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Hitchhiker's Guide Turns 30 193

XaN-ASMoDi writes "Yesterday saw the 30th anniversary of the very first broadcast of Douglas Adam's seminal work, "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy", to mark this, Mark Vernon has written an article for the BBC News Magazine on the answer to The Question. 'It's 30 years since Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy made its debut on BBC radio, but its most famous mystery is still waiting to be resolved...'"
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Hitchhiker's Guide Turns 30

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  • by Spazholio ( 314843 ) <.slashdot. .at.> on Saturday March 08, 2008 @10:17AM (#22686514) Homepage
    ...but wasn't the Ultimate Question "What is six times nine?" - thus proving that something is fundamentally broken with the universe? I remember these from the radio scripts, which were the first incarnation of HHGTTG.
    • by Jim Hall ( 2985 ) on Saturday March 08, 2008 @10:59AM (#22686730) Homepage

      That was the Question that came out of Arthur's brain, when pulling random letters from the Scrabble tile bag in pre-historic Earth. But as Ford and Arthur pointed out just before they did so, Arthur escaped from the Earth just before his planet was destroyed. So whatever comes out probably won't be the correct Question, but it should be close.

      And in fact, 6 x 7 = 42, so 6 x 9 was off by 2. :-)

      • by tambo ( 310170 ) on Saturday March 08, 2008 @11:14AM (#22686816)
        And in fact, 6 x 7 = 42, so 6 x 9 was off by 2. :-)

        Yeah, but that couldn't be the Ultimate Question. As it's defined in HGTTG, it's practically impossible to derive the Answer from the Question, or vice versa. (Yet the Answer is fully responsive to the Question.)

        Actually, the Question is presented in the books. There's a conversation between Marvin and a mattress creature on Squornshellous Zeta in which - well, read it for yourself []. It's right there, plain as day.

        My geek duties for the day having been satisfied, I shall now go have breakfast... ;)

        - David Stein

        • Are you referring to "Think of a number, any number."?
          For which "Er, five" is the wrong answer?
          • by MarkusQ ( 450076 ) on Saturday March 08, 2008 @12:24PM (#22687164) Journal


            The ultimate question is "Think of a number, any number" to which the correct answer is "42".

            Which immediately suggests such as penultimate questions: "Why is that the ultimate question?" "Why does it have a correct answer?" and "Why is 42 the correct answer?"

            Which D.A. explained quite succinctly by saying "The road to wisdom is infinitely long. It doesn't matter which end you start at." --MarkusQ

            • by Pluvius ( 734915 )
              Too bad "Think of a number, any number" isn't a question, otherwise this solution would've been fairly elegant.

              Personally, I agree with the idea that 42 is God's phone number, since one of the scientists complained that all their arguing about His existence would be pointless if Deep Thought turned out to give that to them the next day. Dramatic irony, as it were.

            • Doesn't the part where "Think of a number, any number" is not a question dissuade you from thinking it's the Ultimate Question?
            • by Thornae ( 53316 )
              Well, I'm glad that someone got it before I had to get all curmudgeonly.

              "Think of a number. Any number at all."
              "Three" - this being the highest number that mattresses could count to.
              "Wrong. See?"

              (Apologies for typos - quoted entirely from 10 years on memory).

              Marvin reveals all! How could you not get that?!

              And, yes, it's a lame Question to the Answer. What, you were expecting maybe Gödel?
      • by KokorHekkus ( 986906 ) on Saturday March 08, 2008 @11:16AM (#22686826)
        Actually... 6 x 9 is 42. That is, if you use base 13 instead of base 10.
        • by TheThiefMaster ( 992038 ) on Saturday March 08, 2008 @11:30AM (#22686904)
          Except that Douglas Adams has said "I don't write jokes in base 13".

          It's base 10, and intended to be wrong, to allow the punchline of "I always knew there was something fundamentally wrong about the universe".
          • by cp.tar ( 871488 )

            Except that Douglas Adams has said "I don't write jokes in base 13".

            It's base 10, and intended to be wrong, to allow the punchline of "I always knew there was something fundamentally wrong about the universe".

            What, base 13 isn't fundamentally wrong enough for your tastes, huh?

        • by BeerCat ( 685972 )
          One of my friends (also named Douglas, something that amused Douglas Adams when he was signing a book - "To Douglas from Douglas") pointed out the base 13 connection to Adams, which met with a bemused response at the time (and a mention in the forward to the book of the radio scripts to all the geek fans who had come up with that one)
    • I thought it was meant to show that the Golgafrinchans (sp?) did, in fact, mess up the program when they crashed on prehistoric earth, and Arthur was a last generation product of that bug...
    • Oh, it works. You just have to do it in base 13.
  • The answer.. (Score:5, Informative)

    by bigattichouse ( 527527 ) on Saturday March 08, 2008 @10:19AM (#22686526) Homepage
    wasn't 6*9, its that it is impossible to know the question and answer in the same universe, and doing so will cause the universe to be replaced by one infinitely more strange, and that this has possibly already happened.
  • by edwardpickman ( 965122 ) on Saturday March 08, 2008 @10:24AM (#22686558)
    Raise a pan galactic gargle blaster to the late Douglas Adams for 30 years of bizarre geek humor.
    • by phoenixwade ( 997892 ) on Saturday March 08, 2008 @10:26AM (#22686574)

      Raise a pan galactic gargle blaster to the late Douglas Adams for 30 years of bizarre geek humor.
      I agree, besides, I haven't been hit in the head with a lemon peel wrapped brick in ages......
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by BeerCat ( 685972 )

        Raise a pan galactic gargle blaster to the late Douglas Adams for 30 years of bizarre geek humor.
        I agree, besides, I haven't been hit in the head with a lemon peel wrapped brick in ages......
        "It's unpleasantly like being drunk"

        "What's so unpleasant about being drunk"

        "Ask a glass of water"
      • Its a *gold* brick for heavens sakes.
        There is no point in bashing your brains out unless its made out of gold! :P
    • I prefer that old Janx Spirit personally.

      All these people mourning the loss of Gygax know how us H2G2 fans felt the day we heard the news of Douglas's passing.

      Then to finally read the first three chapters of Salmon of Doubt was a double blow, because it was shaping up to be one of his finest books. /sob
    • by hey! ( 33014 ) on Saturday March 08, 2008 @10:37AM (#22686618) Homepage Journal
      But it's more than just geek humor.

      Adams didn't just poke fun at his characters, he wrote with a real sympathy for them. Well, just look at the man, he was a person who cared about things like the extinction of bizarre species that the vast majority of humanity has never heard of, much less seen for themselves. Empathy. That's the secret of reaching the apex of funniness. When the reader in his imagination steps into a character's shoes, he takes the metaphorical pies in the face personally.

      Adams wrote as if the way the universe is mattered.

      He also wrote as if the way the universe is happens to be funny.

      The fact that the way things are both matters and is funny isn't exactly funny itself. Or rather it's very funny, and it's very something else, which there isn't a perfect word for. To capture that something else, you'd have to write a bunch of books.

      Which is just what Douglas Adams did.

    • by Telvin_3d ( 855514 ) on Saturday March 08, 2008 @10:44AM (#22686658)
      For anyone who cares, there is a club in Ottawa, Ontario called the Zaphod Beeblebrox, and yes, they do sell Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster.
      • by m0nkyman ( 7101 )
        And some of the staff might have low digit Slashdot UID's. ;)
    • Or maybe a Jynnan Tonnyx?
    • As a practitioner of the bitterly divided and unhappy discipline of structural linguistics I'll raise a glass of ouisghian zodah for him today.
  • by hairykrishna ( 740240 ) on Saturday March 08, 2008 @10:29AM (#22686588)
    The guy seems to miss the point entirely, make vague spiritual overtones and I wonder if has even read the books. Was he one of the scriptwriters for the hitchikers movie?
    • Re:Rubbish article (Score:5, Informative)

      by rucs_hack ( 784150 ) on Saturday March 08, 2008 @11:02AM (#22686750)
      Actually, Douglas himself wrote a lot of the stuff for the Movie. He invented the new character Humma Kavula as well.

      In fact if you read much of his stuff, including interviews (I have everything its possible to get in audio form), you learn that he definitely did not want the movie to be a copy of either the book or the radio series. Actually it never could be a copy of the radio series, because there were all sorts of problems over what Douglas had the right to use.

      It's not fashionable to like the H2G2 movie, but I enjoyed it hugely. Had it been an exact rehash of the same old stuff I'd have been annoyed. I wanted to not know what was going on for as much of the film as possible. Casting Mos Def as Ford Prefect was an inspired move, he performed the role really well. I'm not so sure about Sam Rockwell as Zaphod, but we can't have everything.

      And Marvin? Well he was amazing. I never did understand why such an advanced robot should look like the one in the tv series. The one in the movie was much closer to my mental image of the robot then I expected.
      • Sure, it was quite well produced, the new ideas had some potential, and everyone was ... well... earnest. But it just wasn't very funny. Maybe Adams just wasn't very good at visual humour, and they couldn't fit the literary humour into a movie. Maybe they needed someone who did understand visual humour to translate the spirit of HHGG to a movie.
        • Yes, I suppose it wasn't too funny. Mind you, the only version of H2G2 to ever make me seriously laugh was the radio series (still does, and I must have listened to it hundreds of times over the years), so I wasn't too bothered, I just watch the film to enjoy it.

          I'm not especially keen on the H2G2 books either, although I read them. That said, I'm currently desperately hoping that my local bookshop doesn't sell the first edition H2G2 hardcover they have. If someone comes in with a big offer, I'm boned,

      • by BeerCat ( 685972 )
        The movie wasn't al bad - the last half hour or so (presumably when the studio execs started to panic and let the director just get on with it) had the right tone.

        The best bit, though, was the Monty Python "Meaning of Life" homage that was the opening sequence - by the looks of things, most of the budget went on that (in the same way that the "Every Sperm is Sacred" opening number in "Meaning of Life" used up 80% of that film's budget.) Just the kind of silly, thumbing nose at authority gimmick that DNA wou
      • We'll have to agree to disagree. I know Douglas wrote a lot of movie material but they had also been trying and failing to make it for a long time because it didn't get his approval. He died, suddenly it got made.

        I didn't want a carbon copy of the books. What annoyed me were the sections taken from the books and changed to make them less funny. Why? The Trillian love interest was badly done too in my opinion. It wasn't all bad; the Steven Fry voiced guide sections were great. Marvin was quite well done.

    • The guy seems to miss the point entirely, make vague spiritual overtones...

      "He began his professional life as a priest in the Church of England" (from his web site []).

      Articles about anniversaries of stuff are generally filler - it's doubly meaningless when the thing in question hasn't been continuously running for that time. I like the Guide in all its incarnations, but I can't see any significance in it being 30 years since it was first broadcast, and the radio show is probably the least known aspect of i

    • The movie was great - Mos Def was a revelation as Ford, Arthur was perfectly cast and it kept to the old tradition of being completely different to *any* previous version. (I've heard the radio series, read various books, and watched the BBC TV production before seeing the movie.)
      • The casting was perfect but the plot didnt live up to expectations.

        The theme song was brilliant though. :)
        I couldnt have imagined a better song for it.
    • Re:Rubbish article (Score:5, Insightful)

      by hey! ( 33014 ) on Saturday March 08, 2008 @01:19PM (#22687426) Homepage Journal
      Well, I've often reflected that only an atheist could be as funny as Douglas Adams, which in a sense makes his books spiritual.

      It's not that atheists are automatically funny, quite the opposite. Most are drearily dull as any priest. If you want to be a bore, be deeply and earnestly concerned that other people might commit, speak, or think an error.

      For Adams, life consists of a series of wrong turns that lead you to places you never intended to be. In that he's not too far from the most interesting religious thinkers; the Buddha once compared his teaching to a raft you might throw together to cross a river. Once you're over, you have no use for it, so you throw it away. In Adams books, you might say the characters are constantly struggling with the question of "why am I here?" because they're never quite where they expected to go.

      Given the perverse randomness of the universe, it's rather quixotic to be obsessed with the errors of thought other people make. Somehow, it all feels like a big mistake, at least if you're paying attention.
  • by INeededALogin ( 771371 ) on Saturday March 08, 2008 @10:33AM (#22686604) Journal
    Just look at the posts. People asking why 42, 6*9 is the answer, knowing both the question and answer will destroy the universe. It is obvious that Douglas Adams work will live forever. I only recently read the books, but I gave them to a friend's kid(12ish) and he loved it, his 15 year old brother loved it and the younger 7 year old loved it. It is just one of those books that is fun to read, fun to talk about and fun to celebrate the culture that it has created.

    Do you know where your towel is?
  • by LecheryJesus ( 1245812 ) on Saturday March 08, 2008 @10:34AM (#22686606)
    Its the average IQ of a creationist.

    Flame away :P
  • It shows that seeking numerical answers to questions of meaning is itself the problem. Digits, like a four and a two, can no more do it than a string of digits could represent the poetry of Shakespeare.
    I guess this guy has never seen the shirt that says "It's all ones and zeroes." Or heard of ASCII.
  • It's always funny to find some Vogon poetry commented in a piece of ancient code.
  • And the question is: (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Bob Hearn ( 61879 ) on Saturday March 08, 2008 @11:06AM (#22686786) Homepage
  • Actually... (Score:3, Funny)

    by uxbn_kuribo ( 1146975 ) on Saturday March 08, 2008 @11:07AM (#22686794)
    Call me when the series turns 42.
  • 42nd Post ! (Score:3, Funny)

    by Dave21212 ( 256924 ) <> on Saturday March 08, 2008 @11:15AM (#22686820) Homepage Journal
    I tried to post the answer, but the lameness filter won't allow it.
  • only 30? (Score:3, Funny)

    by davidwr ( 791652 ) on Saturday March 08, 2008 @11:35AM (#22686930) Homepage Journal
    The copyrights should expire just after dinner [].
  • now a real fan would be holding out for the year, 2020. that's when it turns 42.
  • My theory... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by itsdapead ( 734413 ) on Saturday March 08, 2008 @12:11PM (#22687102) that Adams was referring to the pivotal clause #42 of the official rules for the game Mornington Crescent (using the pre-Livingstone concordance, obviously, since Adams was writing in 1978) - which also explains the significance of Fenchurch Street Station in the later books. Regular listeners to BBC Radio 4 (on which the original radio versions of HHGTTG were broadcast) will immediately grasp how following this philosophy allows the follower to confidently navigate the complexities and contradictions of life - but slashdotters from the USA and elsewhere may need to look it up.

    Of course, it could be that Adams was merely satirising humanity's strange obsession with seeking simplistic answers without actually understanding the question - but that seems unlikely considering the masses of evidence for a deeper numerological significance.

    • DNA actually said (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Kupfernigk ( 1190345 )
      That he just made it up as a suitably non-sequitur answer. In fact, there are 42 Laws of Cricket, and cricket features heavily as a key plot mover in HHGG. Fenchurch is easily explained. It's a joke about people who name their offspring after where they think they were conceived (e.g. Brooklyn?). Fenchurch Street was the grubbiest and most dismal of the London railway termini at the time, and that was saying a lot. To have a particularly beautiful (and randy) woman conceived by her parents at Fenchurch St.
  • Other news (Score:3, Funny)

    by Jabbrwokk ( 1015725 ) <(moc.liamg) (ta) (nitnekraw.j.tnarg)> on Saturday March 08, 2008 @12:19PM (#22687140) Homepage Journal
    "The 30th anniversary celebrations were accompanied by Vogon poetry readings over BBC radio. In other news, the suicide rate rose sharply across London and surrounding areas..."
  • If you've never listened to the radio show, I would highly recommend it. The cast is truly stellar and does a terrific job reading the phases. The most interesting thing about the radio series is that the first two phases were produced back in the last 70's and then they brought just about the entire cast back together ~25 years later to do the last three phases.

    I loved the radio series so much that I was pumped when I got to see Simon Jones (Arthur Dent in both the radio and TV series) perform in Minneap
  • 2020 Anyone? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mlwmohawk ( 801821 ) on Saturday March 08, 2008 @12:43PM (#22687270)
    In 2020, HHGTG will be 42 years old. I find it odd how much of Douglas Adams' stuff just works out neatly.
  • Harrods has a brand of Earl Grey known as No. 42. (Review here []). Given that DNA was very particular about his tea, it's not that much of a stretch that the number was floating around in the back of his mind for that very reason.
  • by Jugalator ( 259273 ) on Saturday March 08, 2008 @04:25PM (#22688376) Journal

    Douglas Adams never revealed the secret of number 42
  • Why all this hubbub about the question? I'm still waiting for the REAL suspense to be resolved... who sustained a minor injury on their forearm?
  • "How old is HHttG, in base 14?"

System restarting, wait...