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 Forty Two

Status: Submitted 20000531

This article was inspired by ideabank entry 176 from Roel

%t 42
%n ?U?
%s Forty Two, the Answer to the Ultimate Question
%a Alex Gough (
%c Roel van der Meulen      (roelvdmeulen @ yahoo .com)
%d 20000520
%x Writers' Block
%x Writing Style, Douglas Adams'
%x Roman Numerals
%x i
%x Infinity, The Trouble With
%x Weird Units Of Measure
%k four, two, forty, douglas, adams, crime, mafia,
               number, fame, answer

When unleashing the _Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy_ on an unsuspecting world Douglas Adams forever changed the way people thought about their numbers, not only did he broaded our definition of a trilogy, he also introduced us all to the number 42. Being given as the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything, was a much needed boost for the flagging career of this number.

Before appearing in the Guide, 42 could only find work as an extra; occasionally appearing on supermarket tills, arithmetic problems and car number plates. Loyal fans of the number sometimes chuckle when they see 42 on _Before they were Famous_ appearing as the 93rd and 94th digits of the decimal expansion of pi. Even the usual bit parts in _Sesame Street_ were closed to a number which was too large for most children to even begin to imagine what it could used for. Being shut out by the establishment meant that 42 was plagued by debts for many years, occasionally descending into alcholism and petty crime. Evidence has emerged recently of a possible minor part in the imfamous Finchly Street division by zero case, although many police files relating to the case have disappeared through 'administrative errors' in the years after publication of the Guide.

Many other rumours surround 42's path to fame. Other numbers which were present at the casting session for the series have been heard to suggest the involvement of the numerological mafia after 56, one of the heavy-weight contenders, was found hanged from the girders of Blackfriars' bridge the day before the role was awarded to 42.

It is also occasionally suggested, by somewhat devious people, that 42 was chosen by Douglas Adams because it is indeed the answer to the question 'what do you get when you multiply six by nine'. This is true but only if you happen to have thirteen fingers on each hand. If this is the case, I would expect that you must live in Somerset or the Deep South in which case it is unlikely that you were able to progress much further than 'one, two, many' when learning your numbers at school. We can thus safely discard this absurd possibility.

Other more learned people have noticed that the number was also used widely by Lewis Carol in both _The Hunting of the Snark_ [2] and _Alice in Wonderland_ [3] and therefore assume that Douglas Adams was inspired by his whimsical predecessor. These same learned people often contest that the world must be flat or that nothing really exists, often professing both at the same time. A good kick will usually either convince them that the latter is clearly not true or, failing that, make them run away, thus putting them out of your misery entirely.

As much fun as it is to investigate the conspiracy theories and academic hyperbole surrounding the choice of 42 by Douglas Adams, it is most likely that he was suffering from a bad case of writer's block one day and simply plucked the number out of the air. Exactly why 42 was hovering above his desk at the time will remain a mystery, especially as 42 is notoriously reticent on the matter.

After being propelled to stardom by Douglas Adams, 42 sits comfortably next to the integers 7, 13, 18, 21 and 69 in the minds of the public. Although clearly one of the rising stars of the numerical world, 42 has yet to reach the dizzy heights occupied by the mathematical aristocracy of 1, 0, e, pi and i.

Fame does have its problems though and rarely lasts forever, we all remember the fall from grace of I,V,X,C and their cronies after the decline of the Roman empire. 42 must not be complacent else it might find itself being usurped by upstarts such as 51, of 'area' fame, or 1984, a favourite of Big Brother. If it is to remain a part of our global culture 42 must ensure that it can reinvent itself in a new role, perhaps appearing as a fundamental constant of nature in the soon to be released theory of everything [4].

[1] Forty Two can also be represented as 42, 0b101010, 052, 0x2A, 4.2e1, exp(3.737669618), ln(1.739274942e18) or even 111111111111111111111111111111111111111111 depending on how many fingers and toes you like to count on. The prime factors of 42 are 2,3 and 7.
[2] 'Rule 42 of the Code, "No one shall speak to the Man at the Helm."'
[4] This can be obtained at your nearest good theoretical physics department store.

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