When asked to produce The Ultimate Question, the computer says that it cannot; however, it can help to design an even more powerful computer, the Earth, that can. The programmers then embark on a further ten-million-year program to discover The Ultimate Question. This new computer will incorporate living beings in the "computational matrix", with the pan-dimensional creators assuming the form of mice. The process is hindered after eight million years by the unexpected arrival on Earth of the Golgafrinchans and then is ruined completely, five minutes before completion, when the Earth is destroyed by the Vogons to make way for a new Hyperspace Bypass. This is later revealed to have been a ruse: the Vogons had been hired to destroy the Earth by a consortium of psychiatrists, led by Gag Halfrunt, who feared for the loss of their careers when the meaning of life became known.
Lacking a real question, the mice decide not to go through the whole thing again and settle for the out-of-thin-air suggestion "How many roads must a man walk down?" from Bob Dylan's protest song "Blowin' in the Wind".
At the end of the first radio series (and television series, as well as the novel The Restaurant at the End of the Universe) Arthur Dent, having escaped the Earth's destruction, potentially has some of the computational matrix in his brain. He attempts to discover The Ultimate Question by extracting it from his brainwave patterns, as abusively suggested by Marvin the Paranoid Android, when a Scrabble-playing caveman spells out forty two. Arthur pulls random letters from a bag, but only gets the sentence "What do you get if you multiply six by nine"?