August 23, 2008

A year wiser?

Tomorrow is the anniversary of my birth. I'm a 1966 model, so I will be turning 42. According to the Hitchhiker's Guide, I am officially the answer to any question in the universe.

In Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, 42 is the number from which all meaning ("the meaning of life, the universe, and everything") could be derived.

A BBC radio script based on Adams' book contains the following lines:
("Cave man" lays out following sentence in Scrabble stones: "What do you get if you multiply six by nine?")Arthur: Six by nine? Forty-two? You know, I've always felt that there was something fundamentally wrong with the Universe. (Faint and distant voice:) Base thirteen!

For the literal-minded and those unfamiliar with terms like "base thirteen," this is a number system in which the number 10 is equivalent to our more familiar decimal 13. A base-13 number 42, therefore, is the same as four 13s plus 2, or decimal 54. So "six by nine" (six times nine) or decimal 54 is, in base 13, 42. For the mystically inclined, 42 in base 13 is the same as 110110 in binary (base 2). This could mean almost anything, and many Adams fans have spent untold hours discovering all of the places where the number "42" pops up. For example, there are many mentions of the number in the Book of Revelation. Others have made a game of finding 42s, such as these:

The angle at which light reflects off of water to create a rainbow is 42 degrees.
Two physical constants in the universe are the speed of light and thediameter of a proton. It takes light 10 to the minus 42nd power seconds to cross the diameter of a proton.
The sum of the ordinal alphabetic positions of the initials (SPG) for Stan (P.) Gibilisco, an oft-published science and technology writer, is equal to 42 (S=19, P=16, G=7).
A barrel holds 42 gallons.

(It should be noted that all of these 42s are base 10, not base 13.)

The pressure is daunting. I've always relied maintaining a degree of naivete and deferring to others (others includes "the Internet") for the tough answers. I have less than 24 hours to maintain that posture, then responsibility for having answers kicks in. I probably should consult with the Mini Fresh, because last time I checked, she knew everything. Evidence of this academic prowess is contained in her two word reply to everything I utter, "I know."

Maybe she is like Max Tivoli, and has aged backwards. Started at 55 and now is 42?


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