answer to

Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything

The Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything is numeric in Douglas Adams' series The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. In the story, a "simple answer" to The Ultimate Question is requested from the computer Deep Thought, specially built for this purpose. It takes Deep Thought 7½ million years to compute and check the answer, which turns out to be 42. Unfortunately, The Ultimate Question itself is unknown, suggesting on a metaphoric level that it is more important to ask the right questions than to seek definite answers.

When asked to produce The Ultimate Question, the computer says that it can't, but it can help design an even more powerful computer (the Earth) that can. The programmers then embark on a further, ultimately futile, ten-million-year program to discover The Ultimate Question, a process that is hindered after eight million years by the unexpected arrival on Earth of the Golgafrinchans and then ruined completely, five minutes before completion, when the Earth is destroyed by the Vogons, to make way for a new Hyperspace Bypass.

The author was presented with many readers' theories about The Ultimate Question and The Ultimate Answer in his lifetime, all of which he rebutted with his own somewhat apocryphal explanations.

The search for The Ultimate Question

In the story, the Deep Thought computer has calculated the answer to the ultimate question to be 42. It tells the programmers that they should have been more specific in the question they had asked. It goes on to tell them that it will design a new "greater computer" to find this question. This new computer will incorporate living beings in the "computational matrix" and compute The Ultimate Question. The new computer is discovered to be the Earth, which the pan-dimensional creators occupy as supervisors by taking on the form of mice. At the beginning of the story, the Earth is destroyed by a race of beings called the Vogons. This is now discovered to have been just five minutes before the question was formed. The Vogons had been hired to destroy the Earth by a consortium of psychiatrists, led by Gag Halfrunt, who feared for the loss of their careers when the meaning of life became known.

Lacking a real question, the mice proposed to use "How many roads must a man walk down?" (from Bob Dylan's protest song "Blowin' in the Wind") as The Ultimate Question for the "5-D chat show and lecture circuit" (in their dimension). One of the pan-dimensional beings called Frankie Mouse admits:

In a 2005 article for the magazine TV Zone, Lance Parkin noted that Majikthise might have accidentally hit upon the Question the day Deep Thought was activated. "I mean, what's the use of our sitting up half the night arguing that there may or may not be a God if this machine only goes and gives us his bleeding phone number the next morning?" God's phone number is 42, although, as Parkin noted, knowing that is no use without the dialing code.

The referance to the number "42" can also be seen on the apartment door of Fox Mulder on the "X Files".

Arthur's Scrabble tiles

At the end of the first radio series (and television series, and The Restaurant at the End of the Universe book) Arthur Dent, having escaped the Earth's destruction, potentially has some of the computational matrix in his brain. He attempts to discover The Ultimate Question by extracting it from his brainwave patterns, as abusively suggested by Marvin the Paranoid Android, when a Scrabble-playing caveman spells out FORTY TWO. Arthur pulls random letters from a bag, but only gets the sentence "WHAT DO YOU GET IF YOU MULTIPLY SIX BY NINE?"

Arthur and Ford are simply forced to accept "What a Wonderful World" the Earth is.

This 'question' is impossible with a standard set of Scrabble, as it has only two Ys. In the TV series and book, the set has been handmade from Arthur's memory; in the radio series Arthur has a "pocket Scrabble set" at Milliways.

The program on the "Earth computer" should have run correctly, but the unexpected arrival of the Golgafrinchans on prehistoric Earth caused input errors into the system - computing (because of the garbage in, garbage out rule) the wrong question - the question in Arthur's subconscious being invalid all along.

Fenchurch had figured out the ultimate question in a small cafe in Rickmansworth just before Earth's destruction, but lost her memory of what it was in the universe where Earth survived.

The exclusion philosophy

The exclusion philosophy first appeared in Fit the Seventh of the radio series, on Christmas Eve, 1978:

The first two theories start the second novel (The Restaurant at the End of the Universe) and are confirmed at the close of the third (Life, the Universe and Everything) where Arthur encounters Prak (played on radio's The Tertiary Phase by the actor who was Arthur Dent in the 1 May to 9 May 1979 stage show"). A Krikkit-robot caused a massive overdose of a truth serum to be accidentally administered to Prak, who was then sworn to tell "the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth" which he did unstoppably. Prak confirms that 42 is indeed The Ultimate Answer, and confirms that it is impossible for both The Ultimate Answer and The Ultimate Question to be known about in the same universe (compare the uncertainty principle) as they will cancel each other out and take the Universe with them to be replaced by something even more bizarre (as described in the first theory) and that it may have already happened (as described in the second).

The final 42 resolution

At the end of Mostly Harmless, the fifth book in the increasingly inaccurately named Hitch-Hiker's Trilogy, there is a final reference as Arthur and Ford are dropped off at Club Beta: The entire Earth (in every version of the Whole Sort of General Mishmash) is destroyed by the Grebulon Leader in a "most terrible catastrophe" soon after this final 42 reference.

Adams and the choice of the number 42

Douglas Adams was asked many times during his career why he chose the number 42. Many theories were proposed, but he rejected them all. On November 3, 1993, he gave an answer on

Adams described his choice as

Despite this, there is evidence of other explanations.

Base 13

Some readers saw that 613 × 913 = 4213 (using base 13). Douglas Adams later joked about this observation, saying:

Video Arts theory

Whilst 42 was a number with no hidden meaning, Adams explained in more detail in an interview with Iain Johnstone of BBC Radio 4 (recorded in 1998 though never broadcast) to celebrate the first radio broadcast's 20th anniversary. Having decided it should be a number, he tried to think what an "ordinary number" should be. He ruled out non-integers, then he remembered having worked as a "prop-borrower" for John Cleese on his Video Arts training videos.

Cleese needed a funny number for the punchline to a sketch involving a bank teller (himself) and a customer (Tim Brooke-Taylor). Adams believed that the number that Cleese came up with was 42 and he decided to use it.

The 1977 Burkiss Way: 42 Logical Positivism Avenue

Adams had also written a sketch for The Burkiss Way called "42 Logical Positivism Avenue", broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on 12 January 1977 - 14 months before the Hitchhiker's Guide first broadcast "42" in fit the fourth, 29 March 1978.

Radio Interview with Douglas Adams

in January 2000, in response to a panelist's "Where does the number 42 come from?" on the radio show "Book Club" Adams explained that he was

Stephen Fry

Stephen Fry, a friend of Adams, claims that Adams told him "exactly why 42", and that the reason is However, Fry says that he has vowed not to tell anyone the secret, and that it must go with him to the grave.

John Lloyd

John Lloyd, Adams' collaborator on The Meaning of Liff and two Hitchhikers fits said that Douglas has called 42

Further reading

Smith, Mol (2007). 42 - The Answer to Life, The Universe, and Everything. Maurice Smith. ISBN 978-0-9557-1370-5.

See also


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