Isn’t science amazing?

You don’t often see the word ‘coulombs’ in the newspaper, let alone in the sports section. So when it does, people sit up and take notice.

In a National Hockey League game between the hosts the LA Kings and the visiting Columbus Blue Jackets with the score tied at 2-2, replays showed that the clock stopped for about a second with 1.8 seconds left, giving enough time for the home team to score the winning goal with 0.4 seconds left on the clock.

Needless to say, suspicions of skullduggery are afoot and the NHL is investigating.

However, the general manager of the home team says that the explanation is a perfectly benign scientific one.

“Those clocks are sophisticated instruments that calculate time by measuring electrical charges called coulombs,” he said. “Given the rapidity and volume of electrons that move through the measuring device the calibrator must adjust at certain points, which was the delay you see. The delay is just recalibrating for the clock moving too quickly during the 10-10ths of a second before the delay.

“This ensures that the actual playing time during a period is exactly 20 minutes. That is not an opinion. That is science. Amazing device, quite frankly.”

Yes, I can well imagine that the clock gets really tired counting all those coulombs as they go whizzing by. Who can blame it if it pauses for a second towards the end of a game to catch its breath?


  1. 'Tis Himself, OM says

    It’s all the fault of that silly International Committee for Weights and Measures and their faulty SI system. They decided that 1 faraday is equal to 96485.3399 coulombs. Those .3399 coulombs add up after a while.

  2. HP says

    I knew you were being sarcastic about something, but my poor science-dilettante brain was awfully confused.

    A moment’s googling showed me that I do in fact know what a coulomb is, but I have no idea what Dean Lombardi is smoking.

  3. says

    I have a set of bathroom scales. This is a sophisticated instrument that measures masses called “kilograms”. Due to the rapidity and volume of the masses climbing on and off them, the scales sometimes have to pause and add or subtract a kilo to ensure that it’s measuring accurately. Wait, what?

    Amazing, quite frankly.

  4. Robert B. says

    Hm, let’s see if I can explain.

    First of all, electric clocks don’t work by measuring how many electrons go by. That’s about as ignorant as saying a car propels itself by squirting gasoline out the tailpipe. So that’s the big one, which shows he has no idea what he’s talking about.

    But aside from that? Let’s see. An average digital alarm clock loses less than a second every year, IIRC, so the idea of a big expensive precision sports clock having to make a one second adjustment in a 20 minute hockey period is laughable. Have you ever seen a stopwatch or digital kitchen timer lag like that? Me neither.

    If the clock was off, how did it know it needed a correction? If it had a second, more accurate clock to compare to, why wasn’t the game time just kept on that?

    A Coulomb is a big frigging charge. If an electronic device ever managed to get a Coulomb all in one place, the charge would undoubtedly short somewhere and cause the device to emit the magic smoke of spectacular failure.

    I am not aware of any electric or electronic component called a “calibrator.” Calibration is done by a human or computer program by comparison with a known quantity, which in this case would be… another clock. See above re: more accurate clock.

    The individual electrons in electric current do not actually travel very rapidly at all. “Volume” is also wrong, but I’ll let it slide since many experts and teachers use water currents as a metaphor for electric currents and volume is a fair concept for flowing water.

    If over the previous ten tenths of a second (in other words, the previous second) the clock had gone “too quickly” enough time to justify a 1 second delay, it would have had to skip that whole second, counting from 00:02.8 straight to 00:01.8. And nobody noticed that?

    “The rapidity and volume of electrons that move” is exactly current. There is no good reason to draw a large current to keep time – the display to show the time to a big sports arena would draw hundreds of times more current than the part of the machine that actually measured the time. Recall that a “watch battery” is quite a small battery.

    Also, dude apparently doesn’t know the word “current.” People who are qualified to talk about electronics in public know the word “current.”

    And “science” is not a magic word that makes you right.

    Did I miss any?

  5. F says

    Equally stupid is this:

    “In our opinion it was one full second,” Campbell said of the stoppage.

    This is something which is not subject to opinion. Either it did, or it didn’t. And human perception of time is pretty wonky to boot.

    Not until later did they back up the frame-by-frame footage to the moment the clock stopped. Seeing that hesitation with 1.8 seconds left convinced Campbell that Columbus had gotten a bad deal.

    Better, in a technical sense, but now we’re counting on the recording and drawing methods of some recording and playing devices to reflect reality in tenths of a second.

    Campbell said the league had contacted the clock’s manufacturer, Daktronics, to determine whether the clock was at fault and will send technicians to Staples Center to examine the clock and the system.

    Even better. Maybe. Depends on whether facts outweigh politics.

  6. P Smith says

    On the non-technical side, hockey is not like basketball, football or soccer where time isn’t definite. Soccer always has “added time” (I’ve never seen a game without it), and in basketball and football, scoring can happen after time expires.

    Hockey’s timekeeping is exact. The puck must enter a net during the twenty minutes of a period. If a player shoots the puck in as the horn blows, it’s not a goal. If a player shoots the puck on an empty net and it slides in after the horn sounds, it doesn’t count. It *must* enter the net during regulation time.

    To bring another sport into it (rugby), this has the potential to be as controversial as the call by the referee in the 2007 Six Nations game between Wales and Italy. The referee’s decision cost Wales a chance to tie or win the game.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *