Here’s Scientific American in a more entertaining mode. Remember when Deep Thought, the computer in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1979) spit out the Answer to the great question of life? It was: 42
Curiously, 42 does keep turning up in odd places:
The number 42 also turns up in a whole string of curious coincidences whose significance is probably not worth the effort to figure out. For example:
In ancient Egyptian mythology, during the judgment of souls, the dead had to declare before 42 judges that they had not committed any of 42 sins.
The marathon distance of 42.195 kilometers corresponds to the legend of how far the ancient Greek messenger Pheidippides traveled between Marathon and Athens to announce victory over the Persians in 490 B.C. (The fact that the kilometer had not yet been defined at that time only makes the connection all the more astonishing.)
Ancient Tibet had 42 rulers. Nyatri Tsenpo, who reigned around 127 B.C., was the first. And Langdarma, who ruled from 836 to 842 A.D. (i.e., the 42nd year of the ninth century), was the last.Jean-Paul Delahaye, “For Math Fans: A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Number 42” at Scientific American
And so forth. Lots of other numbers probably have stories like this.
Hitchhiker’s author Douglas Adams (1952–2001) said he did not attach any specific significance to the number 42.
Or didn’t he? How will we ever know?
If you are not familiar with the Hitchhiker series, wait till you get to the part where the computer spits out the Ultimate Question. Classic camp naturalism. Not that you want it running your life.
More weird stuff about 42: