Detective School Q, Q class uses a sound stage to fake a news report about a large department store being evacuated because of a bomb threat. The time on the news report is several minutes later than the actual time. This was done to trick the person who placed the bomb in the actual department store (Which was too large to search effectively in the time available) into believing that the bomb had already gone off, and then gloating about where he had hidden it after the explosion.
  • In the very first mystery of The Kindaichi Case Files, Kindaichi manipulates a suspect's watch to get said suspect to reveal themselves. Many other mysteries are also solved when Kindaichi realizes that some sort of clock-based manipulation is in play.
  • Medabots: Seen in the "Fall From Grace" two-parter. Kam and his scientists attempt to do some Manipulative Editing to frame Metabee attacking Exor with a chair (when it's actually the other way around) to paint him as a dirty fighter. However, this leads to a one-minute delay that is spotted when the time on the video is compared to a clock on a nearby billboard, which clues in everyone that the broadcast isn't live as they're trying to make it seem.

    Comic Books 
  • In an Archie comic, Big Eater Jughead is in class and informs the teacher Miss Grundy that "his stomach" says it's lunchtime. She reminds Jug that the clock on the wall reads 10 before noon. At that moment, the school janitor Mr. Svenson enters the classroom with a ladder. The purpose? To adjust the clock, which he said was running ten minutes slow.
  • The Maze Agency: In #22, Gabe accidentally yanks the killer's wristwatch off his wrist during a struggle. Noticing that the watch is three hours ahead, Gabe realises that the killer had just flown in from the west coast.
  • A Scooby-Doo comic book story, "The Faceless Phantom" has the gang helping a scientist who has created a machine that can send people from one end of the country to another. Shaggy and Scooby are volunteered to be flown to New York, go through the machine, and arrive back in California in very little time. But Fred figures the machine is a fake because on a TV monitor he sees the clock behind Shaggy who is supposedly in New York—it's the same time as on the clock where Fred, Daphne, Velma, and the scientist are when there should be a three-hour gap (Also, a flight manifest Fred gets from the FAA shows that Shaggy and Scooby's flight never went to New York. It U-turned back to an adjacent building where the scientist's "invention" was stationed).

    Fan Works 
  • In the Danganronpa fanfic Fractured Fates, this comes up during the first class trial. On the night of the murder, Rumi claims to have seen Azami coming out of the library at 9:15 PM before the two went to their respective bedrooms. The discrepancy comes in that none of the three students who were in the main hall at 9:18 PM (Shiro, Kaneki, and Asuna) saw the two, which would have been impossible because Azami and Rumi would have had to have passed through the main hall to get to the bedrooms. The reason for the contradiction is that Rumi didn't have her e-Handbook on her and as a result asked Azami for the time when they ran into each other. Azami, the killer, then lied to her about what time it was in order to make Rumi think it was earlier than it really was, thus creating a fake alibi for the time of the murder.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • Back to the Future
    • Marty is at Doc Brown's house and thinks he will be on time for school, only to discover all his clocks are a half hour slow.
    • Doc Brown proves to Marty that the time machine works by synchronizing watches with a digital clock he attaches to his dog, then sending the dog one minute into the future. When the dog shows up again, his clock is a minute slower than Doc's.
  • Exam: This proves vital in the climax when White uses the guard's gun to threaten first Brown, then Blonde to leave the room so that he'll win the examination by default. It turns out that Deaf had changed the clock when no one was looking, so when White talks to the Invigilator as soon as he thinks he's won, he just disqualified himself because they were still within the time limit.
  • In The Firechasers, Barnaby is examining the photographs of the fires and realises that one of the photos taken by Jim Maxwell is missing. When he tracks it down, he discovers that the photo shows the clock on the factory, and the time reveals that the photo was taken before the alarm was raised, meaning the photographer was on the scene when the fire started.
  • Played for Laughs in From Russia with Love. Bond is in the Russian embassy waiting for his friend to set off a bomb so he can steal the coding device. He checks his watch, frowns, then goes to the Russian on the desk.
    Bond: Excuse me, is your clock correct?
    Russian: Russian clocks are always —(explosion)
  • In the 1981 film Gallipoli an artillery officer fails to synchronize his watch, so the bombardment stops several minutes before the Australian troops are due to attack, leading to a massacre.
  • In the film Gremlins, one of the rules for handling mogwai was to never NEVER feed them after midnight (as turns out, it turns them into gremlins). One night the mogwai in the box were making noises like they were hungry. The alarm clock says it's about 11:30, so the boy feeds them some leftover chicken. The next day, the boy notices the clock reading the exact same time. Seems the extension cord had been ripped from the plug, the mogwai actually chewed through the electrical cord, so it was after midnight after all.
  • In Like Flint: Cramden discovers the plot to replace the President with an Evil Twin when he times the President's golf swing and his watch says it took 3 minutes.
  • In The King's Speech, when Bertie comes to tell David that he is late for dinner, David reminds him that their father ordered all the clocks set fast and winds the hands back on a mantel clock by half an hour. According to royal biographers, this is Truth in Television.
  • In Mary Poppins Returns, Admiral Boom claims that Big Ben is several minutes out, and his firing of the morning cannon is correct. Turns out he is right. Much later in the film, Jack and Jane black out the faces of Big Ben, then stop, reset and restart the clock to buy the Banks family a precious few minutes in their Race Against the Clock. Coincidentally, this puts Big Ben on the correct time. And when Wilkins complains that it has already gone midnight by his watch, he is asked which is more likely to be correct: his watch or Big Ben?
  • In the film Mindhunters, the heroine re-sets the clock so the villain will misjudge when he's due to strike again. This also played on the villain's obsession with precise timing. She knew that he would reset the clock to the correct time, which would cause the phosphorous powder she coated it with to get on his hands, allowing him to be exposed by a special light.
  • In Primer, Abe suspects that the Box is a time machine, and he confirms this by placing a digital watch inside it for a minute. Upon removing the watch, it's about 21 hours fast.
  • In Seven Chances, the hero must find a girl and marry her before the clock strikes 7 p.m., but misses the deadline by a couple of minutes. As he walks away in despair, his eye falls on the church clock which displays 6.58 p.m. Apparently, the hero's watch ran fast, so he rushes back to marry his girl in time.

  • The book 1984 plays with this idea. The main character looks at the clock which reads 8:00. He thinks it's still 8 pm, but instead it was actually 8 am. Due to the nature of the world the book takes place in, we can't even really be sure if the story is taking place in the year 1984 at all.
  • Around the World in Eighty Days: At first it looks like Phileas Fogg came a day late and lost the bet, but then he notices the date in the newspaper and realizes that, since they crossed the International Date Line, they had gained a day and are still on time.
  • Black Widowers:
    • In one mystery, a character is woken up by a phone call at a time that is actually an hour later than he thinks it is (because he hasn't yet set his clock forward for Daylight Savings Time) and thus unwittingly provides a false alibi.
    • In one mystery, a discrepancy between 5:50 (which would exonerate the accused) and "half past five" (which incriminates him) is resolved in favor of the former — the witness reporting the latter was an accountant used to decimal numbers who unconsciously interpreted the digital clock display as "five and a half".
  • Happens in some Agatha Christie stories, notably Evil Under the Sun, where a watch worn by a witness is deliberately altered to give the murderer an alibi and allow him to stage a fake murder so that the victim appears to have been killed before she really was.
    • In Murder on the Orient Express, the broken watch also appears - and Poirot points out that the killer wants him to think that the murder happened at that time. To confuse matters further, the train crosses several time zones.
    • It pops up again, notably, in Murder At The Vicarage. The victim, supposedly, was killed as he was leaving a note for the vicar in his study. He wrote 6:20 on the note, which matched the clock that—naturally—fell from the desk and was smashed with the hands pointed at 6:20. But the vicar's wife had deliberately set the clock 15 minutes fast to help the vicar be more punctual. The sleuths assume that the murder was committed later and that the murderer, not knowing about the clock's discrepancy, changed the time in order to frame the victim's wife. At the end it is revealed that the wife and her lover committed the murder together, did know about the clock discrepancy, and deliberately framed her so that she wouldn't be suspected once the discrepancy was revealed.
  • A vital part of the solution to John Dickson Carr's Dr. Gideon Fell novel The Hollow Man. The reported time of the second murder is so far off that it took place before the first murder, and the victim of the first murder was the killer.
  • The Day of the Jackal. The 1962 assassination attempt on Charles De Gaulle fails because the OAS leader was consulting the almanac for the wrong year and so misjudged when sunset was. This made it too dark for the gunmen to see his signal and they opened fire too late.
  • Jeffrey Deaver's short story "Fast" has Katheryn Dance interrogate a prisoner to find out where a bomb is set to detonate. Once the clock hits the appointed time, he's taken out hears some reports about numbers of people killed, and an ambitious reporter asks him why he picked those people as victims. After he gloats, the cops immediately relay the information and are able to evacuate the site before the bomb goes off. Dance explains the clock in the interrogation room was "Fast".
  • The Lord Peter Wimsey novel Have His Carcase has a discrepancy that's based on medical evidence rather than timepieces. Harriet finds the body of the victim with still-liquid blood pooled around it; then the body is washed out to sea before it can be autopsied. Peter and Harriet spend most of the book assuming the murder happened almost immediately before she found the body because the blood didn't have time to clot; in actuality, the victim was a hemophiliac and the murder happened several hours earlier.
    • Meanwhile, Harriet is working on a novel where someone has to set a clock to support an alibi. And finding it frustrating.
  • Nick Velvet: In "The Theft of Twenty-Nine Minutes", Nick is hired to 'steal' 29 minutes from the passengers on a pleasure cruise; i.e. cause them to lose 29 minutes without realising anything has happened. He does so by working as a Stage Magician on the cruise and collecting everyone's watches for a trick. (The story predates the ubiquity of mobile phones which would have this stunt more difficult, but not impossible.) Over the course of this act, he resets all of the watches by 29 minutes, before returning them as the grand finale of his act, leaving no one any the wiser.
  • OCPU Prison by Sven Hassel. The fire control officer fails to synchronize his watch with the other officers; he ends up dropping the artillery bombardment on his own troops.
  • Tornado Brain: The night of Colette's disappearance, she visited Frankie to ask to borrow their childhood notebook, and also visited Tess to ask for a scarf. Both sisters are confident that she visited at exactly 6:45 and stayed for several minutes, even though she couldn't have been in both places at once. Tess later realizes that she forgot to reset her clock for daylight savings, meaning Colette actually visited her at 7:45.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Criminal Minds:
    • In one episode, the profilers trick a captured terrorist into revealing his co-conspirators' target by manipulating his sense of time, then letting him think the planned attack had already taken place. It wasn't done with a physical clock, it was done by altering the terrorist's prayer time slightly at each point, distorting his internal sense of time. Gideon even pointed out that using an actual clock would have probably failed as it would have been more obvious.
    • In a case of a literal "clock discrepancy" (versus a "time discrepancy"), one episode featured victims whose watches were all set to wildly different and inaccurate times. The team knew it had to be a clue, but couldn't figure out what it could possibly be until they got a watch that was stopped and figured out that the unsub had set all the watches to 6:22 at the time of death. Then they're still stumped, until they convert that to military time and get 18:22, which corresponds to a Bible passage regarding homophobia, making them realize it's a hate crime.
  • In the Ellery Queen TV series episode "The Adventure of the Hard-Hearted Huckster", an important clue is that the victim always had his watch set 5 minutes fast, and his secretary did too because her boss did it.
  • A Forensic Files episode has a suspect's supposedly airtight alibi—that he was on a fishing trip with his family, which they'd recorded—being torn apart by this. Aside from finding it odd that someone would feel the need to tape a random outing like this, they noticed that the man kept glancing at his watch and soon noticed a discrepancy between the time on his watch, the time indicated on the tape, and the angle of the sun, and realize that the man tampered with the tape to create his alibi.
  • In Ghostwriter, one of the main characters is accused of burning a one-man-run electronic store. His friends were able to prove him innocent when they discover that the store's display clock was running one hour slow, meaning he has an alibi for the actual time of the crime. The store owner, however, doesn't, and he ends up being the real culprit, as he was trying to destroy evidence of a mass videotape duplication system.
  • Happens in Hogan's Heroes when LeBeau must climb up a dumbwaiter to steal strategic plans from a banquet hall before bombs that the Heroes planted go off. LeBeau manages to get up, steal the plans, and get back down, handing off the plans to their French Underground contact at the exact moment the bombs explode. The heroes are congratulating Carter on his expert bomb-making skills when they notice he's looking at his watch with great concern and ask him what's wrong.
    Carter: Bomb's were one minute late.
  • This has cropped up in a few episodes of Jonathan Creek as part of the solution to the mystery, most notably in "Miracle in Crooked Lane" whereby an ill woman was convinced that morning was evening, in order to provide an alibi for a murder.
  • M*A*S*H: A soldier whom they're trying to keep alive through December 25th so his kids don't have to remember Christmas as "the day Daddy died" dies at about 11:35pm. Hawkeye moves the hands of the clock so that it's 12:10am, saying "Hey look he made it." They falsify the death certificate.
  • Monk:
    • In the episode "Mr. Monk and the Rapper", a rapper named Murderuss is suspected of killing his rival rapper Extra Large with a time bomb in the exact same matter as he described in his song "Car Bomb". However, it turns out that Murderuss is innocent and that Extra Large was not the intended target. The bomber was trying to target the person who was in the limo before the victim and failed to account for the fact that Daylight Savings Time started that day. And so the bomb went off an hour later than it was supposed to.
    • In "Mr. Monk Takes Manhattan'" Disher buys a watch from a street-corner salesman in New York City who claims it is accurate. However, this is shown not to be the case when Disher remarks on its ability to show times all around the world and says "it's 5:30 here; in Denver, 3:30; in California, 12:17; and in Paris, France... time has stopped." The troubles with the watch prove to be critical because it sets off an alarm at a crucial time. The characters almost get caught because the instructions are only written in Korean and so they can't figure out how to turn the sound off.
  • Done in a episode of Newsradio when Jimmy decides to sell the station. He's supposed to contact the buyer at midnight to finalize the deal. The staff spends most of the night trying to convince him not to sell. Five minutes before midnight, Matthew reveals he had set the clock back ten minutes and it was actually five minutes after and Jimmy has missed his deadline. Of course since This Is Reality, midnight was just a loose guideline and Jimmy can still go through with the deal.
    Jimmy: I'm dealing with a corporation here, not magical fairies.
  • In a Perry Mason movie, a witness claims to have overheard the victim and the defendant arguing at a certain time. Later, when the woman's teenage daughter testifies, Mason notes a discrepancy between when she claimed to have arrived home and when the doorman in her building noted it (of approximately 30 minutes). The girl is forced to admit that she set all of the clocks in the house back 30 minutes so that she could spend more time with her boyfriend (her mother did not watch TV). Thus, her mother was wrong about when she heard the sounds of the struggle and the defendant now had an alibi for the time in question.
  • In The Prisoner (1967) episode "The Chimes of Big Ben", Number Six realizes that his "escape" was a fake because Big Ben is indicating the same time as a watch he supposedly obtained in Poland — which should be one hour ahead of London time.
  • Reno 911!: A psychic tells Jones that he'll lose one of his testicles by midnight. He spends the episode worrying about it, and he's relieved when a clock shows that it's past midnight. Then someone mentions that the clock is a little fast; cue testicle injury.
  • In Scrubs Elliot suggests creating one of these after a patient dies, Doctor Cox and the team had been trying to get the critical care ward through an entire day without losing one of their patients and the man coded just ten minutes before midnight. Dr Cox tells her no, on the grounds that losing only one patient in that type of ward is a win in itself and in ten minutes they get to try again.
  • A non-criminal example in Sherlock, where the titular character figures out that a "friend" of his from his university days has crossed the International Date Line twice by the fact that his watch is two days late.
  • In an episode of Soap, Mary sets the alarm clock forward a half hour so she and Burt can have time to talk before he goes to work. When she tells him about it he tries to go back to bed for another half hour of sleep.
  • Tales of the Gold Monkey. In "God Save the Queen" the time-obsessed villain plants a Time Bomb on board the Queen Victoria. Our hero causes him to have a Villainous Breakdown by resetting his watch.
  • In an episode of Veronica Mars three of her friends are involved in a version of the Stanford Prisoner Experiment, where two of them are guards and one is a prisoner. The guards have to extract a piece of information from the prisoners before a deadline. Veronica's friend pretends to fall asleep and lets the prisoners escape. This turns out to be a ruse to set the clock forward. After letting them out at the appointed time, they ask for the information, which is provided by one of the prisoners (Veronica's prisoner friend shouted out "NO" to no avail; after years of hanging out with her he knew enough of her tricks to recognize the trap a moment too late). Once they have the information, the professor of the class declares the guards the winners, displaying his watch with the correct time.
  • In an episode of The West Wing, Toby, Josh, and Donna miss a flight to Washington because they crossed a time zone line without noticing.
  • In the pilot episode of The X-Files Mulder & Scully get affected by a few minutes of Missing Time - there's a big bright light, and then the next thing they know it's 9 minutes later. Mulder marks the spot where it happened. Nothing comes of it at the time except to demonstrate Mulder's belief in the extranatural, but then in an episode years later it happens again and it turns out they're at the exact same spot.

    Recorded Comedy 
  • George Carlin's "Heavy Mysteries" reflected on communion when he went to Catholic school and tried to baffle the priest with some pertinent questions such as:
    George: Supposing that you haven't performed your Easter duty. And it's Pentecost Sunday, the last day. And you're on a ship at sea. And the chaplain goes into a coma. But you wanted to receive! Then it's Monday...too late. But then you cross the International Date Line!
    Priest: (resignedly) Yes, I'm sure God will take that into account.

    Visual Novels 
  • Shows up as a common contradiction in the Ace Attorney series. In fact, it shows up in the first case of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, when witness Frank Sahwit claims the time of the murder was at 1:00 when it was actually 4:00. Given that he's the real killer, the discrepancy is because the murder weapon was a talking clock that was off by nine hours ahead (the time difference between Paris and Los Angeles) at the time of the murder. Original Japanese Version 

    Western Animation 
  • American Dad!. "The American Dad After School Special": Stan puts an Exploding Collar on his son, set to go off if he doesn't ask a girl out in 24 minutes. As he's running down the street, he remarks that his Timex watch shows he still has 5 minutes left, then immediately sees a newspaper with the headline "Timex Recalls Watches For Being Four Minutes Slow."
    • In an early episode, Stan accidentally exposes the whole family to a deadly virus, and they are diagnosed with 24 hours to live. They decide to make the most of their time by watching the complete first season of 24. When the time is finally up, they say their goodbyes and wait for the clock to strike the new hour, as if expecting to just drop dead without question. The clock rings, but Roger tells them that clock is always a little fast. Better give it another minute. The virus was inert, so they weren't in any real danger in the first place.
  • The Batman has an episode where the title character notes that his atomic clock is much faster than his watch, due to the Villain of the Week possessing Mental Time Travel powers.
  • In an episode of Danny Phantom, the titular character tricks the Big Bad into thinking he still has 10 minutes left of powerlessness left by turning Vlad's clock back. This allows him to gain the element of surprise and win the fight.
  • In the final episode of Futurama, Fry proposes to Leela and asks her to meet him at a restaurant by a certain time if she accepts. When it's obviously well past the deadline and Leela hasn't shown up, Fry leaps from the roof of the building in despair. Part-way down, he sees Leela approaching and realizes that his overuse of a Reset Button created by the professor has caused his watch to be several hours fast.
  • In the Johnny Bravo cartoon "Bearly Enough Time", a clock being even a millisecond off was Chronos the Bear's Berserk Button.
  • The first season finale of The Raccoons, "Gold Rush", plays with this trope. Cyril Sneer is planning to shut down the Raccoons' crusading newspaper, The Evergreen Standard, with the help of Mr. Knox. Cyril's plan involved cutting off the supply of ink and paper to the Standard and forcing it out of business. For his plan to work, the deal had to be finalized under a deadline. However, Cyril is contacted by Mr. Knox that the deal is off because he missed the deadline - which saves the newspaper. Cyril is clearly confused as his clock indicates he had time to spare before the deadline. His son Cedric Sneer reminds him that years ago, the clocks were intentionally set back earlier so that he could get more work out of his employees!
  • On The Simpsons Homer gets painted as a molester by an unscrupulous TV show clumsily editing an interview; the clock behind him jumps back & forth as he speaks.
  • In Storm Hawks, episode "Five Days", when Aerrow breaks nearly every bone in his body and has to remain motionless for five days for a repair crystal to heal him, he starts noticing some small minor problems with the ship, including a clock running three ticks too slow. Then Master Cyclonis attacks their ship to take back the repair crystal (that Piper stole) to fix something valuable one of her subordinates broke. She looks at the clock thinking the crystal needs ten more minutes to completely heal him so she removes the crystal from Aerrow's cast. Just when she's about to finish him off, Aerrow points out that the clock was slow and that he was healed two minutes ago and fights back.
    Aerrow: Those ticks add up.

    Real Life 
  • The survivors of Magellan's first world circumnavigation put in to Cape Verde to obtain supplies for the final leg of their trip home to Spain. According to the ship's log, it was the 9th of July (they had recorded each day without omission), but according to the locals it was actually the 10th of July. They had crossed the International Date Line before such a thing existed and lost a day in circumnavigation.
  • The Learavia Lear Fan 2100 had to have its first flight in 1980 in order to retain some of its development funding after its inventor, Bill Lear, died in 1978. A sympathetic official in the British government (the plane was to be built in economically-depressed Northern Ireland) recorded its January 1st maiden flight as happening on "December 32nd, 1980."
  • Indiana has had this sort of relationship with the time zone boundaries between the Eastern and Central Time Zones. The dividing line was originally on the Indiana–Ohio border. Later it divided Indiana down the middle, and now, in its current location, the line is along much of the Indiana–Illinois border. Combine this with their inconsistent daylight saving rules, and it was bound to give non-residents a headache at one point. We say "much" of the Indiana-Illinois border because there are two pockets of counties in the Central Time Zone: six in the northwest corner which are suburbs of Chicago, and six in the southwest corner around Evansville.
  • As compared with the site at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the time shown on news programs is often several seconds off from the viewer's time, because digital TV signals are delayed. If the broadcaster doesn't account for this (most obviously seen in Times Square), the signal can be as much as 20 seconds behind.
  • TV Programs often don't start exactly when the TV listings say they should. Generally speaking, a show can be expected to start anywhere between two minutes prior to one minute after the listed time, depending on how many commercials were shown during the previous show. DVR and other recording devices are programmed to take this into account, thus recording slightly more than the show's duration.
    • Even worse, some stations are out-of-sync with others in the area.
  • Averting this trope led to various railway companies spending hefty sums commissioning exceptionally accurate and reliable timepieces for station employees, which are now highly prized collector's items. The practice largely faded away in the last quarter of the 20th century as digital systems started taking over signalling and other train control systems, but as late as the turn of the millennium, Virgin Railways made a show of issuing its staff with fancy digital watches synched to Greenwich Mean Time by radio.
  • The Darwin Awards brings us an unusual example involving daylight saving time:
    In most parts of the world, the switch away from Daylight Saving Time proceeds smoothly. But the time change raised havoc with Palestinian terrorists in 1999. Israel insisted on a premature switch from Daylight Savings Time to Standard Time to accommodate a week of pre-sunrise prayers. Palestinians refused to live on "Zionist Time." Two weeks of scheduling havoc ensued. Nobody knew the "correct" time. At precisely 5:30pm on Sunday, September 5th, two coordinated car bombs exploded in different cities, killing three terrorists who were transporting the bombs. It was initially believed that the devices had been detonated prematurely by klutzy amateurs. A closer look revealed the truth behind the explosions. The bombs had been prepared in a Palestine-controlled area and set to detonate on Daylight Saving Time. But the confused drivers had already switched to Standard Time. When they picked up the bombs, they neglected to ask whose watch was used to set the timing mechanism. As a result, the cars were still en route when the explosives detonated, delivering the terrorists to their untimely demises.