As for Carroll — here is his most complex (and most often missed!) play on “42” – from chapter 2 of Alice in Wonderland.

“I’ll try if I know all the things I used to know. Let me see: four times five is twelve, and four times six is thirteen, and four times seven is–oh dear! I shall never get to twenty at that rate!”

The Anotated Alice points out how Alice’s calculations WORK… but note how the key is that base 42 does NOT work:

Four times 5 is 12 in base 18. Four times 6 is 13 in base 21. If you keep going that way, increasing the base by 3, the product keeps increasing by one until you get to 20. Four times 13 is not 20 in a base of 42, but 1 followed by whatever symbol you are using for 10.

4 x 5 = 12 base 18

4 x 6 = 13 base 21

4 x 7 = 14 base 24

4 x 8 = 15 base 27

4 x 9 = 16 base 30

4 x 10 = 17 base 33

4 x 11 = 18 base 36

4 x 12 = 19 base 39

4 x 13 = 1* base 42

There is also another piece by Carroll which was written when he was 42. The Hunting of the Snark has, as one character, the Baker who had 42 boxes (which were left behind on the beach). One of the illustrations shows a number of boxes piled on a beach, one of which is clearly labelled as No. 42.

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