42 Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything


18 Conversations

The number 42 on a ceramic tile house number.

Sunday 10 October, 2010 was that most auspicious of days, 42 Day. Below you'll find all you need to know about this extraordinary number.

42, also written as forty-two, is a number that, if you are counting correctly, comes after 41 and before 43. It is made of two digits, both of which are even numbers. 42 is also an integer and natural number. For some inexplicable reason, a lot of nerdy people1 are obsessed with 42. It seems they have nothing better to do than to think up all sorts of cultural, scientific or religious significance of the number, when, as a matter of fact, it has no particular significance whatsoever because it is a perfectly ordinary number, much like 27, 53 or even 74.

All this trouble started when Douglas Adams wrote a radio series/book/TV series/movie called The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, in which a giant super-computer, named Deep Thought, was built to figure out the answer to Life, the Universe and Everything. It was 42. This was rather confusing, mostly because people didn't even know what the proper question was. Eventually, Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect found out that the question seemed to be 'what do you get when you multiply six by nine', which is actually 54.

The answer to this is very simple. It was a joke. It had to be a number, an ordinary, smallish number, and I chose that one. Binary representations, base thirteen, Tibetan monks are all complete nonsense. I sat at my desk, stared into the garden and thought '42 will do'. I typed it out. End of story

Though there has been much debate, Douglas Adams insisted there was no symbolic reason he decided to use 42. Eventually, people realised that 6x9 actually does equal 42 in base 13. Douglas said he didn't know about this at the time, saying 'you don't write jokes in base 13'. Coincidentally, Douglas was 42 years old - base 10 - when his daughter, Polly, was born. His h2g2 Researcher number is U42.

'You're Not Going to Like It'

Here is a list, compiled by some of those nerdy people, of some of the ways 42 has popped up here and there.

  • There are 42 laws of cricket.

  • Paul McCartney, Prof Stephen Hawking, Jimi Hendrix, Manfred Mann vocalist Paul Jones and Jerry Garcia were born in 1942.

  • Singer Elvis Presley died at the age of 42. So did his mother.

  • If you combine the number of dots, or pips, on a pair of dice, there are 42.

  • At the time of writing, Theodore Roosevelt was the youngest United States president when he was elected. He was 42.

  • Alfred, Lord Tennyson was Poet Laureate of Great Britain and Ireland for 42 years.

  • A fan of Tennyson's, Robert F Kennedy, was 42 years old when he was assassinated.

  • Canines (dogs and wolves) have 42 teeth.

  • There is a Broadway musical titled 42nd Street.

  • 42 was the jersey number of Jackie Robinson.

  • If you rearrange 'tea for two' you get 'for tea two'.

  • When sending a text message on a mobile phone, to punch in 'h2g2' you have to select 4 (press it twice), 2 (press it four times), 4, then 2 (press it four times).

  • Tiberius was born in 42 BC.

  • In JRR Tolkien's novel The Two Towers, Gimli the Dwarf kills 42 orcs in the battle at Helm's Deep.

  • According to the Book of Revelations, 'The Beast' will hold the Earth for 42 months.

  • There are 42 lines on each page of a Gutenberg Bible.

  • It would take 42 minutes to ride the Gravity Sled.

  • In binary, 42 is 101010.

  • If you search answer to life, the universe and everything2 on Google, the calculator function will display '42'.

  • In the 42nd Street subway station in New York City, there are large, white tiled columns with pretty 42s on each side.

  • An E-ELT, European Extremely Large Telescope, was built to probe the universe. It is 42 metres in diameter3.

  • Washington was the 42nd US state to join the union.

  • Bill Clinton was the 42nd US president.

  • In 2004, Ernie Roscouet finally returned a library book that was 42 years past its due date.

  • There were 42 Soviet missiles based in Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

  • The Orion Nebula is otherwise known as M42. Other occurrences of 42 in astronomy have their own Edited Guide Entry.

  • Element No 42 in the periodic table is molybdenum, a metal. There are no elements with a relative atomic mass of 42.

  • The numbers for the computer in the TV show Lost are 4, 8, 15, 16, 23 and 42.

  • There were 42 generations from Abraham to Jesus.

  • If, for some reason, you wanted to record an entire week's worth of television onto four-hour capacity VHS tapes, it would take 42 of them.

  • 11 February is the 42nd day of the year. Thomas Alva Edison was born on that day in 1847.

  • Gilda Radner, one of the original 'Not Ready For Primetime Players' on Saturday Night Live died of ovarian cancer at the age of 42.

  • The game Connect Four has 42 holes.

  • 'Fortitude', meaning courage in pain or adversity, sounds a little like 'forty-two'.

  • Rosa Parks was 42 years old when she refused to give up her bus seat to a white man.

  • Queen Mary I was the daughter of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon. She died aged 42.

  • Catch 22, the novel by Joseph Heller, has 42 chapters.

  • Queen Elizabeth II is the 42nd sovereign since the Norman conquest.

  • The tallest building in London is not Tower 42, but it used to be between 1980-91.

  • There are 42.194988 kilometres in a marathon.

  • The red light reaching your eye from a rainbow has been deflected by the raindrops through an angle of 42°.

  • It takes light 10-42 seconds to cross the diameter of a proton.

  • A day on Uranus, from sunrise to sunset, lasts for 42 Earth years.

  • Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) in The X-Files lives at number 42.

  • Prince Albert, consort of Queen Victoria, died at the age of 42.

  • 42 is a Harshad number (or Niven number, or a multidigital number), because 42 is divisible by the sum of its digits (4+2=6; 42/6=7) with nothing left over.

1A man named Geoff David Busker had his name legally changed to Geoff David Fortytwo.2It must all be in lower case, though.3The telescope, that is, not the universe.

Bookmark on your Personal Space

Edited Entry


Infinite Improbability Drive

Infinite Improbability Drive

Read a random Edited Entry

Categorised In:

Write an Entry

"The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is a wholly remarkable book. It has been compiled and recompiled many times and under many different editorships. It contains contributions from countless numbers of travellers and researchers."

Write an entry
Read more