(LIVE SCIENCE) — In Douglas Adams’ sci-fi series “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” a pair of programmers task the galaxy’s largest supercomputer with answering the ultimate question of the meaning of life, the universe and everything. After 7.5 million years of processing, the computer reaches an answer: 42. Only then do the programmers realize that nobody knew the question the program was meant to answer.
Now, in this week’s most satisfying example of life reflecting art, a pair of mathematicians have used a global network of 500,000 computers to solve a centuries-old math puzzle that just happens to involve that most crucial number: 42.
The question, which goes back to at least 1955 and may have been pondered by Greek thinkers as early as the third century AD, asks, “How can you express every number between 1 and 100 as the sum of three cubes?” Or, put algebraically, how do you solve x^3 + y^3 + z^3 = k, where k equals any whole number from 1 to 100?