Creativity: Forty-two ways to use a number

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The Independent Culture
A FORTNIGHT ago, we took a break from normal creativity to consider the mystical number 42. The response has been so great (at least 42 letters) that we feel obliged to return to the topic today.

Many readers pointed out that 9 times 6 does equal 42, if you work to base 13. Several of you concluded that most extra-galactic life-forms have 13 fingers, though there seems no general agreement on the division between two (or more) hands.

Others prefer to think in binary. Professor Charles Hughes tells us that in information engineering a sequence of 1s and 0s is commonly used to synchronise a receiver after a break in transmission, and 101010 is the binary form of 42.

The Rev Paul Coleman, who has long been collecting 42s, points out that 42 is: The number of orcs slain by Gimli at the battle of Helm's Deep in Lord of the Rings; The number of hours for which Juliet did 'sleep like death'; and the maximum number of any one gift (geese-a-laying and swans-a-swimming) sent by my true love over the Christmas period. It is also, best of all, the number of eyes in a deck of 52 playing cards.

Isobel Montgomery Campbell points out that the number 42 cannot be found in Gray's Anatomy, a matter surely of some significance.

Bryan Anson directs his attention to 42nd Street in New York (geographically on the 42nd parallel) , where he finds the 42 tracks of Grand Central Station and the 42 storeys of the McGraw Hill building. Pausing to accuse Bill Clinton of being the 42nd President of the US, he identifies a spate of recent reports in the Independent including 42 university teachers sacked in Ethiopia, Cambodia's first democratic elections for 42 years, a mention of the spy George Blake being sentenced to 42 years for betraying 42 British agents, and a survey of 420 accounts showing that only 42 per cent of new staff have a company car.

'Are you doing this on purpose?' he asks.

Lindsay Warden provides the most comprehensive list of 42s, claiming it to be: the maximum number of odd socks in a washing machine, the minimum number of wire coat- hangers at the end of a wardrobe rail, the number of defunct light-bulbs needed to make a model of Canary Wharf, and the number of Irish potatoes it takes to top a pie containing 42 Yorkshire terriers.

Mike Phillips points out that in the standard computer code ASCII, the number 42 stands for 'multiply'. When a computer says '42' it is telling us that the answer to life, the universe and everything is to go forth and multiply.

This week's object is Mr Norman Lamont. Any ideas for uses to which he could be put should be sent to Creativity, the Independent, 40 City Road, London EC1Y 2DB.