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.
- Singer Elvis Presley died at the age of 42. So did his father.
- 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.
- Canines 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.
- 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.
- Scientists calculated that the Hubble Constant, the rate at which the universe expands, is 42. However, it will not stay at that rate always.
- 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.
- 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.
- 42 is the natural vibration frequency of human DNA and white mice DNA.
- The El Tule tree, in Mexico, is the oldest living tree. It is 42 metres high.
- 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.
- Rosa Parks was 42 years old when she refused to give up her bus seat to a white man.
- Catch 22, the novel by Joseph Heller, has 42 chapters.
- Dr Seuss wrote 42 books for children.
- Queen Elizabeth II is the 42nd sovereign since the Norman conquest.
- The tallest building in London is Tower 42.
- There are 42 kilometres in a marathon.
- To create a rainbow, light has to reflect off water at a 42 degree angle.
- 42°C is the highest internal body temperature at which a human with a disease can survive.
- It takes light 10 to power of 42 seconds to cross the diameter of a proton.
- In the Tao Te Ching, an ancient text by Lao Tsu, the 42nd chapter explains the universe.