42

The number 42, or μβ to my Greek friends, is a funny old number. Aside from being a pronic, abundant and sphenic number it is also the third primary pseudoperfect number. It is also the perfect score on the US Math Olympiad and the maximum number of points one can obtain in an International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme.

The fastest way to cross the planet? Drill a hole through the earth, suck all the air from the tube you’ve created and allow gravity to do its thing. The journey time? It will take you precisely 42 minutes. It’s an unlucky number in Japan, because it sounds too much like ‘unto death’. Which is exactly what might occur if you did decide to do that free fall journey through the earth.

It’s also a bit of a religious number, is 42. There were 42 Egyptian gods and goddesses, 42 generations in Matthews’ Genealogy of Jesus and according to Revelations the Beast will hold dominion over the earth for 42 days. Not forgetting the Gutenburg Bible, aka the 42 Line Bible. Each page consisted of 42 lines, you see. Will the number 42 get you to heaven? I don’t know. But it can get you to the moon. It’s easy. Just take a piece of paper. Any old piece of paper. Now, fold it in half 42 times. Your piece of paper will reach to our lunar friend. Seriously.

Did you know that the only jersey number retired by all Major League baseball teams is the number 42 shirt? Unless its Jackie Robinson day, April 15, in which case everyone wears a shirt with the number 42 on it. There was once an episode of Doctor Who titled ’42’ that lasted, would you believe, a total of 42 minutes. Lewis Carroll was positively obsessed by the number 42, littering his work with the digits for no apparent reason.

You might well be beginning to think I’ve come down with a bit of 42 fever today too. But there is a point to all this. Today is my birthday. Can you guess how old I am? That’s right, I’m 32. I wish. Obviously, I am in fact 42. It’s not an otherwise important milestone. So I’ve had to justify the number 42 with some pretty tenuous, but entirely genuine, facts and figures.

But perhaps it should be a big day. After all, 21 is something of a biggie. And this is the second time I’ve passed 21 years. I remember my 21st. A night in the pub drinking ciders spiked with vodka. It was a good night, which finished without being arrested, hospitalised or projectile vomiting. To be fair, in the UK, this probably amounts to an unsuccessful 21st birthday celebration.

But most importantly of all, I am sincerely hoping that this will be the year that I will finally understand the question. I know the answer. The answer, of course, is 42. And it makes perfect sense that this will be the year I am enlightened. What is the damned question??

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