Fans of The Hitcher's Guide to the Galaxy book series by Douglas Adams will already know that a towel is the "most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have".  For those of you who are not fans I can tell you that a towel is the "most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have".

If you have not read The Hitcher's Guide to the Galaxy I would highly recommend it.  Often referred to as "a trilogy of five books" it is technically a work of science fiction, although it's uniquely British style of humour makes it accessible even to those who are not fans of the genre.  If you don't want to read the books there is always the TV mini-series that you may be able to rent or can certainly borrow from someone you know who is a fan (we're everywhere).  There was also a feature length movie that, although not as good as the mini-series in my opinion, was quite entertaining.

What's the significance of the towel?  Here's an excerpt from the first book that explains:

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 vapors; 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-boggingly 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: nonhitchhiker) discovers that a hitchhiker has his towel with him, he will automatically assume that he is also in possession of a toothbrush, washcloth, 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 hitchhiker any of these or a dozen other items that the hitchhiker 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.)

So now you're probably asking yourself, "What's Towel Day and why is it celebrated?"

Douglas Adams passed away on May 11, 2001 at the early age of 49.  Two weeks later fans organized a tribute where they would carry a towel with them for the day as a show of respect for Adams.  It has since become an annual tradition.

I've added a new category to my Links page where you can find out more about Douglas Adams, The Hitcher's Guide to the Galaxy, and Towel Day.

So don't forget your towel on May 25th.