[Haskell-cafe] Who started 42, and when?

Anthony Clayden anthony_clayden at clear.net.nz
Sun Feb 3 23:13:46 EST 2008

The earliest use of 42 in English humour I know of is Lewis
Carroll's "Hunting of the Snark", written 1874 when the
author was aged 42. Wikipedia says it all, and refers to
Martin Gardner's "The Annotated Snark" (which is excellent).

Lewis Carroll is the pen name of Charles Dodgson - a
mathematician/logician. Gardner is of course a
mathematician/science writer with an interest in puzzles and
paradoxes. So although both rather pre-date functional
programming, I think we might say there's a similar streak
of humour.

Sadly, Douglas Adams never revealed what language 'Deep
Thought' was programmed in, but perhaps the machine it was
'unworthy to design' was to run Haskell natively?


> The arbitrary constant was made popular by Douglas Adams
> the mid-1970s radio series ``A Hitchhikers Guide to the
Galaxy'' (a  
> trilogy in 4 parts) --- however it does have a basis in
the standard  
> model of physics --- a paper in Phys.Rev. of the early
> described the unification of the Electro-Weak and Strong
> forces --- the arbitrary constant (of nearly) 42 appears
in the  
> calculations. I forget the original paper but if you get
hold of  
> Frank Close ``The Cosmic Onion'' a graph reproduces the
result. I met  
> Douglas Adams once at a book signing and asked him how he
got hold of  
> the Phys.Rev. paper so early. Technically he should have
written that  
> ``42 is the answer to life, the universe and everything
except for  
> gravity and a few other arbitrary constants''
> Adams was interested in computing --- I think his reaction
to being  
> told about functional programming was to wonder what
> programming might be.

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