The revelation, a week ago, that 42 is indeed the answer to Life, the Universe and Everything - or at least the value of Hubble's constant, which comes to much the same thing - has delighted all fans of Douglas Adams. Since then, a spate of 42-sightings have confirmed - in the minds of true believers at least - its all-pervading nature.

On the very same day as the Hubble report, the "Number of the Day" on our sports pages was none other than 42. The following Monday saw the sad death of Marje Proops after 42 years as an agony aunt; then on Wednesday we noticed there were 42 days left until Christmas. Finally, on Thursday morning the Duchess of York told Sue McGregor that in the early years of her marriage, she and Prince Andrew had been together only 42 days each year.

Furthermore, Don Stallybrass, the high priest of Britain's fortytwoists, has written to us to point out that on page 42 of The Fontana Dictionary of Modern Thought, an entry for "atomic clock" mentions that one second equals 9,192,631,770 cycles of vibration of a Caesium atom. And that number is, believe it or not, divisible by 42.

We all know about the original 42 articles of the Church of England, a 42-armed Hindu goddess, the 42 sacrifices of Balach in the Book of Numbers, the 42 demons that decided the fate of ancient Egyptians and the "forty and two" months the Book of Revelation predicted the Gentiles would tread the holy city, but does all this really confirm 42 as the answer to everything? After all, there is a one in 42 chance that any number will be divisible by 42.

So we have run some tests - on cricketers, and Londoners named D Adams. For each cricketer in Wisden, we noted whether the total number of runs he scored last season was divisible by 42; for each D Adams, we tested his phone number, with or without 0171, 071, 0181 or 081. Here are the results, with the figures expected by chance.

Total Exp Actual cricketers 286 6.81 4

D Adams (no prefix) 66 1.57 2

D Adams (+0171/0181) 66 1.57 1

D Adams (+071/081) 66 1.57 0

Most results are below chance, though they provide evidence that Oftel did, if anything, make matters worse with the number changes. We conclude, however, that 42 is not the answer to Life, the Universe and Everything.

William Hartston

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