Why 16 things? Because 42 things would have been far too long.
1. ACTUAL HITCHHIKING INSPIRED THE SERIES.
The idea for The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy came to Douglas Adams—who was born on this day in 1952—as he was drunkenly stargazing in a field in Innsbruck, Austria in 1971. According to Neil Gaiman’s Don’t Panic: Douglas Adams and the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Adams, who was poor at the time, was hitchhiking from London to Istanbul with a stolen copy of Ken Welsh’s Hitch-hiker’s Guide to Europe. Adams later wrote to Welsh, “I got frantically depressed in Innsbruck ... When the stars came out I thought that someone ought to write a Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy because it looked a lot more attractive out there than it did around me."
2. INNSBRUCK IS PROUD OF THE PIVOTAL ROLE IT PLAYED.
In honor of Adams’s inebriated stroke of brilliance, the town (and indeed the rest of the world) has celebrated Towel Day—a towel is the most quintessential item in an intergalactic hitchhiker’s arsenal, according to Adams—on every May 25 since 2001.
3. REAL LIFE ALSO INSPIRED THE TOWELS.
Towels’ revered place in the series stems from a real-life experience Adams had on a vacation with friends to Greece. According to Adams, “Every morning they'd have to sit around and wait for me because I couldn't find my blessed towel ... I came to feel that someone really together, one who was well organized, would always know where his towel was.”
4. BEFORE THERE WERE NOVELS, THERE WERE RADIO SHOWS.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide got its start as a six-part radio play broadcast by the BBC in 1978. Adams had previously written for radio series like The Burkiss Way, so the medium was familiar to him. Nick Webb, editor of Pan Books, heard the series and immediately sought out Adams to write a novel based on the show. Adams later joked, “A publisher came and asked me to write a book, which is a very good way of breaking into publishing.”
5. THE BBC TURNED INITIALLY TURNED DOWN THE PUBLISHERS.
M.J. Simpson’s Hitchhiker: A Biography of Douglas Adams includes an anecdote from radio producer Geoffrey Perkins about the BBC’s initial reaction to these overtures from publishers. According to Perkins, the BBC responded with a letter that said, “Thank you very much for asking us. Unfortunately, we can’t do this. In our experience, books and records of radio shows don’t sell.” Eventually Webb won the battle to acquire the book rights.
6. ARTHUR COULD HAVE BEEN ALERIC.
Earthling protagonist Arthur Dent was almost christened Aleric B. Dent. Adams changed the hero’s name during a taxi ride to a BBC pitch meeting for the radio series.
7. ADAMS’S PUBLISHER HAD TO PLAY HARDBALL WITH HIM.
Adams was a notorious deadline-buster. He was famously quoted as saying, “I love deadlines. I love the whooshing sound they make as they go by.” As he was polishing The Hitchhiker’s Guide, his publishers called Adams and demanded he finish the page he was writing. To ensure he didn’t hear the deadline’s whoosh, the publishing house immediately sent a bicycle courier to pick up the manuscript.
8. THAT EPISODE DIDN’T IMPROVE HIS DEADLINE SKILLS.
When writing the fourth book in the Hitchhiker “trilogy,” So Long and Thanks For All the Fish, Adams was locked in a hotel suite for three weeks with his editor (and girlfriend) to ensure the book got written in a timely fashion.
9. THE SPELLING OF THE TITLE WAS FAIRLY FLUID.
The spelling of “Hitchhiker” was wildly inconsistent through the series’ publication run—from “Hitch hiker” to “Hitch-hiker”—until Adams announced in 2000 that “Hitchhiker,” one word, sans punctuation, was the definitive spelling.
10. PROCOL HARUM INSPIRED THE SERIES’ SECOND BOOK.
Adams got the idea for the follow-up to The Hitchhiker’s Guide, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, where the patrons’ entertainment consists of the universe’s explosion, while listening to prog rock outfit Procol Harum’s 1973 song “Grand Hotel.”
11. ADAMS WISHED HE HAD QUIT EARLIER.
Adams wasn’t particularly fond of his last two contributions to the series, 1984’s So Long and Thanks For all the Fish and 1992’s Mostly Harmless. On So Long, Adams stated that, “I really shouldn’t have written (it), and I felt that when I was writing it. I did the best I could, but it wasn’t, you know, really from the heart.”
12. THERE WAS AN EASY EXPLANATION FOR THE SERIES’ GRIM ENDING.
He also explained the bleak ending (and, well, all the pages before that, too) he penned for Mostly Harmless, saying, “The reason for that is very simple—I was having a lousy year...”
13. THE NUMBER 42 WASN’T ALL THAT MYSTERIOUS.
Why is 42 the answer to life, the universe, and everything? Because it made for a solid punchline. Adams explained his choice on a fansite in 1993, debunking fistfuls of fan theories about his fascination with the number: “The answer to this is very simple. It was a joke. It had to be a number, an ordinary, smallish number, and I chose that one. Binary representations, base thirteen, Tibetan monks are all complete nonsense. I sat at my desk, stared into the garden and thought '42 will do.' I typed it out. End of story.”
14. ADAMS REMOVED A SWIPE AT AN OLD CLASSMATE.
The Guide describes Vogon poetry as the third worst poetry in the universe, two spots shy of one Paula Nancy Millstone Jennings of Greenbridge, Essex. The original radio script used the name of a very real poet—Paul Neil Milne Johnstone of Redbridge, Essex, a classmate of Adams’ at Brentwood School. Adams made the switch when Johnstone complained about the use of his name.
15. ONE CHARACTER’S NAME IS NOT AS DIRTY AS IT SOUNDS.
Slartibartfast, one of the Magratheans charged with the creation of Earth who is quite fond of the fjords he designed in Norway, was named in an exercise in meeting BBC broadcast standards. According to the notes Adams wrote to accompany the published volume of his original radio scripts, the character was first named “Phartiphukborlz.” Adams played with the syllables until he had “something which sounded that rude, but was almost, but not quite, entirely inoffensive."
16. THE SERIES HAS TURNED FANS INTO MIXOLOGISTS.
If you ever want to feel like “having your brains smashed out by a slice of lemon wrapped around a large gold brick,” WikiBooks offers a recipe for the series’ infamous cocktail, the Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster. Just don’t drink two, unless you’re a “30 ton mega elephant with bronchial pneumonia."