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?”Douglas Adams (1952–2001), The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
“Six by nine. Forty two.”
“That’s it. That’s all there is.”
“I always thought something was fundamentally wrong with the universe.”
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’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:
- Subtract 22 from your age.
- If the result is negative, you’ll have to wait (until you’re 22). Otherwise:
- Halve the result; then halve it again (note that half of zero is zero!)
- If the result isn’t a whole number (including 0), try again next year. Otherwise:
- 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:
|34||8||‘Base 8’ is also known as ‘octal’. A minor geek’s perfect age?|
|42||10||The ‘natural’ perfect age?|
|66||16||‘Base 16’ is ‘hexadecimal’. A major geek’s perfect age?|
|70||17||Douglas Adams (RIP), next birthday (11 March)|
|86||21||Carl Sagan (RIP), now|
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.