According to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a person can hold “a lungful of air” in space for roughly thirty seconds. However, this does very little to help that person survive, since “the chances of getting picked up by another ship within those thirty seconds are two to the power of two hundred and seventy-six thousand, seven hundred and nine to one against.” Interestingly enough, this figure is also “the telephone number of an Islington flat where Arthur once went to a very good party and met a very nice girl whom he totally failed to get off with—she went off with a gate-crasher.” Despite the odds against their survival, Adams notes, Arthur and Ford are rescued twenty-nine seconds after getting ejected from the Vogon spaceship.
For the first time in the novel, Adams turns his attention to the notion of improbability. By outlining the unlikelihood of Arthur and Ford surviving, he encourages readers to question how, exactly, the two protagonists are going to avoid death. Furthermore, when Adams casually mentions that the figure of probability related to Arthur and Ford’s survival is—coincidentally—also the “telephone number of an Islington flat where Arthur once went to a very good party and met a very nice girl,” he infuses the plot with absurdity, ultimately parodying the convoluted ways in which conventional science fiction novels rely upon outlandish plot points in order to tell a story. And yet, despite just how absurd and improbable it is, Arthur and Ford are rescued from space with only one second to spare.