In this QA, https://scifi.stackexchange.com/q/311/3804, which says that Adams got his number from good old-fashioned garden-gazing.

But while I was looking for the sum completed by the apes in Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy I came across something peculiar, Lewis Carroll seems to make more references to 42 than Adams:

  • 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 attempts the answer to 4 × 13 in base 42, leading Alice to declare "oh dear! I shall never get to twenty at that rate!"
  • Rule Forty-two in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland ("All persons more than a mile high to leave the court").
  • Rule 42 of the Code in the preface[25] to The Hunting of the Snark ("No one shall speak to the Man at the Helm").
  • 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."[25]
  • The White Queen announces her age as "one hundred and one, five months and a day", which—if the best[clarification needed] possible date is assumed for the action of Through the Looking-Glass—gives a total of 37,044 days. If the Red Queen, as part of the same chess set, is regarded as the same age, their combined age is 74,088 days, or 42 × 42 × 42.

What's the relationship between the two authors? I've not found anything stating Adams was influenced by Carroll, besides the obvious absurd/surreal humour. This question, What were some of Douglas Adams's HHGG's influences?, for instance doesn't mention Carroll at all!

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    All it means is that the Answer really is 42. – Adamant Sep 18 '16 at 10:25
  • Some writers hide their stated influences lest they be accused of "stealing". – Cascabel Sep 19 '16 at 17:11
  • And that quote the other answer cites comes from usenet where he spent some time in the 1990s until he was (my wording here) scared off. But there is a very funny thread that includes that response: groups.google.com/forum/#!msg/alt.fan.douglas-adams/595nPukE-Jo/… – Pryftan Oct 27 '17 at 22:12
  • Regarding Wikipedia's "[clarification needed]", "best" there was apparently meant in terms of fitting the 0.5*42^3 number. 36,525+365+31+31+31+31+30 is the maximum numbers of days that can be described by that word description under the Julian or Gregorian calendars, since there are no consecutive stretches of five months with all of them 31 days. (Most Gregorian centuries have 36,524 days, but one in four centuries has 36,525. All Julian centuries have 36,525 days.) This was almost certainly intentional on Carroll's part. – Jacob C. Feb 12 '19 at 3:17

The only documented relationship is that the episodes of the first two radio series were called "Fit the First" etc, after the Hunting of the Snark which you quote.

However the idea of Adams doing calculations of the White Queen's age etc seems unlikely in the extreme, especially as Adams is explicitly quoted as saying he picked the number out of the air and it has no special significance.

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    Yes, once you create an arbitrary number of this sort, one begins to notice it crop up again and again. But it's a matter of the number being noticed rather than being referred to. – Broklynite Sep 18 '16 at 13:27
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  • An author's claim that an element in their work has no meaning or source should always be taken with a pint of salt. While conceptual artists love to talk about meaning and inspiration, other artists often prefer not to explain their work themselves. This likely goes doubly for writers, who might prefer their readers to focus on the author's own narrative. – Misha R Dec 17 '19 at 16:50

I believe you nailed it. But since at least one reader has misread your mention of Lewis's calculation of the White Queen's age as suggesting that Adams was concerned with that particular passage, perhaps you need to add a bit of clarification.

There is, of course, no need to suppose a direct connection with all of Lewis's varied uses of the number. The general fact that Adams chooses the number --and gives away his interest in Lewis with the odd choice of "fit" for "chapter"-- might be enough. But the most important connections appears in two equations. First, Alice's confused times tables are "broken" precisely with the combination of base 42 and an equation with 13 as multiplicand. When Adams wished to show us that the equation at the heart of the "answer to the ultimate question of life, etc." was flawed (broken!) he used an equation relying on those same numbers, only he reversed things, with 42 as the base 13 answer (54 in base 10).

It is nearly impossible to to see how THAT correspondence was an accident. And it would not have been so very hard for him to figure out once you assume he was aware (as many are) of the problem with Alice's times tables.

  • Adams might have been sub-consciously influenced by occurrences of the number 42 itself, if it really does occur more frequently than other numbers; but the number 13 has no significance anywhere in his story, and he is on record stating categorically that no reference to base 13 was intended by the "multiply six by nine" gag. It's very easy to see how that could be a coincidence - if he'd picked a different number, we'd be debating a different wild theory. – IMSoP Feb 18 at 12:24

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