When Rafa Nadall beat Roger Federer last July in the longest final in Wimbledon history, he became the first Spaniard to win a grass-court major in 42 years. This feels Spain in full celebration mode. It also caused great consternation among Federer fans who were about to witness a sixth straight Wimbledon win. I suspect, however, that most people stumbled into their kitchens yawning for another cup of coffee. I do not. I ran to my computer and opened a folder labeled “42’s,” where I’ve been collecting significant occurrences of the number for years. Before you make me out to be a total crackpot, remember that “42” was revealed by the late British science fiction satirist Douglas Adams (1952 – 2001), as the answer to the ultimate question about life, the universe and everything.
Adams’s science fiction “trilogy,” “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” consisting of five novels, began as a BBC radio series in 1978. The story begins with the destruction of planet Earth to make way for a new intergalactic drift. Dismayed humans receive little sympathy; after all, the notice had been on display for millennia in the basement of a public building. Where? Well, not Earth.
The search for the meaning of life, the universe and everything is carried out by a long-suffering computer called Deep Thought, built by mice. In an unprecedented show of perseverance, he worked on the problem for 7.5 million years before concluding that the answer was number 42.
From the number of Major League Baseball’s first African-American, Jackie Robinson, to the weight in pounds of the chunk of granite used in the ancient Scottish sport of ice curling, 42 shows up a lot in sports, even without accounting for scores. . The New England Patriots waited 42 years to win a national championship; – Was 20-17 over the St. Louis Rams in the first Super Bowl won by a field goal. In October 2002, in their forty-second season, Gene Autry’s now Anaheim Angels won their first World Series.
2009 started out as a year packed with 42’s. Three of the biggest stories, the Hudson River Hero, the Peanut Butter Recall, and the California Octuplets, are inexorably connected to the number. Captain Sully Sullenberger had 42 years of flying experience before landing safely on the Hudson. As of January 10, when King Nut issued its full peanut butter recall, 399 people in 42 states had been infected with salmonella. When Nadya Suleman gave birth to octoplets that brought her children to fourteen and sparked a fierce debate about the unfair burden on taxpayers, California was plunged into a budget crisis. The deficit? $42 billion.
Traffic fatalities have decreased in 42 states. As I finalize this article, I’m listening to Charles Gibson say that 42% of prostate cancers are overdiagnosed. I wonder, will the 2009 government list include 42 foreign terrorist groups like in April 2008?
This pop culture, the Holy Grail of numbers, makes many appearances in history. Napoleon Bonaparte graduated from military school forty-two of fifty-eight, proving once again that you don’t have to be top of his class to make history, though a higher ranking may have helped a bit at Waterloo.
Ben Franklin completed 42 years of public service. Our youngest president, Teddy Roosevelt, was 42 years old when he was sworn in. Rosa Parks was 42 years old in 1955 when she refused to give up her seat on the bus. 42 years after Yuri Gagarin became the first man to travel to space, China became the third nation to send a man into space. Jung Lee Way, aboard the Shun Jo 5, orbited the Earth 14 times. I feel compelled to point out that fourteen is one third of 42.
42,000 feet is the ceiling for commercial aircraft. Captain Cook’s voyage spanned 4,200 miles of ocean. $4,200 was the average annual income in Hoover’s day, and there are 42 gallons in a barrel of crude oil. And who could forget 42nd and Broadway?
Not all significant instances of Adam’s favorite number are happy ones. In February 2003, NASA’s 42-year history of never having a problem re-entering ended with the loss of the Shuttle Columbia. Lenny Bruce, Gilda Radner and Elvis Presley have died at the age of 42. By the way, Elvis made $42 million in 2006.
It’s even in the Bible; Matthew lists 42 generations between Abraham and Jesus, separated into three groups of fourteen. Furthermore, the fourth-century Christian historian Eusebius of Caesarea places the birth of Jesus in the forty-second year of the reign of Octavian Augustus.
Here is the state of Florida! There are 42 bridges in the Florida Keys. National Geographic reported on the relocation of a 350-ton Florida Oak. Its root ball was 42 feet in diameter. In October 1995, the 42 members of the Governor’s Commission for a Sustainable South Florida issued a unanimous statement denouncing the status of the Everglades.
Literature also has its 42’s. The wedding cake in Charles Dickens’s “The Magic Fishbone” is 42 yards around. In Tolkien’s “The Two Towers”, the dwarf Gimley slew 42 orks in the Battle of Helm’s Deep. There are 42 chapters in “Catch 22” by Joseph Heller. That makes me particularly happy. JK Rowling finished the Harry Potter series at the age of forty-two.
My list contains many items that I suspect are no longer true. A 2001 study found that 42 percent of women thought their dogs were better listeners than their husbands. In 2004, we heard that 42 percent of NASCAR fans were women. In 2007 we learned that 42 percent of blind American adults are married. In fact, I got so tired of recording poll data that I began to suspect that its authors were die-hard Adams fans.
My research has left me with many questions. Do red blood cells still last only 42 days as Discover reported in 2002? Is the secret writing embedded in our coin still 1/42 inch tall as PBS’s Nova told us in 2002? Are there still 42 political parties in Iraq as in 2004? Does the United States government still own 42 percent of Wyoming and New Mexico? Does Hewlett Packard still make 42% of its corporate profit from ink sales, as reported in 2007? Didn’t you always know that they were hitting us with those cartridges?
And my personal life? A treasure of 42’s. That was how old my sister was when I finally got to email her on her birthday. 42 degrees is the magic temperature at which our cold weather dehumidifiers no longer work. Our piano tuner says that the ideal humidity for a piano is 42%; he knows nothing about my obsession. The addition my father built on our childhood home was 42 feet deep. 42 was also the number of items on the hospital’s Patient Rights and Responsibilities List when I had my gallbladder removed in 2006.
When my husband Googled my second album released under my maiden name, there were 42,000 results, the first of which was a heavy metal website in Everitt, Pennsylvania that wanted $50 for “Harvest,” which they were selling as a CD. weird christian. I resisted the urge to write to them and tell them I had a few left that I’d be happy to give up for the bargain basement price of… oh, let’s say $42.
And then there is astronomy itself. How many years does daylight last at the poles of Uranus, for example? And the nights? 42. This phenomenon is due to the fact that the axis of the planet is almost perpendicular to the plane of its orbit.
He wanted our closest star to be 4.2 light-years away. Initially, I thought I was going to be disappointed by this. After all, Alpha Centauri’s twin stars, which are often mentioned as the closest ones outside our own solar system, are 4.3 light-years away. But wait! The famous twin star system contains a smaller third star, Proxima Centauri, which is 4.2 light-years from Earth—well, 4.22, if you want to get technical.
Two of the most intriguing cases in astronomy of Adams’ favorite number emerged after his death. In 2007, scientists discovered the Canis Major dwarf galaxy, named for the constellation in which it is located, is located 42,000 light-years from the center of the Milky Way. The forty-second entry on my list is the Allen Telescope Array in the Cascade Mountains of Northern California, which has 42 dishes each six meters in diameter. Funded by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, he began his search for extraterrestrial life in 2006. Somehow, I think Adams would like that.
copyright 2009 by Donna W. Hill