I can't believe I almost missed running something about Towel Day, one of the great nerd holidays of all time. Towel Day is when we celebrate the life and work of Douglas Adams, the man behind The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. While Adams died in 2001, his work lives on in the hearts and minds of anyone who has read the Hitchhiker's series, the Dirk Gently books or his other work, which includes Dr. Who.
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is, without doubt, an eternal classic. It began life as a BBC radio play, and eventually morphed into a book, a TV show and even a sadly awful movie (I recently tried rewatching it and was too depressed to finish). I love most of the books in the series - at least up through So Long and Thanks For All the Fish - and I consider Adams' to be a huge influence on my sense of humor, my sense of wonder and my sense of reality. The number 42 takes on new significance for millions of people because of Douglas Adams.
It's possible that some of you reading this have never had the chance to experience Hitchhiker's in any meaningful way. I hugely recommend reading the first four books in the trilogy (there are six books, although Adams himself only wrote five of them. And the fifth one... well, you can perfectly well do without that one. I haven't even read the sixth, to be honest), as well as checking out the TV series, which is delightful in that low-rent BBC sort of way. And of course any serious Hitchhiker must go back to the source of the original radio plays (I've embedded a little bit of one at the end of this just so you can listen to that wonderful Hitchhiker's theme).
Adams wasn't just a terrific writer, he was a smart and compassionate man. He was an environmental activist of the highest caliber, and he was an atheist of the most unshakable non-belief. And he was so funny, and so insightful into human nature and so sweet even when he was skewering.
Why is this day called Towel Day? Well, a towel is the most important thing you can have, should you find yourself hitchhiking across the galaxy. I'll let Adams himself tell you why, from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy:
A towel, it says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have. Partly it has great practical value. You can wrap it around you for warmth as you bound across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta; you can lie on it on the brilliant marble-sanded beaches of Santraginus V, inhaling the heady sea vapours; you can sleep under it beneath the stars which shine so redly on the desert world of Kakrafoon; use it to sail a miniraft down the slow heavy River Moth; wet it for use in hand-to-hand-combat; wrap it round your head to ward off noxious fumes or avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (such a mind-bogglingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can't see it, it can't see you); you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal, and of course dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough.
More importantly, a towel has immense psychological value. For some reason, if a strag (strag: non-hitch hiker) discovers that a hitchhiker has his towel with him, he will automatically assume that he is also in possession of a toothbrush, face flannel, soap, tin of biscuits, flask, compass, map, ball of string, gnat spray, wet weather gear, space suit etc., etc. Furthermore, the strag will then happily lend the hitch hiker any of these or a dozen other items that the hitch hiker might accidentally have "lost". What the strag will think is that any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through, and still knows where his towel is, is clearly a man to be reckoned with.
Hence a phrase that has passed into hitchhiking slang, as in "Hey, you sass that hoopy Ford Prefect? There's a frood who really knows where his towel is." (Sass: know, be aware of, meet, have sex with; hoopy: really together guy; frood: really amazingly together guy.
Raise a Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster and salute that hoopy Douglas Adams.