Happy Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe and Everything Day

One of my favorite stories is Hitchhiker’s Guide the Galaxy. The late Douglas Adams originally wrote it as a serial radio drama for the BBC. It later morphed into a five-book trilogy and, after his death, a movie. A brief advertisement: The BBC’s serialized radio drama is by far the best version in my opinion and is available in audio book format (although you have to be careful, because the first book is also available as an audiobook under the same title).

Douglas Adams had a typically British bizarre sense of humor and his books are rich in wonderful aphorisms and silly quotes, such as:

It is no coincidence that in no known language does the phrase “As pretty as an Airport” appear.

And

The ships hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don’t.

He was also a bit of a philosopher and often said things that made you sit up and think, albeit in a silly British way, such as:

He hoped and prayed that there wasn’t an afterlife. Then he realized there was a contradiction involved here and merely hoped that there wasn’t an afterlife.

And

Space is big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to space.

And, more to the point of this essay

There is a theory which states that if ever anybody discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable. There is another theory which states that this has already happened.

One of the key themes to Hitchhiker’s Guide is a particular interstellar species’ attempt to discover the answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe and Everything. SPOILER ALERT: I’m going to give you the answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe and Everything, according to Douglas Adams.

Turns out the answer is 42.

Of course, the interstellar species doing the search failed to search for the question itself, only the answer. So, the answer did them little good. (The book explains the species’ subsequent attempt to discover the “Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe and Everything” itself. That quest didn’t go so well either, which is precisely why the book’s protagonist, Arthur Dent, ends up being a Hitchhiker in the Galaxy.

One time, in an interview on NPR, Adams was asked why he chose 42 as the answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe and Everything. His answer was a typically nerdy one. He thought the number ought to be in binary, since that’s the language computers use and the interstellar species asked a computer for the answer. He also thought the number ought to be clever. Being an atheist, he believed it would be especially clever to use a religiously clever number. He observed that the perfect number, in Jewish numerology is 10 and that the perfect number for Christians is 3, so a series of three tens would be a perfectly clever answer for the Question of Life, the Universe and Everything. But 101010 was not nearly clever enough for Adams so he converted that binary number to the more familiar base-10 and came up with 42.

So, in honor of Douglas Adams (who is no doubt shocked the atheism thing didn’t work out so well and as a result is probably not resting in peace) and his very humorous Hitchhiker’s Guide books, which did work out quite well, in spite of the not so clever atheism thing, I dub today, the tenth day of October, the year of our Lord 2010 (10/10/10 for short), “The Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe and Everything Day.” But before President Obama declares “The Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe and Everything Day” a national holiday, one more Douglas Adams quote is in order:

Anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job.

Oh yeah, and don’t forget your towel.

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