42 – The Answer to Life, the Universe and Everything

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (film)

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some of the teenagers at our High School group at church last week were asking their iPhone some crazy questions. Siri, the name of the computerized personal assistant included with the iPhone, has been in commercials with John Malkovich, Samuel L. Jackson and Zooey Deschanel. The goal for the kids eventually became getting Siri to give the answer “42”.

Apparently, it’s a “thing”. Just another one that I’ve missed. So, I Googled it with the hopes of fitting in just in case it comes up again this week. At least then I wouldn’t have a blank smile on my face – trying to be in on the joke and not letting on that I’m out of touch. Here’s what I found:

  • According to Wikipedia, it’s the natural number right after 41 and directly preceding 43 (thanks!).
  • There’s a movie coming out in 2013 about Jackie Robinson with the title 42.
  • It’s a pronic number and an abundant number. (Not that curious about it. If this is the kids’ joke, I’ll stick with ignorance)
  • The atomic number of molybdenum.
  • A game with Dominoes.
  • Lot’s more. I don’t want to use up my allotted bullet points for one blog, though.

But, there was one definition that fit, and it’s not a new thing. Douglas Adams, author of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, included it in his book as “the answer to life, the uninverse and Everything.” I believe that I’ve figured out why Siri says “42” when facing tough questions!

People have gone to great lengths to find the significance of the number 42. The Independent, a British web site, gives 42 reasons for people to be fascinated with the number, like it being the age Elvis Presley died, the Titanic was going 42 km/hr when it hit the iceberg, and Theodore Roosevelt was the youngest president at age 42. But, here’s the rub: there’s no significance to the number, at least from Adams’ perspective:

“It was a joke. It had to be a number, an ordinary, smallish number, and I chose that one. Binary representations, base 13, Tibetan monks are all complete nonsense. I sat on my desk, stared in to the garden and thought 42 will do. I typed it out. End of story.” (taken from the article I linked to from The Independent)

It’s a great thing to reflect on today. Not only is it the only day in this century that the date is 10-11-12, it is my birthday. And yes, it is my 42nd. Before I read that article, I thought that maybe this day would give me new insight of some kind. Maybe I’d be able to figure out current fads and answers to impossible questions like why Randy is still a judge on American Idol (I’ll have the kids ask Siri that one!).

It’s pointless anyway. The number isn’t more significant than any other. I feel a bit duped. And now that I understand this joke, I’m sure the kids will be on to another by tonight. But, it really isn’t pointless. It’s given me something to blog about on a day when I had nothing.


5 thoughts on “42 – The Answer to Life, the Universe and Everything

  1. Fun topic!

    I was gonna say 42 now performs the function of “geek shibboleth”, a buzzword that shows you you’re “in” the community.

    And then I wikipedia’d up “shibboleth” and they quote Judges 12:5-6, where the Lord’s army of Gilead (under Jephthah– another funny word to say!) invented the use of the term:

    And the Gileadites captured the fords of the Jordan against the Ephraimites. And when any of the fugitives of Ephraim said, “Let me go over,” the men of Gilead said to him, “Are you an Ephraimite?” When he said, “No,” they said to him, “Then say Shibboleth,” and he said, “Sibboleth,” for he could not pronounce it right. Then they seized him and slaughtered him at the fords of the Jordan. At that time 42,000 of the Ephraimites fell.

    42 thousand killed– I almost fell out of my chair. God works in mysterious ways.

    • 42 Thousand?! That’s spooky. Geek Shibboleth should be the name of a Rock Band – maybe one with a guy doin’ a beat box on his tuba. Thanks Kirk.

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