The story begins with our protagonist, Arthur Dent, having a normal morning in his house, though it is interrupted by a bulldozer standing outside his house, waiting to demolish it to build a bypass. Promptly, Arthur decides to lie in front of the bulldozer. Ford Prefect, Arthur’s good friend (who is actually an alien), stops by telling Arthur that he must come to the pub with him. Arthur says that he can’t let the man in charge, Mr. L. Prosser, destroy his home, which Mr. Prosser says was planned for nine months, but Arthur didn’t know about it (which ends up being horribly ironic later). Ford somehow convinces Mr. Prosser to lie in front of the bulldozer for Arthur. Ford says to Arthur that it wouldn’t really matter if his house was destroyed or not, because the world was going to end in twelve minutes. Arthur hears his house being knocked down and runs straight to the site from the pub. Ford knew where his towel is.
The Earth is then promptly destroyed by the Vogons to build an intergalactic highway, which the entire Earth didn’t know, but was posted in Alpha Centauri. Ford and Arthur hitchhike on one of the ships. Ford places an odd looking fish in Arthur’s ear, which begins to translate everything he heard into English. They are then captured by a Vogon, who takes them to see Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz, who is in charge of this operation. Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz read them some of his poetry (to which, Vogon poetry is third worse in the entire universe). Then threw them out into space.
They are then picked up by accident due to the infinite improbability drive, which essentially just zaps you everywhere at once until you meet your destination. On the ship they find Zaphod Beeblebrox, former President of the Imperial Galactic Government and who Arthur met at a party once; Trillian, who Arthur met at the same party; and Marvin, a legitimate depressed robot, who is extremely intelligent.
They then go on the search for Magrathea, a supposed legend which turns out to actually be real. Magrathea used to be the richest, built planet in the entire universe, before it passed from memory into false-fiction. The group goes down onto the planet, to which Arthur and Marvin stays on the surface while Zaphod, Trillian, and Ford go underground in search of riches, to attempt to restore the galaxy to its former glory.
Arthur goes on a walk only to run into Slartibartfast, a Magrathean. Slartibartfast takes Arthur on his aircar. Slartibartfast begins telling Arthur the story of how Earth has “formed a matrix of an organic computer running a ten-million research program.” The story is this: the Magratheans built an incredibly knowledgeable computer, Deep Thought, and when they turned it on, they decided to ask it for the answer to life, the universe and everything. Deep Thought responds with saying that it’ll need to think on it… for seven and a half million years. Fast forward those seven and a half million years, Deep Thought has an answer; forty-two. The people are furious, though Deep Thought says that they didn’t specify enough, and so, the Magratheans ask for The Ultimate Question. Deep Thought says that it can’t provide The Ultimate Question, but the computer the Magratheans will ask him to build in the future, will be able to provide The Ultimate Question. It gives the name of the future computer; Earth.
Arthur meets up with Ford, Zaphod, and Trillian, who are with the hosts, who are mice (who were the first most intelligent life forms on Earth). The mice figure, that since the Earth holds the Ultimate Question, Arthur must have it. Arthur is about to have his head cut open, with Trillian not able to help him; Ford and Zaphod are about to be attacked by several goons, all of whom are larger than them, when, luckily, all of the alarms on Magrathea suddenly go off. Cops suddenly come to collect Zaphod, as he was and still is currently on the run because he stole the Heart of Gold, for a reason that he actually erased from his mind. The Heart of Gold is a prototype ship with the infinite improbability drive. The cops are shooting at the group, when suddenly, the cops’ life-support systems blew up. Arthur finds Slartibartfast’s aircar to the Heart of Gold and the Blagulon Kappa policecraft, where they find Marvin, who apparently plugged himself into the ship’s external computer feed and talked the ship about it’s view of the universe, to which, the ship committed suicide.
After traveling a few light years away and the Horsehead Nebula, where Magrathea is resided, Arthur is flipping through Ford’s copy of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, he lands on a page about Galactic Civilizations going through three different phases; the survival, or otherwise known as how; inquiry, or why; and sophistication, or where. Zaphod asks Arthur if he’s feeling hungry, to which Arthur replies with yes, and Zaphod says that they’ll stop at the Restaurant at the End of the Universe.
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