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42! One of the drawings found in an atomic fallout shelter on Jikthroom Beta, as seen in the opening of Episode 5 of the TV series.

42 (or forty-two) is the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe and Everything. This Answer was first calculated by the supercomputer Deep Thought after seven and a half million years of thought. This shocking answer resulted in the construction of an even larger supercomputer, named Earth, which was tasked with determining what the question was in the first place.

The Ultimate Question

The Earth was destroyed by the Vogons five minutes before its ten-million year program to find the Ultimate Question was due to be completed. One of the only two humans who had survived the destruction of Earth, namely Arthur Dent, pulls random Scrabble tiles from a bag, so as to reveal information in his subconscious (Marvin announced that Arthur had the Question imprinted in his brainwaves). When his friend, Ford Prefect, lines up the tiles, they spell, 'What do you get when you multiply six by nine?'


The discovery of forty-two (the answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe and Everything) appears in every version of the Hitchhiker's story, as does Deep Thought, though with some minor changes.

The radio series and book

In both the radio series and the novel, it is stated that two programmers named Lunkwill and Fook were the ones to turn on Deep Thought and were the first to address it. Then, seven and a half million years later (seventy-five generations later), it was their descendants Loonquawl and Phouchg who were the ones to hear the Answer of forty-two.

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Loonquawl and Phouchg hearing the Answer forty-two in Episode 4 of the TV series.

Deep Thought had warned them that they wouldn't like the answer, and they didn't respond enthusiastically, though Deep Thought pointed out that they had never specified or even known exactly what the Ultimate Question was. This was when Deep Thought decided to design the computer named Earth to figure out this Ultimate Question.

The TV series

In the television series, the programmers are merely described as 'two men' and neither they nor their ancestors are addressed by name. Some parts of the story leading up to the reveal of the Ultimate Answer are also cut out, but the plot remains the same regarding the reveal by Deep Thought of the answer being forty-two.

In the film

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Deep Thought revealing the Answer of forty-two in the 2005 film.

In the 2005 film, events are quite different. In all of the previous versions of the story, the creation of Deep Thought and the discovery of the Ultimate Answer were shown to Arthur by Slartibartfast via Sens-O-Tape (which allows the beholder to experience the events with all senses), but in the film it was Zaphod Beeblebrox who played a recording of the events instead. In the film, only two of the 'brightest and best' created Deep Thought, and those same two, who are never named, were both the ones to address Deep Thought and, seven and a half million years later, to hear the Ultimate Answer. The sequence is cut down quite a bit, and in the film adaptation the two who created Deep Thought and heard the Answer are implied to be young girls, whereas in all previous versions they were implied to be two men.

Behind the scenes

There have been many theories from fans in an attempt to explain why the number 42 was chosen, and what secret meaning it may hold. 

  • Some propose that it was chosen because 42 is 101010 in binary code, others have pointed out that light refracts through a water surface by 42 degrees to create a rainbow, and others have commented that light requires 10−42 seconds to cross the diameter of a proton.
  • Other fans say that 42 is Adams' tribute to the indefatigable paperback book, and is the average number of lines on an average page of an average paperback. Another common theory is that 42 refers to the number of laws in cricket, a recurring theme of the books.
  • Some fans have thought that 'what do you get when you multiply six by nine?' was the Ultimate Question. After all, it was Arthur who has been led to reveal this answer; Arthur was indeed from Earth; the Earth was the giant computer built to work out exactly what the Ultimate Question was; and it is a bona fide question. Six times nine does indeed equal 42 when one calculates in base 13. Adams responded thus: 'I may be a sorry case, but I don't write jokes in base 13.'

Inspiration for the number 42

Douglas Adams revealed the reason why he chose forty-two in this message .

"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'".

He further explained 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 "on his way to work one morning, whilst still writing the scene, and was thinking about what the actual answer should be". He eventually decided that it "should be something that made no sense whatsoever – a number, and a mundane one at that". He arrived at the number 42, completely at random.

Despite Adams stating that he chose the number 42 at random, and that it has no hidden meaning, and his collaborator on 'The Meaning of Liff' and two Hitchhiker's fits, John Lloyd, saying that Adams has called 42 "the funniest of the two-digit numbers"[1], fans still speculate about the 'true' meaning of the number.

Cultural references

  • The Allen Telescope Array, a radio telescope used by SETI, has 42 dishes in homage to the Answer.[2]
  • In the American TV show Lost, 42 is the last of the mysterious numbers 4, 8, 15, 16, 23, and 42. In an interview with Lostpedia, producer David Fury confirmed this was a reference to Hitchhiker's.[3]
  • The British TV show The Kumars at No. 42 is so named because show creator Sanjeev Bhaskar is a Hitchhiker's fan.[4]
  • The band Coldplay's album Viva la Vida includes a song called "42". When asked by Q if the song's title was Hitchhiker's-related, Chris Martin said, "It is and it isn't."[5]
  • The band Level 42 chose its name in reference to the book.[6]
  • The episode "42" of the British science fiction television series Doctor Who was named in reference to the Answer. Writer Chris Chibnall acknowledged that "it's a playful title".[7]
  • Ken Jennings, defeated along with Brad Rutter in a Jeopardy! match against IBM's Watson, writes that Watson's avatar which appeared on-screen for those games showed 42 "threads of thought," shown as colorful lines spinning around Watson's logo, and that the number was chosen in reference to this meme.[8]
  • The Hitchhiker knitting pattern, designed by Martina Behm, is a scarf with 42 teeth.[9]
  • In The Flash, Season 4, Episode 1, Cisco in trying to decipher what Barry is writing explicitly says that what Barry says might solve answer to the Life, the Universe and Everything, which Caitlin suggests is 42.[10]
  • In The X-Files, Fox Mulder lives in apartment 42. This has been acknowledged by the show's creator, Chris Carter, as a reference to Hitchhiker's.[11]
  • The number 47 appears often throughout the Star Trek franchise. When producer Rick Berman was asked about the unusual frequency of the number, he stated, "47 is 42, corrected for inflation."[12] 
  • In the French comic series Ducobu (a non-sci-fi comedy about a hilariously ignorant student and his unending attempts at cheating at a maths test, in a Wile E. Coyote-esque style, there is a recurring gag that the only question Ducobu ever has to answer is "what is 6 multiplied by 7", and he never, ever figures out that the answer is 42.
  • The games developer Mens Sana Interactive released a computer game called "The Answer is 42" on Steam in December 2019. The game consists of 100 puzzles, each of which is a grid of numbers that must be connected to sum 42.
  • The 42nd episode of 'The Spawn Chunks' (a Minecraft podcast) is titled 'Life, The Universe and Pillaging

Notes and references

  1. John Lloyd speaking at the 30th Anniversary Hitchhiker's recording at Douglas Adams Memorial Lecture on Wednesday 12 March 2008 at The Royal Geographical Society.
  2. Hayes, Jacqui (2010). "Silent witness". COSMOS magazine.
  3. "Interview with David Fury"Lostpedia. 20 May 2008
  4. "10 things we didn't know this time last week"BBC News. 14 November 2003.
  5. "Coldplay: Viva La Vida"Q. Archived from the original on 15 July 2009
  6. Carter, Mandy (2006). "Interview: Mark King – Level 42"Level 42.
  7. Darlington, David (April 2007). "Script Doctors: Chris Chibnall". Doctor Who Magazine. No. 381. pp. 24–30.
  8. Jennings, Ken (16 February 2011). "My Puny Human Brain"Slate.
  9. Behm, Martina (2010). "Hitchhiker"Ravelry.
  10. "The Flash Reborn"IMDb.
  11. Hurwitz, Matt; Knowles, Chris (2008). The Complete X-Files: Behind the Scenes, the Myths, and the Movies. San Rafael, California: Insight Editions.
  12. "Occurrences Of The 47 Reference In Movies & Television"Higgypop.

Further reading