Saturday, March 09, 2013

Today I Am (Well It's My Birthday Too Yeah)

"Good morning," said Deep Thought at last.
"Er ... good morning, O Deep Thought," said Loonquawl nervously, "do you have ... er, that is ..."
"An answer for you?" interrupted Deep Thought majestically. "Yes, I have."
The two men shivered with expectancy. Their waiting had not been in vain.
"There really is one?" breathed Phouchg.
"There really is one," confirmed Deep Thought.
"To Everything? To the great Question of Life, the Universe and Everything?"
Both of the men had been trained for this moment, their lives had been a preparation for it, they had been selected at birth as those who would witness the answer, but even so they found themselves gasping and squirming like excited children.
"And you're ready to give it to us?" urged Loonquawl.
"I am."
"Now," said Deep Thought.
They both licked their dry lips.
"Though I don't think," added Deep Thought, "that you're going to like it."
"Doesn't matter!" said Phouchg. "We must know it! Now!"
"Now?" inquired Deep Thought.
"Yes! Now..."
"All right," said the computer, and settled into silence again.  The two men fidgeted.  The tension was unbearable.
"You're really not going to like it," observed Deep Thought.
"Tell us!"
"All right," said Deep Thought. "The Answer to the Great Question ..."
"Yes ... !"
"Of Life, the Universe and Everything ..." said Deep Thought.
"Yes ... !"
"Is ... " said Deep Thought, and paused.
"Yes ... !"
"Is ... "
"Yes ... !!! ... ?"
"Forty-two," said Deep Thought, with infinite majesty and calm.

-- Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Chapter 27

In fact it was simply chosen because it was a completely ordinary number, a number not just divisible by two but also by six and seven. In fact it's the sort of number you could, without any fear, introduce to your parents.

-- Douglas Adams (quoted in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Original Radio Script)

At this moment the King, who had been for some time busily writing in his note-book, cackled out `Silence!' and read out from his book, `Rule Forty-two. ALL PERSONS MORE THAN A MILE HIGH TO LEAVE THE COURT.'
Everybody looked at Alice.
`I'M not a mile high,' said Alice.
`You are,' said the King.
`Nearly two miles high,' added the Queen.
`Well, I shan't go, at any rate,' said Alice: `besides, that's not a regular rule: you invented it just now.'
`It's the oldest rule in the book,' said the King.
`Then it ought to be Number One,' said Alice.

-- Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Chapter 12.

The helmsman used to stand by with tears in his eyes; he knew it was all wrong, but alas! Rule 42 of the Code, "No one shall speak to the Man at the Helm," had been completed by the Bellman himself with the words "and the Man at the Helm shall speak to no one." So remonstrance was impossible, and no steering could be done till the next varnishing day. During these bewildering intervals the ship usually sailed backwards.

-- Lewis Carroll, The Hunting of the Snark, Preface
42 is the 5th Catalan number.

-- What's special about this number?

The Catalan numbers (1, 2, 5, 14, 42, 132, 429, 1430, 4862, 16796, 58786, 208012, 742900, 2674440, 9694845, ...), named after Eugène Charles Catalan (1814--1894), arise in a number of problems in combinatorics.... Among other things, the Catalan numbers describe the number of ways a polygon with n+2 sides can be cut into n triangles, the number of ways in which parentheses can be placed in a sequence of numbers to be multiplied, two at a time; the number of rooted, trivalent trees with n+1 nodes; and the number of paths of length 2n through an n-by-n grid that do not rise above the main diagonal.

-- Source

Time is so short and I’m sure
There must be something more

-- Coldplay, "42"

For more see here, here, here, here and here.


Goetz Kluge said...

As for Carroll's "The Hunting of the Snark", the "42" appears also in the poem itself. It's about the "Baker", perhaps the main the hero in the poem:

021 There was one who was famed for the number of things
022 He forgot when he entered the ship:
023 His umbrella, his watch, all his jewels and rings,
024 And the clothes he had bought for the trip.

025 He had forty-two boxes, all carefully packed,
026 With his name painted clearly on each:
027 But, since he omitted to mention the fact,
028 They were all left behind on the beach

The "Baker" reminds me of Thomas Cranmer, who wrote the Forty-Two Articles with his name painted clearly on each. He couldn't save his life by "forgetting" the articles.

Stephen said...

Geoff Kluge,

Yeah, I saw that, actually, but figured I had enough Carroll. If I'd noticed the illustration, though I might have rethought matters.

And I couldn't find a good text of the Cranmer to quote.

Thanks for getting into the spirit of the post!