Today’s Google Doodle celebrates the 61st birthday of Douglas Adams (1952-2001), creator of the cult-phenomenon science fiction series The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
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Before Hitchhiker was a best-selling book, it was a radio show that first aired on March 8, 1978, on BBC Radio 4. It was billed as “an epic adventure in time and space including some helpful advice on how to see the Universe for less than 30 Altairian dollars a day” (the main currency of the Milky Way galaxy in the stories).
The franchise soon expanded to include books, a computer game, CDs, cassettes, a TV series, a 2005 movie, and h2g2, which is supposed to be a hitchhiker’s guide to Earth. By the time Adams died of a heart attack at 49 in May 2001, his books had sold more than 14 million copies worldwide.
In a 1985 interview with David Letterman, Adams said he was inspired to create Hitchhiker in 1971, when he was “lying drunk in a field” in Innsbruck, Austria, holding a copy of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Europe. M.J. Simpson’s Hitchhiker: A Biography of Douglas Adams claims that story is just myth, and that Adams came up with the idea during a 1973 trip to Greece.
Whatever its origins, Hitchhiker lives on in popular culture. The number 42 appears in the Google Doodle because in Hitchhiker, a computer called “Deep Thought” said “42” is the answer to “life, the universe, and everything.” Adams says he was joking, but someone actually wrote a book about the number’s significance in world history, and if you Google “the answer to life the universe and everything,” 42 will pop up in the search engine’s calculator.
Bonus celebration: check out this audio of Adams performing with Pink Floyd on (what else?) the author’s 42nd birthday. Shine on you crazy diamond.