BBC Home

Explore the BBC

Front Page

Life | The Universe | Everything | Advanced Search
Front PageReadTalkContributeHelp!FeedbackWho is Online

Click here to complete your registration.

3. Everything / Deep Thought / Philosophy
3. Everything / Maths, Science & Technology / Mathematics


The number 42 on a ceramic tile house number.

Sunday 10 October, 2010 was that most auspicious of days, 42 Day. Below you'll find all you need to know about this extraordinary number.

42, also written as forty-two, is a number that, if you are counting correctly, comes after 41 and before 43. It is made of two digits, both of which are even numbers. 42 is also an integer and natural number. For some inexplicable reason, a lot of nerdy people1 are obsessed with 42. It seems they have nothing better to do than to think up all sorts of cultural, scientific or religious significance of the number, when, as a matter of fact, it has no particular significance whatsoever because it is a perfectly ordinary number, much like 27, 53 or even 74.

All this trouble started when Douglas Adams wrote a radio series/book/TV series/movie called The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, in which a giant super-computer, named Deep Thought, was built to figure out the answer to Life, the Universe and Everything. It was 42. This was rather confusing, mostly because people didn't even know what the proper question was. Eventually, Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect found out that the question seemed to be 'what do you get when you multiply six by nine', which is actually 54.

The answer to this is very simple. 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'. I typed it out. End of story

Though there has been much debate, Douglas Adams insisted there was no symbolic reason he decided to use 42. Eventually, people realised that 6x9 actually does equal 42 in base 13. Douglas said he didn't know about this at the time, saying 'you don't write jokes in base 13'. Coincidentally, Douglas was 42 years old - base 10 - when his daughter, Polly, was born. His h2g2 Researcher number is U42.

'You're Not Going to Like It'

Here is a list, compiled by some of those nerdy people, of some of the ways 42 has popped up here and there.

  • There are 42 laws of cricket.

  • Paul McCartney, Jimi Hendrix and Jerry Garcia were born in 1942.

  • Singer Elvis Presley died at the age of 42. So did his mother.

  • If you combine the number of dots, or pips, on a pair of dice, there are 42.

  • At the time of writing, Theodore Roosevelt was the youngest United States president when he was elected. He was 42.

  • Canines (dogs and wolves) have 42 teeth.

  • There is a Broadway musical titled 42nd Street.

  • 42 was the jersey number of Jackie Robinson.

  • If you rearrange 'tea for two' you get 'for tea two'.

  • When sending a text message on a mobile phone, to punch in 'h2g2' you have to select 4 (press it twice), 2 (press it four times), 4, then 2 (press it four times).

  • Tiberius was born in 42 BC.

  • In JRR Tolkien's novel The Two Towers, Gimli the Dwarf kills 42 orcs in the battle at Helm's Deep.

  • According to the Book of Revelations, 'The Beast' will hold the Earth for 42 months.

  • There are 42 lines on each page of a Gutenberg Bible.

  • It would take 42 minutes to ride the Gravity Sled.

  • In binary, 42 is 101010.

  • If you search answer to life, the universe and everything2 on Google, the calculator function will display '42'.

  • In the 42nd Street subway station in New York City, there are large, white tiled columns with pretty 42s on each side.

  • An E-ELT, European Extremely Large Telescope, was built to probe the universe. It is 42 metres in diameter3.

  • Washington was the 42nd US state to join the union.

  • Bill Clinton was the 42nd US president.

  • In 2004, Ernie Roscouet finally returned a library book that was 42 years past its due date.

  • There were 42 Soviet missiles based in Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

  • The Orion Nebula is otherwise known as M42. Other occurrences of 42 in astronomy have their own Edited Guide Entry.

  • Element No 42 in the periodic table is molybdenum, a metal. There are no elements with a relative atomic mass of 42.

  • The numbers for the computer in the TV show Lost are 4, 8, 15, 16, 23 and 42.

  • There were 42 generations from Abraham to Jesus.

  • If, for some reason, you wanted to record an entire week's worth of television onto four-hour capacity VHS tapes, it would take 42 of them.

  • 11 February is the 42nd day of the year. Thomas Alva Edison was born on that day in 1847.

  • Gilda Radner, one of the original 'Not Ready For Primetime Players' on Saturday Night Live died of ovarian cancer at the age of 42.

  • The game Connect Four has 42 holes.

  • 'Fortitude', meaning courage in pain or adversity, sounds a little like 'forty-two'.

  • Rosa Parks was 42 years old when she refused to give up her bus seat to a white man.

  • Catch 22, the novel by Joseph Heller, has 42 chapters.

  • Queen Elizabeth II is the 42nd sovereign since the Norman conquest.

  • The tallest building in London is Tower 42.

  • There are 42.194988 kilometres in a marathon.

  • The red light reaching your eye from a rainbow has been deflected by the raindrops through an angle of 42°.

  • It takes light 10-42 seconds to cross the diameter of a proton.

  • A day on Uranus, from sunrise to sunset, lasts for 42 Earth years.

1 A man named Geoff David Busker had his name legally changed to Geoff David Fortytwo.
2 It must all be in lower case, though.
3 The telescope, that is, not the universe.

Discuss this Entry  People have been talking about this Guide Entry. Here are the most recent Conversations:

Hubble Constant
(Last Posting: Aug 15, 2011)

The question
(Last Posting: Jan 4, 2011)

happy tristadecal 42 day
(Last Posting: Oct 14, 2010)

Gutenberg Bible
(Last Posting: Oct 11, 2010)

42 bungee jumps
(Last Posting: Sep 27, 2010)

Why is 42 the answer?
(Last Posting: Apr 7, 2011)

DNA in Monty Python's Flying Circus
(Last Posting: Jan 4, 2011)

JS Bach
(Last Posting: Oct 13, 2010)

Happy 42 Day
(Last Posting: Oct 10, 2010)

Pop group
(Last Posting: May 29, 2010)

Add your Opinion!

There are tens of thousands of h2g2 Guide Entries, written by our Researchers. If you want to be able to add your own opinions to the Guide, simply become a member as an h2g2 Researcher. Tell me More!

Entry Data
Entry ID: A19229763 (Edited)

Written and Researched by:
Galaxy Babe
Danny B
U217697 - Moonhogg - Captain Coffee Break. Last orders, please...
Icy North
  Traveller in Times >42 )^( _
U229466 - Rudest Elf
Tufty - Squirrel (Un)Extraordinaire
swl - If you give a mouse a cookie
Brown Eyed Girl

Edited by:

Date: 14   March   2007

Text only
Like this page?
Send it to a friend

Referenced Guide Entries
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
The Answer To The Ultimate Question Of Life, The Universe, And Everything
Mobile Phones
New York City, USA
Jimi Hendrix - the Musician
'Catch-22' by Joseph Heller
The Cuban Missile Crisis
The Inventions of Thomas Alva Edison
Elvis Presley - the Singer
Anoraks - They're People Too
A History of 'The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy'
Cricket - an Apology
Jackie Robinson - Baseball Legend
The Lord of the Rings
The Amazing 42-Minute Gravity Sled
Douglas Adams - His Life and Worlds
Binary Digits
Tiberius - Roman Emperor (42 BC - 37 AD)
Level 42 - the Band
Queen Elizabeth II
Cricket - Law 42
Sir Paul McCartney - Singer/Songwriter
Occurrences of 42 in Astronomy

Referenced Sites
42 Day
Tower 42

Please note that the BBC is not responsible for the content of any external sites listed.

Most of the content on this site is created by h2g2's Researchers, who are members of the public. The views expressed are theirs and unless specifically stated are not those of the BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of any external sites referenced. In the event that you consider anything on this page to be in breach of the site's House Rules, please click here to alert our Moderation Team. For any other comments, please start a Conversation below.

Front PageReadTalkContributeHelp!FeedbackWho is Online

Most of the content on h2g2 is created by h2g2's Researchers, who are members of the public. The views expressed are theirs and unless specifically stated are not those of the BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of any external sites referenced. In the event that you consider anything on this page to be in breach of the site's House Rules, please click here. For any other comments, please start a Conversation above.

About the BBC | Help | Terms of Use | Privacy & Cookies Policy