Why 42?

Most people reading this blog will find it useless. But some people have asked (which is a good way to put it when you cannot think of any one person who asked) what the 42 in my Musical Ramblings series is all about, so this blog is for those souls.

(Potential plot spoilers ahead)

42 is a concept taken from Douglas Adams‘s series of books — The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a ‘trilogy in five parts’ as the author describes it. It is the answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe and Everything. The supercomputer Deep Thought is built to answer this, and after seven and a half million years of computing it gives the result : forty-two. The relevant lines from the book go something like this —

“Forty-two!” yelled Loonquawl. “Is that all you’ve got to show for seven and a half million years’ work?”
“I checked it very thoroughly,” said the computer, “and that quite definitely is the answer. I think the problem, to be quite honest with you, is that you’ve never actually known what the question is.”

The creators of Deep Thought realize that they really don’t know the question. At this point Deep Thought offers to design an even more powerful computer — the Earth, to figure out the question. However, after ten million years of calculation and five minutes before the computation is completed, the Earth is destroyed by Vogons. So now, we’ll never know.

Interesting sidenote — Google has a calculator built into its search engine, which contains a formula for the question — answer to life the universe and everything. Try it and see what it returns!

17 thoughts on “Why 42?

  1. Jupe

    Wud it be a crime to say that i think this world wud be a better place without Douglam Adams and his legions of mad folowers :-p

    ps: Can i expect to see detailed reviews on the music of Veer*sigh*Zaara and Swades on Monday morning ?

  2. gvenum

    I have been skipping this for months now….its time I read about “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” before references about it will draw a blank from me. “Library!!! here I come”…o shoot…I haven’t returned the previous one …okie again..”Library here I come with a fine”

  3. Paddy

    This question/answer occurs in “The Restaurant at the End of the Universe”.Do get a Towel before you read this.

    Firstly 42= 6 times 9 base 13 as one popular belief holds.(13 is the number of squares in a scrabble implying Life is random as though picking letters from a scrabble bowl.)

    Stop reading further unless your head is in the bits.I warned you.

    (a) ASCII translation of 42 would result in a “*” which is the wildcard character.
    (b) strlen(“answer to life the universe and everything”)=42
    (c)strlen(“What do you get if you multiply six by nine? Forty-two”) = 42
    (d) This is my favorite explanation.Run the following program :

    #define SIX 1 + 5
    #define NINE 8 + 1

    Now SIX * NINE = 1+5*8+1 = 42 (atleast as per C)

    Last but not the least here’s to Zaphod Beelblebrox..Zaphod Rocks..

  4. Megha

    And then there’s the explanation provided by the author himself

    “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.”

  5. Paddy


    Do you really believe the author? Just kidding.
    His Insight is amazing.(as random as he could be!)

    Anyways for those of you ineterested in listening to live radio show of The HitchHikers Click here Good Post..


  6. Hifzur

    Ah, the mystery of ’42′ has been resolved. I had thought earlier, that the 42 was the total number of music reviews you had drafted, but realized it wasnt so, after I saw some reviews of new movies, which you couldnt have written earlier. Planned to ask you about it, but it always slipped my mind. Mystery resolved. Merci Beacoup Mademoiselle.

  7. oxy_moron

    I think I knew the answer to the 42 in your blog, but always forgot to put the question. Not knowing what to ask might have been one of the probable reasons:)

    Also, 42 in binary is 101010: the alternate zeros and ones are supposed to signify indecision abt The Ultimate Question?

  8. zaph

    Thanks Paddy,

    Though self-realization of my greatness occured several years ago, such lavish praise from total strangers still makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

    [note to self: investigate heated hairballs]


  9. Megha

    [iii] Methinks you seeing this Bill Clinton’s age connection is the result of too many cups of coffee and too few hours of sleep.

    [Jupe] I see the Veer Zaara bug has bitten you? Will try to review it along with Swades over the weekend. Oh and heads could roll if you don’t start being nice about DNA.

    [gvenum] Add it to the long list of books that you keep threatening to read, I guess? :)

    [Paddy] Thanks for the link! Sure I believe the author. After all, truth is the strangest fiction of all! :)

    [Hifzur] I know I can be an overzealous planner, but to write 42 music reviews in advance?! How crazy do you think I am? Wait, don’t answer that :|

    [oxy_moron] Or maybe 42 is the number of mismatched socks that you have in your posession? (For those who don’t have a clue what i’m talking about, visit oxy_moron’s socking saga.)

    [zaph] You just had to go use my blog as an opportunity for self-glorification eh? Tsk tsk.

    [Prasad] Thanks for visiting and for the comment too!

    [Manish] Base 16? Not sure what you meant, but as long as the mystery is solved for you, you are most welcome. :)

  10. emanish

    Hi Megha, 42Hex can be written as 0100 0010, To understnad the mistery use your eight fingers ( except thumbs) to mimick the no.. If u get it gr8 if not 42H to all.

    ( my mistake i wrote it as ,,|, ,|,, in earlier post instead of ,|,, ,,|, )

    -Manish (from Orkut)

  11. Manjusha

    I am in the process of giving The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy a second whirl after positively detesting it the first time round. I must say, it’s pretty refreshing so far – wonder what went wrong the first time.

    Cool comment on the Google Calc & ‘answer to life the universe and everything.’

  12. Rajesh J Advani

    Hey Megha,

    Nice looking blog. You did the template yourself?

    Thanks for the comments on my blog btw. And thanks for the info about the calculator too.

    Also, I’ve been wondering for years about why Arthur Dent gets “Six times Nine” using the scrabble game as the question to the answer. I always thought that it was a first approximation considering that the computer (Earth) was still in the process of working the answer out :)

    Paddy’s answer gives new insight, of course.

  13. Megha

    [Rajesh] Thank you! I used one of blogger.com’s templates (one called Harbor) and tweaked it till I was happy with it.

    As for the 6 × 9 = 42 mystery, here’s some sort-of relevant cut/paste from Wikipedia, if it helps —

    However, it was later pointed out that 6 × 9 = 42 if the calculations are performed in base 13, not base 10. Douglas Adams was not aware of this at the time, and has since been quoted as saying that “nobody writes jokes in base 13.” and also “I may be a pretty sad person, but I don’t make jokes in base 13.”:)

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