What's the question, whose answer is 42?

One of the central questions in the many books by Douglas Adams, beginning with "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" revolves around the ultimate question.  According to the book this question is about finding the answer to "Life, the Universe, and Everything".  A computer with the name of Deep Thought worked on the answer for many millions of years and finally revealed that the answer would not be appreciated by those listening to the answer, but that the answer was 42.  Unfortunately, the computer said, one needed to know the real question for this to make sense and it could not deliver the question.  However it could design a computer that could deliver the question if it could work on the problem for 10 million years.  The name of the computer was Earth.  Because of some complications, the answer is never directly given. 

However, due to circumstances quite beyond random chance, I was given the chance to use some towels.  They were some special towels designed for hikers that came packaged as a group of three compacted disks.  The involvement began in a way that caused me to learn about the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and about the importance in that book of towels.  And the towels, and the book, and the Earth led me to understand the question, the real question, whose answer is 42.  And, as you will see, the more important and less trivial answer to that question. 

The difficulty people have had with the question since it was revealed is that 42 has been read as "forty-two".  An alternate, and more useful reading is "four, two".  Which is the beginning of an inspiration:


The question to which the answer is 42 is simple. 

"What is around 3?"

The hints are found in the towels and in the earth (the ultimate computer).

How many towels were there in the towel pack?

What shape are the towels when packed? round

So what are they together?  a round 3!

What are the nominal dimensions of the hiker's towel? 4 by 2 units.

In English measure 12 inches by 24 inches.  12 is 4^2 - 2^2.  24 is 4*2*3.

In Metric it is 0.3 by 0.6 meters.  (and 0.6 m is 2/3 of a meter between friends)

The towel began it's journey from earth, the 3rd planet from Sol.  So what is the spherical earth?  a round 3

How many favorite and loathsome properties does the Survival Guide teach us to aspire to in a report?  around 3

When do we have our first memories?  around 3.

What is the ordinal of the last prime number whose value is also its ordinal?  3

How many blind mice were there, for crying out loud?  3

How many feet are there in a meter?  around 3

How many cm in an inch? around 3

How many children in the average family?  around 3

How many branches of government to sustain a balance of power?  3

What's the value of pi? around 3

And this only scratches the surface...

Yet, were it not for the towel, the most massively useful thing, I would have never known.

And at the end of it, the question that provides the "answer to life, and the universe, and everything" is


The answer, cryptically is 42, but the real answer, as our Brit contributors know by now; is *really* the answer to the the meaning of life.

What's around 3? 

Of course.


Which, of course, as any reader knows, is the real focus of the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.