Tuesday 22 June 1999
Readers were asked to say why the computer in Douglas Adams's The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy announced that "the Meaning of Life, the Universe andEverything was 42", inscrutably offered for solution in Delphic-Oracle style by a cyberdeity (Susan Tomer).
Because the world is at sixes and sevens was a popular answer, as was "For tea, two".
God created the world in six seven-hour days, working 9am-1pm and 2pm-5pm, 42 hours in all (Tony Harper). 42nd Street is where it all happens in dance (Mike Gifford). The number 42 is the Dewey Hexadecimal System classification of this subject in the Library of the Cosmos (Alan Russell). The Rev Betty Roe reminds us of the 42-line Gutenberg bible, the first known book to be printed on movable type. While Stewart Moore is convinced that 4-to-2 refers to the score by which England beat West Germany in the 1966 World Cup final.
A.G. Clarke, a carer for Hal, a disabled computer in Palo Alto, Ca 2001, writes to say that this is a plagiarism of Hal's swansong, "Daisy Daisy", which terminates in a "bicycle made for two".
Bruce Birchall points out that 42 is simply the numeric sum of D. Adams (4+1+4+ 1+13+19=42) and, as such, a mid-novel signature, which can also be read as "Dada manuscript". He speculates that perhaps the computer was trying to say "fortuitous". Or "fortitude" (Nigel Plevin) or "Fort Knox" (J. Timms). Or "Foretaste" (Sue Jones).
It's an error message, according to Anthea Rose, or, says Paula White, code for "Please repeat the question?".
Death is inevitable when body temperature exceeds 42C, so the meaning of life is . . . death! The message is "For Tito!" - a slogan to reunite the Balkans (Polly Smith). And Tim Mills informs us that 42 was the planning order number allocated for the demolition of earth, posted in council offices light years away - meaning that decisions about you are taken elsewhere and without your knowledge.
Two dice and the 40 squares of the Monopoly board - a paradigm for life's journey, as Petra Hollis points out . . . much as one dislikes the capitalist ethos, the pursuit of money does determine many of our actions, she says.
Annie Bissett, Bruce Birchall and Betty Roe each win a Chambers' Dictionary of Quotations. We now seek pithy epigraphs for the headstones of well- known folk, real or imaginary (e.g. Goldilocks: thief and squatter). Suggestions to Seraphim, Creativity, Features, The Independent, I Canada Square, London E14 5DL by 1 July. Three Chambers prizes and results on 6 July. Next week: ways of keeping brain alert and spirits up in hospital.
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