It is a Catalan number. Consequently, 42 is the number of noncrossing partitions of a set of five elements, the number of triangulations of a heptagon, the number of rooted ordered binary trees with six leaves, the number of ways in which five pairs of nested parentheses can be arranged, etc.
Given 27 same-size cubes whose nominal values progress from 1 to 27, a 3×3×3 magic cube can be constructed such that every row, column, and corridor, and every diagonal passing through the center, is composed of 3 cubes whose sum of values is 42.
42 is the only known value that is the number of sets of four distinct positive integers a,b,c,d, each less than the value itself, such that ab-cd, ac-bd, and ad-bc are each multiples of the value. Whether there are other values remains an open question.
The angle rounded to whole degrees for which a rainbow appears (the critical angle).
In 1966, mathematician Paul Cooper theorized that the fastest, most efficient way to travel across continents would be to bore a straight hollow tube directly through the Earth, connecting a set of antipodes, remove the air from the tube and fall through. The first half of the journey consists of free-fall acceleration, while the second half consists of an exactly equal deceleration. The time for such a journey works out to be 42 minutes. Even if the tube does not pass through the exact center of the Earth, the time for a journey powered entirely by gravity (known as a gravity train) always works out to be 42 minutes, so long as the tube remains friction-free, as while the force of gravity would be lessened, the distance traveled is reduced at an equal rate. (The same idea was proposed, without calculation by Lewis Carroll in 1893 in Sylvie and Bruno Concluded.)
In January 2004, asteroid2001 DA42 was given the permanent name 25924 Douglasadams, for the author Douglas Adams who popularized the number 42 and died in 2001. Brian G. Marsden, the director of the Minor Planet Center and the secretary for the naming committee, remarked that, with even his initials in the provisional designation, "This was sort of made for him, wasn't it?"
In Japanese culture, the number 42 is considered unlucky because the numerals when pronounced separately—"shi ni" (four two)—sound like the phrase, "unto death".
There are 42 principles of Ma'at, the Ancient Egyptian personification of physical and moral law, order, and truth. In the judgment scene described in the Egyptian and the Book of the Coming/Going Forth by Day (the Book of the Dead (which evolved from the Coffin Texts and the Pyramid Texts)), there are 42 gods and goddesses of Egypt, personifying the principles of Ma'at. These 42 correspond to the 42 Nomes (Governmental Units) of Egypt. If the departed successfully answers all 42, s/he becomes an Osiris.
42 is the number with which God creates the Universe in Kabbalistic tradition. In Kabbalah, the most significant name is that of the En Sof (also known as "Ein Sof", "Infinite" or "Endless"), who is above the Sefirot (sometimes spelled "Sephirot"). The Forty-Two-Lettered Name contains four combined names which are spelled in Hebrew letters (spelled in letters = 42 letters), which is the name of Azilut (or "Atziluth" "Emanation"). While there are obvious links between the Forty-Two Lettered Name of the Babylonian Talmud and the Kabbalah's Forty-Two Lettered Name, they are probably not identical because of the Kabbalah's emphasis on numbers. The Kabbalah also contains a Forty-Five Lettered Name and a Seventy-Two Lettered Name.
In Judaism, the number (in the Babylonian Talmud, compiled 375 AD to 499 AD) of the "Forty-Two Lettered Name" ascribed to God. Rab (or Rabhs), a 3rd-century source in the Talmud stated "The Forty-Two Lettered Name is entrusted only to him who is pious, meek, middle-aged, free from bad temper, sober, and not insistent on his rights". [Source: Talmud Kidduschin 71a, Translated by Rabbi Dr. I. Epstein]. Maimonides felt that the original Talmudic Forty-Two Lettered Name was perhaps composed of several combined divine names [Maimonides "Moreh"]. The apparently unpronouncable Tetragrammaton provides the backdrop from the Twelve-Lettered Name and the Forty-Two Lettered Name of the Talmud.
The Gutenberg Bible is also known as the "42-line Bible", as the book contained 42 lines per page.
The book 42: Douglas Adams' Amazingly Accurate Answer to Life, the Universe and Everything examines Adams' choice of the number 42 and also contains a compendium of some instances of the number in science, popular culture, and humour.
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland has 42 illustrations.
Alice's attempts at multiplication (chapter two of Adventures in Wonderland) work if one uses base 18 to write the first answer, and increases the base by threes to 21, 24, etc. (the answers working up to 4 × 12 = "19" in base 39), but "breaks" precisely when one reaches base 42, leading Alice to declare "oh dear! I shall never get to twenty at that rate!"
In "fit the first" of The Hunting of the Snark the Baker had "forty-two boxes, all carefully packed, With his name painted clearly on each."
The White Queen announces her age as "one hundred and one, five months and a day", which—if the best possible date is assumed for the action of Through the Looking-Glass—gives a total of 37,044 days. With the further (textually unconfirmed) assumption that both Queens were born on the same day their combined age becomes 74,088 days, which is 42 × 42 × 42. Some commentators have asserted that this is deliberate on Carroll's part.
The jersey number of Jackie Robinson, which is the only number retired by all Major League Baseball teams. Although the number was retired in 1997, Mariano Rivera of the New York Yankees, the last professional baseball player to wear number 42, continued to wear it until he retired at the end of the 2013 season. As of the 2014 season, no player will ever again wear the number 42 in Major League Baseball except on Jackie Robinson Day (April 15), when all uniformed personnel (players, managers, coaches, and umpires) wear the number.
^CBC News staff, "Canadian math champ's skills add up to a perfect score" CBC News July 20, 2004. "A 16-year-old Canadian was one of four students who achieved a perfect score at an international mathematics competition. Jacob Tsimerman of Toronto scored 42 out of 42, making him one of 45 individual gold medallists at the 45th International Mathematical Olympiad in Athens."
^Cooper, Paul W. (1966). "Through the Earth in Forty Minutes". American Journal of Physics34 (1): 68–69. doi:10.1119/1.1972773.
^Carroll, Lewis (29 December 1893). "Chapter 7". Sylvie and Bruno Concluded2. illustrated by Harry Furniss. United Kingdom: Macmillan and Co. Each railway is in a long tunnel, perfectly straight: so of course the middle of it is nearer the centre of the globe than the two ends: so every train runs half-way down-hill, and that gives it force enough to run the other half up-hill.