On Arriving at the Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything

I’m forty-two years old today. Forty-two doesn’t have the quality of such milestone ages as nineteen, twenty-five, thirty, forty, or so on … but as a number in and of itself, forty-two has always had something of a talismanic quality for me, for reasons I wasn’t aware of until I started to give it some thought.

It all goes back to the multiplication tables, really. The four central numbers there are thirty-six (six by six), forty-nine (seven by seven) and forty-two twice (six by seven and vice versa). Forty-two has always been a comforting number, in its centrality and in the fact that I always liked the equation 6×7. I never had to reach for the answer, or ask myself what numbers multiplied to make forty-two, unlike such products as fifty-four, sixty-three, and fifty-six. Why those numbers always required (and still require) a moment’s thought to remember their combinations, I couldn’t say—other than to speculate that there’s a lot of reasons why I am an English professor and not, say, and engineer or accountant.


I also like the individual numbers six and seven. Seven has the obvious talismanic quality of luck, of prime numberhood, and the fact that it just looks cool. 7. Six seems like a friendlier number, hobbit-like in its cheerful rotundity and evenness. 6. Together they seem like a fun pair.

There is also, of course, the fact of galactic philosophical history as chronicled in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Tasked with coming up with the answer to life, the universe, and everything, the uber-computer Deep Thought calculated for several million years, until finally presenting its answer:

“Alright,” said the computer and settled into silence again. The two men fidgeted. The tension was unbearable.
“You’re really not going to like it,” observed Deep Thought.
“Tell us!”
“Alright,” said Deep Thought. “The Answer to the Great Question …”
“Yes …!”
“Of Life, the Universe and Everything …” said Deep Thought.
“Yes …!”
“Is …” said Deep Thought, and paused.
“Yes …!”
“Is …”
“Yes … !!! … ?”
“Forty-two,” said Deep Thought, with infinite majesty and calm.

I await enlightenment. Hopefully it is not mathematical in nature.

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