Time eater: How it works

Professor Stephen Hawking unveils The Corpus Clock
Professor Stephen Hawking unveils The Corpus Clock, seen behind him, a new installation at Corpus Christi College in Cambridge

MOST clocks just tell time. Not the newly unveiled clock at Corpus Christi College in Cambridge, which aims to disorient and dazzle, to remind people of their own mortality and to pay tribute to one of the most famous watchmakers of all time.

No wonder it cost more than $1.8 million to build and drew the attention of famed cosmologist Stephen Hawking, who formally unveiled the masterwork yesterday.

This clock blasts away all preconceptions about timepieces. For one thing, it has no hands. And it is specially designed to run in erratic fashion, slowing down and speeding up from time to time.

The “Corpus Clock” is the brainchild of inventor John Taylor, who used his own money to build it, in part to pay homage to the genius of John Harrison, the Englishman who in 1725 invented the “grasshopper” escapement - a mechanical device that helps regulate a clock’s movement.

Making a visual pun on the grasshopper image, Taylor has designed a fantasy version of a grasshopper at the top of the clock face, and uses this beast with its long needle teeth and barbed tail as an integral part of the clockworks.

Its jaws begin to open halfway through a minute, then snap shut at 59 seconds. The creature’s eyes, usually a dull green, occasionally flash bright yellow. The oversize grasshopper is called a chronophage, or “time eater.” “Time is gone, he’s eaten it,” Taylor said.

“My object was simply to turn a clock inside out so that the grasshopper became a reality.” At the unveiling, Hawking predicted the creature atop the clock would become “a much-loved, and possibly feared, addition to Cambridge’s cityscape.” — AP