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Turning 42: A Nerd Looks Forward and Backward


Posted December 1, 2013 by

I was born at the tail end of 1971. That means that this year, 2013, I turn 42. Aside from 16 and 21, I consider this my biggest and most important birthday, albeit for very different reasons.


Martin Freeman as Arthur Dent in the movie version of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. (Image courtesy of

Why is 42 important to me? Many years ago, I read a book. An entire series of books to be exact, written by Douglas Adams. These books began with The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. In this series of books, a group of beings create a huge computer, named Deep Thought. The sole purpose of this computer is to come up with “the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything.” It takes this computer seven and a half million years to come up with the answer, which is 42. The computer then states that the answer seems meaningless because the beings that told it what to do never knew what The Question was. Which brings us back to me.

Now that I am 42, I feel that I can begin searching for the question. The only problem is that the answer must be 42. This means that we must begin by looking at the answer.

We can start with math and numbers. We know that 42 is an even number. We know that its factors are 1, 2, 3, 6, 7, 14, 21, and 42 (to keep things easy, we will not go into negative factors). We can see that there is not a perfect square among the factors. I don’t think that the answer is hidden there. The answer could be in some complicated mathematical equation.  √36 * √49 = 42, but then we are stuck with deciphering what the significance of  36 and 49 are as well.

I don’t think that the answer is in math. It could be a much fancier and more complex algorithm, but my mind is not beautiful enough and I am not now nor have I ever been a janitor at Harvard.

My answer lies in an actual question, so let’s look at some famous questions:

“How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop?”

I doubt that this question is one that is important enough to ask the question to. Mr. Owl has already given us the answer as 3, so we can rule this question out. Plus, I don’t like Tootsie Rolls.

“How many roads must a man walk down?”

Is that the question as the mice supposed. (Read the books.) Once again, I don’t think so. The point of Dylan asking the question was not for an answer but to ponder the question.

“What is love?”

While Haddaway’s question needs answering, I don’t think that we can quantify love with a numerical answer.

“What does the fox say?”

While this is a popular question, it is one that is easily answered by an internet search. (Hint: Ring-ting-ting-ting-ting is not the answer.)

However, it is quite possible that the question will not be found in the world of pop-culture. That would take all of those questions out of the running. Maybe it is one of those deep philosophical questions, the kind that we’re asked in Philosophy 101, which I slept through.

“What is the sound of one hand clapping?”

While this is a good question and one that can be pondered, 42 is not the sound of one hand clapping.

“If a tree falls in a forest and there’s no one there to hear it, does it make a noise?”

This should have a yes or no answer. The answer is yes, by the way. Just because we cannot observe something happening, it does not mean that there was anything special or different about it. (At least, probably not on this scale.) I get the point, we’re asking if the outcome changes because something was observed. In this case, we have no evidence that the outcome would be any different. We might as well wonder whether anything even exists except what is directly around us. As I type these things, you don’t exist until you read them. Bunk and hogwash. My writings are powerful and important, but not powerful or important enough to grant meaning and existence to you. (Unless they are, in which case, you are welcome.)

“How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?”

To answer this question, there are several variables that need input. Is there a time limit, or are we allowing said woodchuck to chuck wood from now until the cows come home (about 6:45 pm)? We also need to know data about the woodchuck himself. Is he well rested? Well fed? Is he up to chuck wood at this time? I am quite tempted to turn back to math and come up with a complex formula, but math makes my head hurt and my nose bleed. Stupid math. This answer probably isn’t 42 anyway.

“Is there life after death?”

An important question, to be sure, but not one that we can answer with 42, unless there are actually 42 lives after death. This would bring up further questions such as if there are 42 lives to choose from or you start cycling through the 42 lives.

To be perfectly honest, those questions have never seemed answerable and they give my tired-brain, which is a common ailment for men of a certain age.

With every year I get older and every slow step towards eventual death, more questions will pop up. Answers that were once correct are now…not. It’s not just the way that I think about Life, The Universe and Everything (see, I brought it back to Douglas Adams and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) but it is the way that I think of my second half.

Life is not like video games. At no time IRL (in real life) will I ever respawn. I do not have a CTRL+ALT+DELETE option and CTRL+Z does nothing for me. We get one of these. People might say that today is the first day of the rest of your life, which would make yesterday the last day of the first part of your life and three weeks ago inconsequential.  Unless it all was inconsequential and life is nothing but a day-to-day grind designed to tide us over until the next fall TV premiere season.  Following this train of thought, if today was the first day of the rest of my life and there is another today tomorrow,  that means that I just have to continually start over and start over and start over. At this rate, I will never start the rest of my life.

Quite possibly, that is the point of 42 being the answer. Quit asking what the answer is and find it yourself.

Or maybe not.

Who knows?

Nathan Gifford

Nathan lives in Cincinnati, Ohio with his wife, child and Zeus The Mighty, their dog. Nathan is a writer, a father, a songwriter, and a human.


    Sharon Gifford

    What an awesome article. My theory about 42 – the perfect number is 7 and man’s number is 6. The product of God and man would be 42. My dear son I realize what a great writer you are when I read something like this.

    Todd Lovessweeps

    Great article – passed the 42 mark myself not too long ago.

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