November 26, 1999
When my roommate's alarm goes off, he invariably presses the snooze bar. This continues in nine-minute cycles until I have to rouse him myself. All the alarms I have seen have a nine-minute snooze interval. Is this a standard number, and if so, where did it come from?
— Matt Mc, Indiana, Pennsylvania
What a relief to quit dealing with the federal government and get back to the truly gut questions of our time. Although I gotta tell you, dealing with the feds was a piece of cake compared to this one. We consulted with numerous clock manufacturers, clock engineers, and clock buffs and amassed the following theories:
(1) Focus groups found that people preferred a snooze delay of eight to twelve minutes. OK, but then why not a ten-minute interval?
(2) Engineers believe their bosses come to check on them every ten minutes. Ho ho!
(3) Physiologists have found that a sleeper who doesn't want to get up will fall back into a deep sleep if left for longer than nine minutes. Yeah, right.
(4) Five minutes seems too short and ten minutes seems too long. Nine minutes may seem better than ten while not being significantly different. My reaction: Bah. Nine minutes does not seem better; it seems stupid.
(5) On LED (the old red display) clocks, the snooze function will work for only 60 minutes, so you want to fit the greatest possible number of snooze periods into that time. Nine minutes gives you six snooze periods with a minute's leeway each time for pressing the snooze bar. "Nonsense," one engineer commented. No argument here.
(6) "I figured it was actually 512 seconds (2^9)," one informant speculated. "Or maybe, since the clock is counting (typically) the power cycles from the wall socket, it's because nine minutes is 32,400 cycles, very close to 2^15 (32,768)." Engineer's comment: Nice try, bub, but clocks don't count that way....