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Deep Thought got the answer right but had a terrible interface. 42 is just a close approximation to the irrational number:
This number really does encode the meaning of life: the encoding scheme is left as an exercise for the reader.
Meaning requires a message, message requires communication, communication requires a sender and medium, there is no well specified sender and medium through which life can be assumed to be a message, we can not assume a well specified meaning, integers are well specified, 42 is an integer.
knowing this, changes nothing.
Consider, instead, if 42 were not the meaning of life, but rather the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything. Further, consider if this question could be stated as "What do you get when you multiply six by nine?"
What does that mean for every other number?
2 balls + (5 go-nads x 8 beards) = 42
According to the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.