3 rings, and an (inter)net

by Yule Heibel on October 28, 2003

Haven’t you ever wondered why 42 is the answer to life, the universe, and everything? Haven’t you wondered what the question is?

I know! I know the question! At the library tonight, I browsed around in the November 1956 issue of Encounter, the magazine funded by the CIA-controlled Congress for Cultural Freedom in a bid to win Western Europeans’ hearts and minds during the Cold War. Encounter was the kind of magazine in which Albert Camus frequently published, but which would never publish Jean-Paul Sartre. Lots of smart stuff in its pages, but lots of directing, too. When I flipped it open to Dwight Macdonald‘s article, Amateur Journalism; Notes of an American in London, I had to stop and read. Tomorrow I’ll blog about Macdonald’s theses, which are really pertinent to blogging in some ways, but first this: among other things, Macdonald describes letters to the editor (which incidentally seemed a lot like comments threads in blogs) that debate topics over the course of days and even weeks. Topics ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous, and included a discussion of the reason that circus rings are 42 feet in diameter.

Get it? The answer is 42 because obviously the question is, “how big is the ring?” Monty Python’s Flying Circus — another clue? Douglas Adams was only 4 1/2 when Macdonald described that circus ring discussion, but maybe he knew, maybe he knew. Life’s a circus. That’s all you need to know. That, and how to walk a tightrope. Piece of cake.


Stu Savory October 29, 2003 at 2:57 am

Hi Jule,
the answer was 42. But Doug Adams (RIP) asked in a later book the question “what is 9*6?”.
From which we deduce that the question-posers had 13 fingers (i.e. counting to base 13, 9*6 is indeed 42).
Betcha didn’t want to know that 🙂

Stu Savory

Yule Heibel October 29, 2003 at 3:10 am

Oh, he just fell off his tightrope and bumped his head… Actually, I remember the 6×9 thing from the last installment after the B-ark crashes on earth and our heroes are playing scrabble with a “caveman” who’s actually an earthman, and he puts down those numbers. But I had no idea it alluded to base 13. I can barely master base 10, thank you, so don’t try to confuse me!! 😉

PS Stu, my name really is spelled with a Y, not a J. You’re messing with my numerological vibes here if you don’t get it right! What would the kabalarians say?

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