How to celebrate being 42 every fourth year

Deep Thought reveals The Answer

A long time after Deep Thought reveals The Answer to Loonquawl and Phouchg, Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect try to figure out what The Question might be. Marvin (the Paranoid Android) had told them that The Question was imprinted in Arthur’s brainwave pattern, so they try to tease it out from his head by means of a makeshift Scrabble set. Arthur draws tiles from a bag, revealing a question:

“What do you get if you multiply six by nine?”
“Six by nine. Forty two.”
“That’s it. That’s all there is.”
“I always thought something was fundamentally wrong with the universe.”

Douglas Adams (19522001), The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

In these enlightened days, of course, no one believes a word of it (as someone once said). But, nevertheless, the meme of ’42’ spreads relentlessly. Well, it does that in my head, anyway.

If you, like me, are addicted to the meme, I’ve come up with another way you can celebrate it. And it’s a way that allows you to do it once every four years – provided that you’ve completed at least 22 circumsolar navigations. That’s 22 in decimal, of course. Another way of saying ‘decimal’ is ‘base 10’; and numbers can be written specifying the base using positional notation. So, ’22’ can be shown as ’2210‘.

The ‘question’ that Arthur and Ford discover, 610x910, equals 5410. But that answer can also be represented in any other base, not just base 10. In base 13, for instance: 613x913=4213 (four times thirteen plus two). Just to be clear: I didn’t come up with that; someone else did, decades ago. Douglas Adams himself is said to have refuted this explanation, claiming:

I may be a sorry case, but I don’t write jokes in base 13.

Douglas Adams (allegedly: I’ve been unable to verify this quote)

I’ve always thought that was a pity, really; it’s a wonderful solution, as it highlights the reality that we, homo fatuus brutus, the descendants of DNA‘s ‘B Ark’, have made such a grand job of so thoroughly screwing things up. I don’t mean to slur the man’s good name, but I wonder whether he was perhaps just covering up for not having thought of it himself.

My friend Rusty is a fellow forty-two aficionado (with emphasis, naturally, on the ‘fish’). He’s fond of pondering alternative solutions to the answer for The Answer (one particularly good example of which is recounted in my post 42!). Rusty was as pleased as Punch when I told him I’d figured out that he’d be able to celebrate his ’42nd’ trip around the Sun on his next birthday :)

For ages 22 and up, you can figure out the base you need to use to ‘be’ ’42’ from the formula (age-22)/4+5.

Or, if formulas befuddle you, to put it another way:

  1. Subtract 22 from your age.
  2. If the result is negative, you’ll have to wait (until you’re 22). Otherwise:
  3. Halve the result; then halve it again (note that half of zero is zero!)
  4. If the result isn’t a whole number (including 0), try again next year. Otherwise:
  5. Add 5 to give the base conversion needed to make you ’42’.

And if even that’s too much for you, here’s a handy conversion table:

348‘Base 8’ is also known as ‘octal’. A minor geek’s perfect age?
4210The ‘natural’ perfect age?
6616‘Base 16’ is ‘hexadecimal’. A major geek’s perfect age?
7017Douglas Adams (RIP), next birthday (11 March)
8621Carl Sagan (RIP), now
Ages at which you can be said to be ’42’ in the given base

So, now I have another day to celebrate: 11Mar2022, the day on which Douglas, were he still with us, could be said to celebrate his ’42nd’ birthday :)


In trying to allocate an appropriate date on which to publish this post, I initially thought of 13Apr2022, as that is 42 days before Towel Day next year. But I’ve already got a post scheduled to mark that event.

Then I thought, Why not 42 weeks ahead? Unfortunately, I’ve missed the boat on that, as, by my reckoning, that would be Wednesday 04Aug2021.

But having come so far, I pushed the boat out even farther still, thinking, Why not ’42’ days ahead – but in a different base? 4210 is 2224… and 222 days before Towel Day is 15Oct2021.

Dang. That was last Friday.

And then I thought, So what? It’s all nonsense anyway :)



  hours  minutes  seconds


Towel Day 2022

Note: the clock is calibrated according to 10:10:10 UTC
as that, to me, is the best time for this planetary event.

About peNdantry

Phlyarologist (part-time) and pendant. Campaigner for action against anthropogenic global warming (AGW) and injustice in all its forms. Humanist, atheist, notoftenpist. Wannabe poet, writer and astronaut.
This entry was posted in ... wait, what?, Just for laughs, memetics, Phlyarology and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

21 Responses to How to celebrate being 42 every fourth year

  1. rusty says:

    This ongoing “wringing-out meaning” from 42 reminds me of a pair who are happily bickering with one-another, each of the alternating & eternal one-up salvos launched with the preamble, “And another thing!”…

    (Hmmm… That rings-of a good title for a book! I wonder if it’s been used already…)

    As to Adams’ denigrating the ‘Base13’ connection between “6×9” and “42”, your timorous attribution reminds me of another almost forgotten academic work… I think it was Darwin Charles who wrote that book titled: “On the Origin of the Specious Quotation”…

    (And, after that blather, it may be worthy of note that, just as ‘Base 5’ is the lowest base that contains the symbol ‘4’ (useful for expressing “42”), ‘Base10’ is the lowest ‘base’ that contains the symbol ‘9’, thereby allowing one to express the statement “6×9″…)

    “There are three stages of scientific discovery: first people deny it is true; then they deny it is important; finally they credit the wrong person.”
    ― Alexander Von Humboldt… (or maybe not… who can say?)

    PS: If an “Open University” is one that does not require attendance, does the same liberal approach apply to an “Open Mind”???

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Herb says:

    There are also these quotes from Douglas to consider:

    “The answer to this is very simple. It was a joke. It had to be a number, an ordinary, smallish number, and I chose that one. Binary representations, base thirteen, Tibetan monks are all complete nonsense. I sat at my desk, stared into the garden and thought ’42 will do’. I typed it out. End of story.”

    “I wanted a nice, ordinary number, one that you wouldn’t mind taking home and introducing to your parents.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • peNdantry says:

      Indeed. (Hey, have you been peeking in my drafts? I’ve got that first quote in my post that’s scheduled for 13Apr2022!)

      But also consider that Stephen Fry is on record saying the following:

      Douglas told me in the strictest confidence exactly why 42. The answer is fascinating, extraordinary and, when you think hard about it, completely obvious. Nonetheless amazing for that. Remarkable really. But sadly I cannot share it with anyone and the secret must go with me to the grave. Pity, because it explains so much beyond the books. It really does explain the secret of life, the universe, and everything.

      Somebody’s telling porkies. And knowing Douglas’s zany sense of humour, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find (not that we ever will) that it’s him.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: Rp How to celebrate being 42 every fourth year – Unexpected Objects

  4. It’s funny. I always write jokes in base 14.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I tried writing jokes in base 13 but nobody except aliens from the Andromeda Galaxy got them. There, I’m a regular genius, but I only have 1 head i decided to stay here
    Take the road to Laughter

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Forestwood says:

    My brain hurts after reading all this….

    Liked by 2 people

  7. “So what? It’s all nonsense anyway :)” Precisely!

    But the age conversion table is quite neat. And I like your countdown trick.

    Liked by 1 person

    • peNdantry says:

      Ah, you know I have a fondness for nonsense. As Mr. Ohh! says, laughter is best.

      The ‘countdown’ block is one of the few things about the WordPress ‘Gutenberg’ (AKA ‘block’) editor that is actually an improvement over the old. I have to admit that, once they sort out whateverthehellitis that makes it so sluggish, I may actually grow to like it.

      Here’s to your own next 42nd birthday; cheers!

      Liked by 1 person

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