While travelling in London, I noticed something strange.

I saw some numbers which appeared to be counting up but which then switched to counting down. Later on, I saw the same thing, but the numbers counted down only.


  • How was I travelling in London?
  • How do you explain what I saw?


This is a real phenomenon that anyone might see in London.

London is relevant to the question.

If I'd kept a low profile, I wouldn't have seen this.

Further hint:

What I saw might possibly be seen in other cities in the world.

Cryptic clues to what I was looking at (clues don't include definitions):

Number of dwarfs split up (5, 7)
Not many cars around (7, 5)

Extra cryptic clue following on from the ones above:

Ends cut off - that's peculiar! (4)

And here's a riddling hint for the means of transport:

China in her hand. China in her hand. (6, 6)

Another cryptic clue:

Music genre which might feature The White Stripes (6, 2, 3, 4)

  • $\begingroup$ I suspect it's something to do with the tube. (Or possibly the London Eye.) $\endgroup$ Sep 27 '16 at 17:43
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ You could be the amount the pound is worth before and after Brexit :P $\endgroup$ Sep 27 '16 at 17:49
  • $\begingroup$ \@rand al'thor: you're thinking along the right lines. $\endgroup$
    – paolo
    Sep 27 '16 at 18:14

I think the answer has something to do with a

Seven-segment traffic light countdown timer which show people how long then have left to crossword the road after the green person - for safe to cross - has gone.

How was I travelling in London? How do you explain what I saw?

You may be on foot waiting about to cross a road. These countdown timers are a 7-seg display .
To explain the initial 'appeared to be counting up', and I'm punting here, when first switched on they show all segments lighting-up and show as 8, when display the expected 9, 8, 7, ... 3, 2, 1

Once warmed up they correctly just show the countdown 9, 8, ... 2, 1.


They have been introduced to a number of pedestrian crossings in London.

If you'd kept a low profile - say used the Underground/Tube - you wouldn't have seen this.

Cryptic clues:

Number of dwarfs split up (5, 7) → Seven-segment [from seven dwarfs and to segment]
Not many cars around (7, 5) → Traffic light

Extra cryptic clue: Music genre which might feature The White Stripes (6, 2, 3, 4)

Middle of the road

I'm still intrigued and outfoxed by the crux of this puzzle. I think the Hood (good cryptic answer from TwoBitOperation may be the traffic light hood obscuring part of the display) - but I can't get it! Hope someone does!

  • $\begingroup$ Those countdown timers don't exist in Britain. $\endgroup$ Sep 28 '16 at 15:21
  • $\begingroup$ Tom: Excellent! Not quite there, but you've got most of it. What you have correct: Solutions to the cryptic clues and the thing I was looking at. Not yet right: The mode of transport, the reason for the sight appearing as it does, and the explanation of the "low-profile" hint. Identifying the mode of transport should help with working out the other two. PS: rand al'thor - they do exist in London. $\endgroup$
    – paolo
    Sep 28 '16 at 15:21
  • $\begingroup$ @paolo Are you the same paolo as the OP? If so, you might like to merge your two accounts by following the instructions here. $\endgroup$ Sep 28 '16 at 15:22
  • $\begingroup$ rand al'thor: Thanks. I signed up but couldn't post with my correct email, so used a@hotmail.com as a dummy email. I won't get a post there, so does that mean I won't be able to merge my accounts? $\endgroup$
    – paolo
    Sep 28 '16 at 15:28
  • $\begingroup$ Paolo: yes this is still puzzling me! The 'appeared to be counting up' and the mode of transport are still beyond me. If anyone can solve these tricky parts I would like to see that - in a separate post - mine was just a guess based on the two cryptic clues. $\endgroup$
    – Tom
    Sep 28 '16 at 15:49

You were travelling by

double decker bus. I got this from the repeat (double) in the hint, but can't figure out the second part. I assume you were on the upper level, giving you a view that couldn't be seen from a lower profile. -- Edit: The song China in your hand was written by Carol Decker. Props to Deusovi in the Sphinxes Lair

  • $\begingroup$ Yes, this is the correct mode of transport, and you are correct about where I was sitting (as suggested by my "low profile" hint). You are also correct about this giving me a particular view of what I was looking at. The solution to the (unsolved) third cryptic clue ties in with what I saw. $\endgroup$
    – paolo
    Oct 5 '16 at 11:08
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @paolo No one has solved the 3rd cryptic clue yet; is the solution 'Hood' ? $\endgroup$ Oct 20 '16 at 14:58
  • $\begingroup$ @TwoBitOperation: Yes, well done, that's correct. If you put this together with the answers to the other two cryptic clues and the other high-scoring answers given so far, you may be able to solve the puzzle. $\endgroup$
    – paolo
    Oct 21 '16 at 11:36

OK, trying to consolidate knowledge and take a guess:

First, the cryptic clues:

1) Number of dwarfs split up (5, 7)

Seven Segment

2) Not many cars around (7, 5)

Traffic Light

3) Ends cut off - that's peculiar! (4)

"How Odd" -> Hood

4) China in her hand. China in her hand. (6, 6)

Double Decker

So, we have ascertained:

You were riding a double decker bus in London. You did not have a low profile, so you were sitting on the top deck. You were looking at something with a seven segment display at a traffic light. This implies the object in question was a pedestrian crossing signal.

What Happened:

Looking out the front window of the top deck, you could only see the top 4 segments of the seven segment display, as the rest was blocked by the hood of the bus. With that view, the numbers 9-8-7-6-5-4 would appear to read 0-0-7-C-C-11. Which counts up and then down (though switches bases). The next time you saw a signal light, the angle was such that you could see all 7 segments, so the numbers appeared normal.

  • $\begingroup$ Excellent answer - you are so very, very close to getting everything right. It might help to point out that the numbers were in base 10 throughout, and the hood you are thinking of is not the right one. Otherwise, everything else is correct. $\endgroup$
    – paolo
    Oct 24 '16 at 15:16
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ (Besides, we're in London, where vehicles have "bonnets" rather than "hoods".) $\endgroup$
    – paolo
    Oct 24 '16 at 15:38
  • $\begingroup$ OK then, assuming the BOTTOM 4 segments were all you could see, then 8-7-6 could look like 0-1-0. Was something blocking the upper field of your vision? Maybe the hood of your jacket? (it does rain a lot in London) $\endgroup$ Oct 24 '16 at 17:10
  • $\begingroup$ You're getting warmer. Google could be your friend here... $\endgroup$
    – paolo
    Oct 25 '16 at 5:21
  • $\begingroup$ I've added another cryptic clue. $\endgroup$
    – paolo
    Oct 25 '16 at 8:56

Is it something to do with the longitude increasing as you walk towards the meridian at Greenwich and then continue to walk over it and watch it count down?

  • $\begingroup$ Nice, but not what I'm thinking of. I'm going to add some more hints. $\endgroup$
    – paolo
    Sep 28 '16 at 9:18

Were you

Travelling by boat in the Thames?

And were the numbers you saw

Numbers on the side of the canal measuring the tide?


Well the mouth of the Thames (were you start your journey) is affected by the tide, so the numbers measuring water height go up.

As you progress up the river, the river isn't affected by the tide so the numbers just start counting down as there are droughts etc.

  • $\begingroup$ Interesting answer - I like it. However that isn't what I had in mind, and what you suggest would of course apply elsewhere in the world too. $\endgroup$
    – paolo
    Sep 27 '16 at 17:41
  • $\begingroup$ @paolo, aah so its case specific to London only? $\endgroup$ Sep 27 '16 at 17:44
  • $\begingroup$ it's relevant to London. You might possibly see it in other cities of the world, but it would require a combination of things to be present. $\endgroup$
    – paolo
    Sep 27 '16 at 17:47

If you were travelling by

The London Underground

The numbers counting down only could be:

A screen showing how long it will be until the next train. (I don't know much about London, but I do know this exists in NYC. Also they tend to be up above people's heads so that might explain the hint saying 'If I'd kept a low profile, I wouldn't have seen this.'

As for the part when the numbers were counting up and then down:

Perhaps this was some delay for the train, so the time until it would come kept increasing until the train actually started heading your way, when the numbers would count down again.


Could it be that you were travelling via

The Emirates Airline

That would explain why you didn't see the things if you had kept a low profile. As to what exactly you saw, I would hazard a guess at

Some kind of capacity indicator? The real-time traffic status displays on buses?

Reference: http://www.masstransitmag.com/press_release/12242856/real-time-traffic-updates-to-be-displayed-on-tfl-buses

  • $\begingroup$ Good guess, but that wasn't the mode of transport. See Tom's posting: he has already correctly identified the thing I was looking at when I saw the strange sight. $\endgroup$
    – paolo
    Sep 29 '16 at 9:28

It could be:

Big Ben's reflection on the River Thames

  • $\begingroup$ No, that isn't it. I see I'm going to have to add some more hints. $\endgroup$
    – paolo
    Sep 28 '16 at 9:17

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