42 facts about Douglas Adams (+video)

Google's doodle celebrates 'Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy' author Douglas Adams. Here are 42 facts about the humorist, environmentalist, technophile, and all-around hoopy frood who would have turned 61 on Monday.

By , Staff

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    Google honored author and humorist Douglas Adam with a "Don't Panic" doodle.
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On Monday, Google celebrates the author Douglas Adams with a "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy"-themed doodle that displays a spaceship computer console; an Electronic Thumb; a Sub-Etha Sens-O-Matic; a cup filled with a liquid that is almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea; a largish bath towel; Ford Prefect's leather satchel; an automatic door with a cheerful and sunny disposition that opens to reveal a robot with anything but; and, of course, the Guide itself.

In honor of his fans' favorite number, here are 42 facts about the great sci-fi satirist, technophile, conservationist, and all-around hoopy frood.

1. In 1974, Mr. Adams made his first of two appearances in "Monty Python's Flying Circus," playing a surgeon in Episode 42.

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2. On May 9, 2001, two days before Adams died, the International Astronomical Union named asteroid 18610 "Arthurdent," after the protagonist of the "Hitchhiker's" trilogy.

3. Adams was friends with Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour and came up with the title of the band's 1994 album, "The Division Bell."

4. A passionate technophile, Adams often said that he was the first person in the United Kingdom to buy a Macintosh computer

5. In 1994, Adams joined a trek organized by the conservation group Save the Rhino from the coast of Mombassa, Kenya, to the Summit of Kilomonjaro. The trekkers took turns wearing a huge rhinoceros costume.

6. In the US edition of "Life, the Universe, and Everything," the F-word was censored. It was replaced with the word "Belgium." The text in the US edition goes on to note that while on Earth, the word refers to a small, flat country in Europe, while everywhere else it is regarded as the most offensive word in the universe.

7. His middle name was Noel. A keen science buff, Adams took delight in his initials being "DNA." The year after he was born, in 1953 in Cambridge, England, researchers at the University of Cambridge discovered the structure of the DNA molecule.

8. Adams once wrote that his absolute favorite piece of information is "the fact that young sloths are so inept that they frequently grab their own arms and legs instead of tree limbs, and fall out of trees."

9. He wrote that he preferred it to be written as "Hitchhiker's," with an apostrophe but no spaces or hyphens. His orthography was widely ignored by publishers, who often used different treatments for the title in the same edition.

10. He described himself as a "radical atheist," adding the word "radical," he said, so that people would not ask him if he really meant "agnostic."

11. Science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke said that Adams's catchphrase, "Don't Panic" was perhaps the best advice that could be given to humanity.

12. In response to esoteric theories about why he chose the number 42 as the answer to the question of Life, the Universe, and Everything, Adams created the 42 Puzzle, which appears on the cover of the 1994 US edition. The puzzle consists of 42 spheres of various colors, and it is up to the puzzle-solver to find the number of ways that "42" is signified by the spheres.

13. Two weeks after Adams died in 2001, his fans organized an annual holiday to celebrate his life and work. Towel Day is celebrated every May 25.

14. He was good friends with evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, who dedicated his 2006 bestseller, "The God Delusion," to the late author, writing that "[s]cience has lost a friend, literature has lost a luminary, the mountain gorilla and the black rhino have lost a gallant defender."

15. He played guitar left handed, performing a few times with The Rock Bottom Remainders, a super-group of authors including Dave Barry, Stephen King, Amy Tan, and Barbara Kingsolver.

16. He stood at 6'5". As his friend Mr. Dawkins wrote, "He neither apologised for his height, nor flaunted it. It was part of the joke against himself."

17. Co-authored with zoologist Mark Carwardine, the book "Last Chance to See," took Adams and Mr. Carwardine across four continents to report on species that are on the brink of extinction, including the Komodo dragon in Indonesia, the  Northern white rhinoceros in Zaire, and the Yangtze River Dolphin in China. He later said that "Last Chance" was his favorite book.

18. He helped create several computer games, including an interactive text adventure version of the "Hitchhiker's Guide," as well as the games "Bureaucracy," and "Starship Titanic." "Titanic" was adapted into a novel by Monty Python member Terry Jones.

19. In 1983, he and his frequent collaborator, BBC comedy producer John Lloyd, published a fanciful lexicon titled, "The Meaning of Liff," which the authors describe as a "dictionary of things that there aren't any words for yet." Each word is actually the name of a geographic location; for instance, "duluth" (a city in Minnesota) is defined as "the smell of a taxi out of which people have just got."

20. One of Adams favorite authors was the English humorist P.G. Wodehouse. Adams described Wodehouse's prose as "pure music." Adams was close friends with the actor Stephen Fry, who famously portrayed one of Wodehouse's most enduring characters, the the brilliant yet subtle valet, Jeeves.

21. In 1979, Adams became the script editor for the television series, "Doctor Who,"  for which he wrote three episodes. He wrote the screenplay for a Doctor Who movie, titled "Doctor Who and the Krikkitmen." It never got off the ground, but the plot later became the basis for his novel, "Life, the Universe and Everything."

22. Adams was friends with Procol Harum frontman Gary Brooker. "The Restaurant at the End of the Universe," Adams said, was inspired by the band's song, "Grand Hotel."

23. Adams and John Lloyd once drafted a comedy based on "The Guinness Book of World Records," about aliens competing with humans to beat records. It would would have starred John Cleese as the UN Secretary General.

24. In 1990 he wrote and presented "Hyperland," a documentary about the potential of hypertext. Later that year, computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee would propose a hypertext project called the WorldWideWeb (also known as "That Thing You Are Using Right Now").

25. The first free online translator, AltaVista Babel Fish, was named for one of Adams's creations, a leech-like creature that, when inserted in the ear, becomes a universal translator. Adams's wrote that the Babel Fish, "by effectively removing all barriers to communication between different cultures and races, has caused more and bloodier wars than anything else in the history of creation."

26. In 1999, Adams founded H2G2, an online collaborative guide to Life, the Universe, and Everything. It predated Wikipedia by two years.

27. Adams's original pitch to the BBC for a comic science fiction radioplay was titled "The Ends of the Earth," a series of different stories that each ended with the destruction of our planet. This eventually morphed into the "Hitchhiker's Guide." 

28. Before becoming a successful writer, Adams worked many odd jobs, including stints as chicken-shed cleaner and as a bodyguard to a wealthy Qatari family. 

29. The popular instant messaging application Trillian is named for a character in the "Hitchhiker's Guide."

30. The idea for a feature-length "Hitchhiker's" film first came in 1982, when it was optioned by producer Ivan Reitman, who wanted either Bill Murray or Dan Aykroyd to play Ford Prefect.

31. Adams remains were cremated, along with his towel. His ashes reside at Highgate Cemetary in North London.

32. In 1979, "The Hitchhiker's Guide" became only radio show ever to be nominated for a Hugo Award, one of the most prestigious science fiction awards. It lost out to the movie "Superman," in the category "Best Dramatic Presentation."

33. On his 42nd birthday, Adams was invited to perform on stage with Pink Floyd in a concert at Earls Court in London. He played guitar on the songs "Brain Damage" and "Eclipse."

34. One of his biggest peeves was the proliferation of what he called "little dongly things," that is, non interchangeable power adapters. A number of smart-phone makers have since agreed to a standard, with the exception of Adams's beloved Apple.  

35. At the age of 31, Adams became the youngest writer every to receive a Golden Pan award, after "Hitchhiker's" sold more than 1 million copies. He would subsequently win the award twice more. 

36. Adams was a very early adopter of e-mail, having is own e-mail address as early as 1983.

37. In the 2004 remake of the Hitchhiker's radioplay, Adams posthumously portrayed Agrajag, a reincarnated being that by coincidence gets killed by Arthur Dent hundreds of times. Adams recorded the parts prior to his death.

38. The Alien Telescope Array, a joint project by the SETI Institute and the Radio Astronomy Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley, which searches for electromagnetic signs of extraterrestrial intelligence, has 42 antennas, an homage to Douglas Adams.

39. A sixth book in the inaccurately named Hitchhiker's trilogy was written by Irish novelist Eoin Colfer, with the permission of Adams's widow. It picks up where "Mostly Harmless" ended.

40. You can rearrange the letters in "Douglas Noel Adams" to get "Saloon Muddle Saga." 

41. Adams's daughter, Polly Jane Rocket Adams, runs a Tumblr called  #culturecoach, where she posts a film, a book, and an album suggested by one of three "Culture Coaches." One of her coaches is the author Neil Gaiman.

42. He chose the number 42 as the answer to the question of Life, the Universe, and Everything, because he wanted it to be an ordinary, smallish number, "the sort of number that you could without any fear introduce to your parents." (We wouldn't have minded if he'd picked a smaller number.) 

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