8 June 2006 | Vol. 6, No. 2
42 Reasons to Love the Number 42
It's not so rare for us at 42opus to receive questions about the significance of our name—especially regarding the number 42.
When I first began planning a literary arts journal, I wanted to name it Opus. I loved the Greek roots of the word for large-scale art; too, I liked its associations with music and with architecture, especially the musical and structural shadow these cast onto a literary venture. I liked the way the word opus could work within the title of a literary journal to suggest the wide reach of its contents much in the same way that the more common review does for so many other journals. But there is already so large and varied a number of Opuses in this world, and with the unfaltering popularity of penguins, I needed an adjustment to set an online, literary Opus apart.
A number seemed appropriate to the online distribution of the journal: better to highlight its technological medium than to adhere to the tradition of naming a literary journal after its place of origin because, of course, the online nature nearly escapes place. 42 seemed a good number because the last great technological impact on literature came from the printing press, and the best-known artifact of its invention is Gutenberg's 42-Line Bible.
Once I set 42 in my mind, other wonderful, quirky significances gathered about. For example, the IPv4 (version 4 of the Internet Protocol, which assigns unique numbers, called IP addresses, to computers to surf the Web) offered approximately 4.2 billion unique addresses; or, according to Douglas Adams in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, the number 42 is the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything.
There are many more, including those relevant, significant, insignificant, and just plain stretching it. I've compiled a list of 42, presented in no particular order:
- IPv4 allows for 4.2-plus billion unique IP addresses. The exact number is 4,294,967,296.
- The number 42 is the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything (according to Douglas Adams).
- There are 42 lines on each page of the Gutenberg Bible, also known as the 42-Line Bible.
- Chapter 42 in Tao Te Ching is an explanation of the universe, wherein "The Three gave birth to all of creation." Douglas Adams, meet Lao Tzu.
- Unfortunately, Elvis was 42 when he died. Perhaps this particular bit of trivia shouldn't be on our list, but, Elvis, at least, should.
- When Juliet drank down her potion, she did so with the friar's assurance that "...in this borrow'd likeness of shrunk death / Thou shalt continue two and forty hours, / And then awake as from a pleasant sleep."
- The world record for the largest number of people crunched into one car is 42. It was set by the Moss Bay Mojorettes on August 26, 1984 inside a Jaguar XJ6 somewhere in Jacksonville.
- Dwarf Gimli kills 42 enemies during the Battle of Hornburg in The Lord of the Rings to best the 41 taken down by elf Legolas.
- According to Wikipedia, there are 42 landlocked countries. Shifting borders will recast the number soon enough, surely, if not already.
- Centipedes do not have 100 legs. The average, in fact, is 35 pairs—but in James and the Giant Peach, Centipede had 42 legs.
- Napoleon graduated 42nd of 58 in his class at the Military School of Paris.
- Although not as common as foo, the number 42 is a metasyntactic variable used by programmers, presumably related to the great degree of nerdiness of both programming and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
- Only men aged at least 42 could be elected consul in the Roman Republic.
- Although the International Olympic Committee estimates that the actual distance ran from Marathon to Athens was 34.5 km, a modern marathon is marked at 42.195 km.
- There are 42 Laws of Cricket.
- Auric Goldfinger is 42 years of age in Goldfinger (the novel).
- The Beast will hold dominion over Earth for 42 years, as told in Revelations.
- There are 42 Principles of Maàt.
- The north and south poles of Uranus experience seasons 42-years long: winter for half your life then summer for half, if you're lucky enough to live into summer.
- Wolves and dogs have 42 teeth.
- The number 42 is a composite number, sphenic number, 15-gonal number, catalan number, meandric number, open meandric number, Harshad number, and self number.
- A score of 42 is a perfect score at the US Math Olympiad and at the International Mathematical Olympiad.
- The computer scientist Geoff Fortytwo officially, and proudly, changed his name.
- 42 is the jersey number of Jackie Robinson, Ronnie Lott, Mariano Rivera, and Pat Tillman. It is a retired number in all of Major League Baseball (in honor of Jackie Robinson) and at Arizona State University (in honor of Pat Tillman).
- Michael J. Fox's title character in Teen Wolf had jersey number 42.
- Lewis Carroll was 42 when he wrote The Hunting of the Snark. In The Hunting of the Snark, the Baker had "forty-two boxes, all carefully packed, / With his name painted clearly on each."
- According to The Annotated Alice, Lewis Carroll had a fascination with the number 42.
- Bill Clinton was the 42nd President of the United States.
- Washington is the 42nd state of the United States.
- 42 different Scotch Malt and Scotch Grain whiskies combine to create J&B Rare.
- The most intense light refracted in a raindrop to create a rainbow is reflected back at about 42 degrees maximum.
- A pair of dice has a total of 42 pips (dots).
- The poor old horse in Chapter II of The Pickwick Papers is 42. "He always falls down when he's took out o' the cab," the driver tells Mr. Pickwick, "but when he's in it, we bears him up werry tight, and takes him in werry short, so as he can't werry well fall down; and we've got a pair o' precious large wheels on, so ven he does move, they run after him, and he must go on—he can't help it."
- There is often a 42 on the Talon zipper of Levi's jeans.
- There are 42 gallons in a barrel of oil.
- Elvis' father was also 42 when he died.
- A very successful Broadway show was titled 42nd Street.
- Over the course of The Twelve Days of Christmas, both 42 geese a-laying and 42 swans a-swimming are given, making these two gifts the largest when measured by total per gift by song's end.
- There are 42 territories in the board game Risk.
- Mulder of The X-Files has seen Plan 9 From Outer Space 42 times. His apartment number is also 42.
- There are commonly 42 eyes in a deck of 52 cards: the queens are full-face to include four eyes on each of four cards; the kings are also full-face except for the king in profile on the diamond card to include four eyes on three cards and only two on one card; and the jacks are split half and half—full-face on clubs and diamonds and in profile on spades and hearts—to include twelve jack eyes total.
- You've just wasted about 4.2 minutes reading this article that is, by all measure of important things in the world, offering little enrichment to your life. That time is dwarfed by the 42 minutes I spent researching and writing this article.
About the author:
Brian Leary is the founding editor of 42opus. He also maintains a photoblog at his homepage, brianleary.com.
For further reading:
See the complete list of work by Brian Leary at 42opus. Browse the contents of 42opus Vol. 6, No. 2, where "42 Reasons to Love the Number 42" ran on June 8, 2006. List other work with these same labels: nonfiction, letter from the editor.