In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, when Arthur and Ford are picked up by the Heart of Gold, they experience the effects of the Infinite Improbability drive, causing their surrounding to shift through several surreal and absurd iterations as the improbability factor spins down to 1:1.

During these iterations, the narration states that the void "spewed up a payment" which seems to actually be a pavement (or, I believe, a "sidewalk" to us Americans); the word "pavement" is used in the remaining narration.

Is this a misprint in my edition of the book (paperback with the "42 puzzle" on the cover)? Or was it supposed to be a subtle clue as to what Arthur and Ford were experiencing? Occam's razor suggests the former, but Adams's style might imply the latter. I would expect the word to continue changing in that case, however ("payment" -> "pavement" -> "pair of mints" -> etc.). Or, maybe because I would expect that, it makes more sense for it to change just the one time as it does in the novel.

I realize I am probably paving too much attention to one small detail but I wanted to know if anyone had any special insights into this.

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    +1 for paving to much attention. Commented Nov 28, 2016 at 21:39
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    This is the Infinite Improbability Drive. In the first test flight Occam's Razor turned into an asparagus that ran away and added itself to a pasta bake.
    – IG_42
    Commented Nov 29, 2016 at 2:23
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    Thought upon seeing this title in the "hot network questions": "hm, that sounds like a not-unreasonable sentence for a novel." Upon seeing that the work in question is the Hitchhiker series: "Yep, that definitely sounds like Adams' brand of humor." Upon reading the rest of the description: "No, wait, I think I actually remember that bit, and am pretty sure my copy read 'pavement'." Commented Nov 29, 2016 at 11:27
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    One has to wonder about this typo. Did Adams type "payment" meaning to to type "pavement"? If so, that's an interesting mental glitch, kind of pushing the envelope of homophone errors. Or did someone transcribe this from an audio recording and mishear it as "payment"? Or is it some kind of computer spellcheck gone wild? Or does the Improbability Drive work at the level of the printing of the Guide itself?
    – Chelonian
    Commented Jul 18, 2019 at 4:12

1 Answer 1


Yes, this is a typo. My ebook copy of the Ultimate Hitchhikers Guide (Complete and Unabridged, 2002) has it as

Five wild Event Maelstroms swirled in vicious storms of unreason and spewed up a pavement.

On the pavement lay Ford Prefect and Arthur Dent gulping like half-spent fish.

As in vomited forth a concrete walking surface

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    That was fast! Commented Nov 28, 2016 at 21:31
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    You can see it in the online version too; books.google.co.uk/…
    – Valorum
    Commented Nov 28, 2016 at 21:36
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    I'm glad that I read the Ultimate Guide instead of the individual paperbacks, because this typo would have driven me nuts (I am probably as anal about this sort of thing as OP). Commented Nov 29, 2016 at 11:25
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    Fast? For Valorum, nine minutes is positively slacking. Commented Nov 29, 2016 at 23:33

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