The Ultimate Question is the actual inquiry behind the Ultimate Answer to Life, The Universe, and Everything. The Ultimate Question was sought after the supercomputer Deep Thought revealed the Ultimate Answer to be 42. When Deep Thought asked, Loonquawl and Phouchg were unable to say what the actual question was.
Hence, Deep Thought made the plans for the supercomputer Earth, that would solve the Question in ten million years. However, five minutes before it was due to be complete, the Vogons, under the orders of Gag Halfrunt, destroyed it to make a hyperspace bypass.
It was later revealed that part of the Earth supercomputer was compromised by the Golgafrinchans, whose arrival wiped out the population of humans on the planet.
The mice, who originally commissioned the Earth, needed something to say for their 5D chat show. Due to this, they attempted to form some possible questions as they were preparing to take Arthur's brain, such as the following:
- Are we stronger than the elements?
- What's yellow and dangerous?
- What do you get when you multiply six by seven?
- How many Vogons does it take to change a lightbulb?
- How many roads must a man walk down? (The mice chose this Question as the one they would claim to be the correct one.)
Having returned to the supercomputer Earth, albeit in a prehistoric stage, Ford Prefect got Arthur Dent to randomly pull Scrabble tiles out of a bag, revealing information in his unconscious (Marvin announced that he could see the Question imprinted in Arthur's brainwaves). This resulted in the Question: "What do you get if you multiply six by nine?"
Behind the scenes
- It has been noted that in base 13, 6 multiplied by 9 will equal 42. Douglas Adams later joked, "I don't make jokes in base 13."
- The "how many roads" question is from the lyrics to Bob Dylan's Blowin' in the Wind.
Notes and references
- This possible Question appeared in the Douglas Adams novel The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy as well as the for-television adaptation.
- This possible Question only appeared in the 2005 movie.
- From the Douglas Adams book The Restaurant at the End of the Universe and Fit The Sixth of the radio series.
- Number 42 Explained by Douglas Adams - Also Base 13 Explained, h2g2; link here.