Fun with Bases


In The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, the computer Deep Thought gives the Answer to the Life, the Universe, and Everything as 42. Google calculator gives the same result.* (Of course, that’s not much use without knowing what the question is.) At the end of the later book The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, a caveman pulls out scrabble tiles and forms the question, “What do you get if you multiply six by nine?”

Of course, the universe is an imperfect place, and six times nine is actually 54. At least in Base Ten. In Base Eleven, 6×9= 4A (where A stands for the digit TEN, since fifty-four is 4 elevens and A=ten ones left over). And in Base Twelve, 6×9=46, since fifty-four is 4 twelves and 6 ones left over. And finally, Lo and Behold, in Base Thirteen, 6×9=42 since fifty-four is 4 thirteens and 2 ones left over.

So maybe the universe isn’t such a wacky place after all! Maybe Douglas Adams was secretly suggesting that we should all be using Base Thirteen. Or maybe not: when Douglas Adams was asked about this, he supposedly replied, “I may be a sorry case, but I don’t write jokes in Base 13.”

*Seriously. Try typing in “answer to life, the universe, and everything” all lowercase.

Thanks to Anya for pointing this out!

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2 Responses to “Fun with Bases”

  1. abonny Says:

    Clearly, the answer to “what is the question” is, what would happen if everyone in the universe used base thirteen? Or maybe not🙂

  2. Carnival of Mathematics #42 « 360 Says:

    […] of Mathematics #42 It’s time for the answer to life, the universe, and everything in Carnival Form:  Carnival of Mathematics #42 is up over at The Endeavour, a blog by John D. […]

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