Douglas Adams: The hitchhiker's guide to humor and science

Google celebrates Douglas Adams, author of the "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy," with a reference-packed doodle.

Google honored author and humorist Douglas Adam with a "Don't Panic" doodle.

Google threw a space-faring birthday party for Douglas Adams on Monday. The author of "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" would have turned 61 today. 

Monday's interactive Google doodle dives deep into Adams lore. The cup of tea calls back Adams's series of Dirk Gently detective novels. Opening the door on the left reveals Marvin, the paranoid android from the Hitchhiker's series. And the digital pad plays short animations that crack wise about everything from the fictitious "babel fish" to the classic Adams quote, "The knack [to flying] lies in learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss."

This month marks another important Adams milestone. Last Friday was the 35th anniversary of his radio drama "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy." Few remember that the BBC radio show predates the books and TV show. Of course, it's easy to forget, given that the first episode aired in the rather lonesome 10:30 p.m. time slot. The primary actors – Mark Wing-Davey, Peter Jones, and Simon Jones – would go on to portray the same characters in the BBC TV show that followed a few years later. 

Adams often moved between media. In 1989, he and zoologist Mark Carwardine worked on a radio documentary and book about endangered species. "Last Chance to See" highlighted the precarious conditions of many exotic animals, including the aye-aye, komodo dragon, and Yangtze River dolphin. 

"We put a big map of the world on a wall," Mr. Carwardine told the BBC. "Douglas stuck a pin in everywhere he fancied going, I stuck a pin in where all the endangered animals were, and we made a journey out of every place that had two pins."

Twenty years later, the BBC created a TV series that checked in on the various species. The six-part series enjoyed an audience of more than 3 million British viewers. Adams, however, was not able to participate. He died in 2001. Actor and comedian Stephen Fry stood in for Adams.

The day that Adams died, Oxford University professor and author Richard Dawkins wrote that, "Science has lost a friend, literature has lost a luminary, the mountain gorilla and the black rhino have lost a gallant defender (he once climbed Kilimanjaro in a rhino suit to raise money to fight the cretinous trade in rhino horn), Apple Computer has lost its most eloquent apologist."

But Google designs its doodles as a celebration of life, not a reflection on death. After all, the search-engine giant honors great thinkers and artists on their birthdays, not the anniversaries of their death. So grab a towel (which, as Adams taught us, "is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have"), check out "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" (whether as a book, radio drama, movie, or live performance), and whatever you do: Don't Panic!

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