The world was kept waiting for a new pope, with the mystery of who - and when - as thick as the unmistakable heavy black smoke billowing from the Sistine Chapel chimney.
As thousands waited in a cold night rain in St Peter's Square, the cardinals signalled at 7.41pm that they had failed on their first attempt to find a leader for the world's 1.2 billion Catholics and their troubled church.
"It's black, it's black, it's waaay black!" screamed Eliza Nagle, a 21-year-old Notre Dame theology major on an exchange programme in Rome, as the smoke poured from the 6ft copper chimney.
"They definitely got the colour right this time," said Father Andrew Gawrych, an American priest based in Rome, referring to the confusion over the smoke during the 2005 conclave that elected Pope Benedict XVI.
That was thanks to special smoke flares - akin to those used in football matches or protests - lit in the chapel ovens to make the burned ballots black, the sign that cardinals must come back today for another day of voting.
The 115 scarlet-robed prelates chanted the Litany of Saints as, walking two-by-two, they implored the saints to guide their voting. They then took an oath of secrecy, first collectively and then individually, as each placed his right hand on the gospel and intoned the words in Latin, accented by their native languages.
With no cardinal winning the required 77 votes on the first ballot, the cardinals returned to the Vatican hotel for a simple dinner of pasta with tomato sauce, soup and vegetables before another day of voting today.
Benedict's surprise resignation has thrown the church into turmoil and exposed deep divisions between Vatican-based cardinals and those in the field who have complained about Rome's inefficiencies and indifference to their needs.
The leading contenders for pope have fallen into two camps, with Italian cardinal Angelo Scola, the archbishop of Milan, seen as favoured by those hoping to shake up the powerful Vatican bureaucracy, and Brazilian cardinal Odilo Scherer, favoured by Vatican-based insiders who have defended the status quo.
Other names include Canadian cardinal Marc Ouellet, who heads the Vatican's powerful office for bishops and US cardinals Timothy Dolan, the exuberant archbishop of New York, and Sean O'Malley, the archbishop of Boston.