Tick… Tock… Taken! One Minute Vanished!

Pilar Campos-Rivers, a senior researcher at the Northwest Institute, started her address to the International Conference Of Horology in Lucerne, Switzerland last week with a joke.

“Horology is the study and measurement of time,” she said. “It may sound dirty, but it’s not.” The crowd chuckled.

Pilar Campos-Rivers, Senior Researcher, Northwest Institute

But Campos-Rivers’ next statement brought a hush to the room.

“Yesterday,” she said, “a minute disappeared.”

Campos-Rivers went on to explain that while most days have a set number of minutes— 1440, to be precise, a number derived by multiplying the number of hours (24) by the number of minutes in each hour (60)—the previous day had bucked the trend. 

“It had only 1439,” she said. 


How did she know? 

The question was posed immediately in the room. “How do you know?” said a man in a derby, coming quickly to his feet.

According to Campos-Rivers, a train dispatcher in Lyon, France, had been reviewing his line’s record for the day, verifying which trains had been late and which had run on time. During his review, he discovered that a minute was missing. He checked again and obtained the same result. 

“Railway times are not estimates but are precise,” Campos-Rivers said. “The arrivals and departures are all recorded by a state-of-the-art computer system. The man had counted twice. He knew that he was not wrong. So what else could be wrong? Time itself.”

“Where did it go?” said another man, this one in a stingy brim. 

“Well,” Campos-Rivers said. “That is the big question, isn’t it? We initially assumed that it had evaporated. That’s just a metaphor, but it’s an apt one. Some increase in energy from above, as it were, had drawn that minute away from its traditional location and converted it into something on the order of a stored mist. Try as we might, we could not locate it. After that, we began to look at the previous day, and the day before that, to see if perhaps an extra minute had been added there without our knowledge. No luck yet, but we’re still going. At the moment, we’re up to four days before.”

Campos-Rivers then read the rest of her paper, which more or less repeated her impromptu remarks.


After her presentation, Campos-Rivers took questions from the audience. The third man in a hat stood: a Homburg. “This is amazing,” he said. “I have been a horologist forever — little joke there — and I have never heard of such a thing. How could it happen?”

“No one knows,” said Campos-Rivers. “We are beginning to look into it, but we understand that it will be weeks or even months before we begin to understand the disappearance of that minute. The irony is not lost on us.”

Campos-Rivers, 34, has been named Horologist of the Year twice in the last decade. Prior to that, she was briefly a foreign service officer for the Department of State, and prior to that, a national swimming champion while in college, specializing in the 200-yard freestyle. She is married to Kenneth Rivers, an orthodontist, and the couple has two children: Lily, 5, and Anton, 3.

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