Towel Day is an annual global event, organized by fans of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which acts as a tribute to the late British author, Douglas Adams.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Galaxy was penned as a radio comedy for the BBC in the late 1970s but later evolved into a five-book “trilogy” that would shift over 15 million units worldwide.
The first Towel Day was staged just a fortnight after Adams’ death in 2001 and over the last two decades, it has become a staple date in the calendar for Hitchhikers’ fans and gamers alike.
The annual Towel Day is celebrated on May 25. This is two weeks after the anniversary of Adams’ passing. During this day, fans show their appreciation for Adams’ books and imagination, which helped carve a lasting trilogy and inspire a trio of video game titles (more on those later).
The concept of Towel Day originated by a message board user named “Clyde” on the now-defunct open-source forum called System Toolbox.
A man named Chris Campbell and a group of friends took the decision to register the towelday.org web domain and so far it has proven a rip-roaring success.
During Happy Towel Day, fans will visibly carry a towel around with them. Fans are encouraged to take photos and videos of their towels in use throughout the day and share them on social media via the hashtag #TowelDay.
Back in May 2010, an online petition began to encourage Google to design a Google Doodle to commemorate Towel Day, but so far those calls have fallen on deaf ears from the search engine giant.
The use of a towel in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy first transpired in the radio show back in 1978, during which it was stated that a towel is the “most massively useful thing” for any “interstellar hitchhiker”.
That’s because it has “great practical value”, with the ability to be wrapped around “for warmth” or wetted for “use in hand-to-hand combat”, or even used in an emergency “as a distress signal”.
The presence of a towel on a hitchhiker would also help them when encountering a non-hitchhiker, known colloquially in the story as a “strag”.
If a strag was spotted with a towel, they would immediately assume they were in possession of life items and that any hitchhiker capable of roughing it on their intergalactic travels was not an individual to be messed with.
The first book, following up on the original radio show, also reinforced the value of a towel and its multi-faceted existence when traveling the galaxy.
Douglas Adams didn’t just breathe new life into sci-fi novels, he played a key role in the evolution of sci-fi video games, too.
Did you know there were several video game titles for which Adams played a major role? In both the designing and the building stages, throughout the golden era of the 80s and 90s gaming.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was unsurprisingly Adams’ first body of work in the world of video gaming. This interactive fiction release was released on 8-bit gaming machines like the Amiga, Atari ST, Commodore 64, Macintosh, and the Apple II.
Published by Infocom and Steve Meretzky, it was the 14th title released under their umbrella.
The game mechanics are heavily text-based, creating a unique adventure game that’s loosely linked to the storyline of the book trilogy. In fact, most of the plot resembles events that occurred in the original book.
You assume the role of protagonist Arthur Dent, who is tasked with solving a host of puzzles to conquer numerous objectives to complete the game.
In terms of the game’s lasting legacy, it proved to be one of Infocom’s top five best-selling video game titles of all time! In 2004, the BBC even unveiled a browser-based 20th Anniversary Edition powered by an Adobe Flash interface.
Three years after Adams’ success with his “baby”, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, he teamed up with Infocom again to develop another interactive fiction game called Bureaucracy.
This single-player, released in 1987, was listed in the “Advanced” section of Infocom’s rating system for game difficulty.
The concept of Bureaucracy sees you encounter a long list of bureaucratic roadblocks as a consequence of your change of address. Nothing is working or being received as it should.
The key is to keep your player’s blood pressure under control to prevent them from suffering an aneurysm, which triggers the end of the game (talk about realism...).
At the peak of its power, Bureaucracy was listed as Game of the Month by American gaming journalist Jerry Pournelle in October 1987. It is said to have shifted more than 40,000 copies, which is a pretty mean feat given its exceptional niche game genre.
Starship Titanic was the late 90s hit on PC and Mac desktops. Adams was the lead designer of this release, developed by the Digital Village and published by Simon & Schuster Interactive.
This title takes you on sci-fi adventures on its eponymous starship, where you’re given a mission to recover missing pieces of the ship’s control system.
There is plenty of puzzle-based action here, as well as interaction with automated in-game bots within the Titanic. The game itself took over two years to finalize, and despite drawing sci-fi parallels with Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, it never proved a commercial success.
This was something of a head-scratcher to many given the futuristic gameplay, engaging character dialogue – of which there was said to be 16 hours’ worth – and the addition of Monty Python icons John Cleese and Terry Jones as members of the game’s voice cast.
Some 17 years after its release, GOG.com re-released it for next-generation PCs in 2015.
So, if you’re looking to celebrate 2022’s Towel Day and channel your inner Douglas Adams, you could choose from a plethora of different ways.
You could read one of Adams's books, play one of his games, or simply make sure you carry a towel with you at all times, wherever you might go.
Let's face it, if not an intergalactic traveller, a fellow human from our Earth is bound to strike a friendly conversation when they see a towel hanging from you!