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42: the answer to life, the Universe & everything


hitch-hikers-guide-to-the-galaxyThe Guardian dwells on the No. 42 – as in Douglas Adams’ answer to life, the Universe and everything in The Hitch-hikers Guide to the Galaxy. To be honest, this number has never really had any significance to me. The numbers seven (a lucky number to many people), 13 (an unlucky number to many people), 666 (a devilishly interesting number) and 111 (a unlucky number in cricket) have always been more interesting.

Adams – who died, aged 49, 10 years ago this May – had launched the world’s greatest universal joke. Often you hear it as a simple namecheck, a gently conclusive “Douglas Adams”, said whenever a spontaneous 42 is seen as a seat number, a restaurant table, or a homework answer. Others post lists of favourite 42s, snap “42″ photos, or enjoy throwing a 42nd birthday party (Pink Floyd performed on stage with Adams for his special day). There are the influential friends as well – both Google’s HQ and Cern’s Large Hadron Collider have office complexes named for the number.

The joke has been running for more than three decades and the momentum seems as strong, or perhaps even stronger, than ever. Famous and notable instances are lovingly prized; the world’s first modern book was Gutenberg’s 42-line bible and the US national anthem is about an historic 42ft star-spangled banner. Another celebrated use is 42 Wallaby Way – the address on the diving mask in Pixar’s Finding Nemo. Playing an elaborate joke on a richer-than-Croesus friend, author Ian Fleming made it the age of Bond villain Auric Goldfinger.

Some people would say this the realm of nerds but…….

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Richard Davies

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