FORTRAN punch card (public domain)

Most of our WTFs are produced on modern hardware, but today we're taking you back to the dawn of computing, back to the 1960s, when our submitter, Robert, was in college. Rob was taking a class in Numerical Analysis, which allowed people to submit their programs to the university computer (singular, as this was before computers were cheap enough to have a whole lab of 30+ of them just lying around for students). This involved using a keypunch machine to punch cards to run a FORTRAN program that might give you the answers to your homework. It was marginally faster than using a slide rule, until you factored in that students had low priority on the queue to submit their programs to be run, so they'd have to wait hours, if not days, to get access. Most students didn't even bother with the expensive machine, simply doing their maths the old-fashioned way and leaving it at that.

Our submitter, however, was clever.

You see, Rob had a part-time programming job in the evenings that made enough to pay for his schooling, something that was entirely possible in the 1960s though it may seem fantastical today. At this job, he had access to a much newer business computer: the IBM 1130, with a whopping memory capacity of 4,096 16-bit words. It was made for scientific purposes, but was also used by small businesses who were "sensitive to price concerns" (aka: frugal) and wanted a cheap machine that would run all their programs. Best of all, Rob had sole access to the machine all evening, meaning nobody would blink if he ran a quick program to do his homework in between batch jobs for the business.

However, he was used to running business programs, not scientific or mathematical ones. One subroutine package the business used frequently allowed for easier currency manipulation, but it required a compiler directive called "*ONE WORD INTEGERS". This limited integers to one word, which was sufficient for currency manipulation. Leaving it out would cause a number of headaches for the subroutine package they used, which expected it to be turned on.

I'm sure you can see where this is going: when Rob did his homework, he put the directive in place, making his answers a couple orders of magnitude less correct, as decimals were rounded far closer than they would've been using a slide rule. But just you wait, dear reader, for the real WTF is yet to come.

The day came for the instructor to return the graded papers, and to Rob's surprise, there was much grumbling and disgust. It seems almost everyone had messed up their homework, receiving markdowns for having incorrect answers. Everyone, that is, except Rob. Rob's paper sported a shiny red A.

"I see most of you had incorrect answers this time around," remarked the teacher, scowling. "One of you was clever enough to turn in a FORTRAN program that solved the problems correctly. I used that to produce the rubric to grade the rest of you, so don't come crying to me about it being a grader error."

Rob, being clever, decided to take his A and slink off in shame once he realized what had happened. Thankfully, the rest of the class never found out who had busted the curve—which was good for Rob's mental health and his kneecaps.

[Advertisement] Otter - Provision your servers automatically without ever needing to log-in to a command prompt. Get started today!