Why was the answer 42?

Because that’s what the question demanded.

To get to the other side.

A naughty bulldozer.

Meticulous forward planning.

Because it’s a really nice answer.

I suspect that last one is circuitous in it’s answeryness. I find the number 42 satisfying on account of it being familiar from the Hitch hiker’s guide to the galaxy.

A quick bit of research, yields a number of potential mythologies,my favourite being the particularly brutal note that 42 is an unlucky number in Japanese. The digits 4 and 2 are pronounced ‘shi ni’, which sounds like the words ‘unto death’ in Japanese. So the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything translates as ‘death’.

There are also 42 lettered names for God, the ascii code for the * wildcard, Lewis Carroll and possibly a number of the beast (spherically).

Of course, Adam’s claims (pinched from wikipedia):

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 thirteenTibetan 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.

So in fact, 42 is just a mundane number. (Or, more likely, a funny number). It’s normal. It sounds right. It is a number, so it inherently has a huge load of inter-relations and back stories for geeks. (Reading a wikipedia page about a number is oddly fascinating for the non-mathematician, learning about all the sequences, and number types that any given number might potentially fit into, magic cubes, spherical numbers, totients and quotients and so on and so forth…it’s a beautifully complex network of reliances, dependencies and structures. Weird.)

But of course, now 42 means something. Choosing the number 42 indicates a certain bent of mind. It’s almost like a silent handshake or nod to passersby. You’ve seen the world in a certain light. You’re a particular type of geek. There’s an increased chance you’re going to start quoting bits of a hilarious and wonderful book out of context in an attempt to be hilarious and wonderful and you’re going to kill it dead and I’m going to want to kill myself.

But, honestly, I’ll still like you for it.

Douglas Adams can make you laugh in a very unique way. I don’t think I’ve ever come across humour constructed in quite the same way. Peculiarly universal. Parochially so, even.

He was very 42.

I, of course, have never finished the books, and I’ve never worked out why. Every time I’ve started I’ve enjoyed them immensely, but somewhere down the line got distracted by the weirdnesses of the actual universe and put the book down.

42 probably isn’t the answer. I think the answer is everything, the universe and life.

The idea of a giant computer called Earth. Trying to work out a question. It points to one thing.

The answer (and all the question) is already all around us.

We are the punchline.

Pretty, isn’t it?

Illustration by Jaime.

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About Alabaster Crippens

Joiner of Dots. Player of Games. Unreliable Narrator. Dancing Fool.
This entry was posted in Questions by Alex P, Special Guest Illustrations. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Why was the answer 42?

  1. K says:

    I have the 42 T-shirt. It is very pretty and every so often another geek will do a double-take and then sidle up and say ‘what was the question?’ which is rather cool.

  2. Pingback: Unstruck « JAIME HUXTABLE

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