Technology in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
The fictional universe of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series by Douglas Adams is a galaxy-spanning society of interacting extraterrestrial cultures. The technological level in the series is highly advanced, though often unreliable. Many technologies in the series are used to poke fun at modern life.
Sirius Cybernetics Corporation
Most of the technology mentioned in the series are products of the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation, a decidedly inept company which designs and manufactures a wide range of robots and labour-saving devices, such as lifts, automatic doors, ventilation systems, and the infamous Nutrimatic Drink Dispenser. In the novel So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish, the Guide summarises the problem with all the corporation's products:
It is very easy to be blinded to the essential uselessness of [their products] by the sense of achievement you get from getting them to work at all. In other words—and this is the rock solid principle on which the whole of the Corporation's Galaxy-wide success is founded—their fundamental design flaws are completely hidden by their superficial design flaws.
The only profitable division of the company, its Complaints division, takes up all of the major landmasses on the first three planets in the Sirius Tau system. The theme song for the Complaints division, "Share and Enjoy", apparently becomes the theme for the company as a whole. The main office-building and headquarters for the company was originally built to represent this motto, but due to bad architecture it sank halfway into the ground, leaving the upper halves of the motto's words to read (in the local language) "Go Stick Your Head in a Pig."
The Sirius Cybernetics Corporation invented a concept called Genuine People Personalities (GPP). GPP imbue their products with intelligence and emotion. Thus not only do doors open and close, but they thank their users for using them, or sigh with the satisfaction of a job well done. Other examples of Sirius Cybernetics Corporation's record with sentient technology include an armada of neurotic elevators, hyperactive ships' computers and (perhaps most famously of all) Marvin the Paranoid Android. Marvin is a prototype for the GPP feature, and his depression and "terrible pain in all the diodes down his left side" stem from unresolved flaws in his programming.
The radio serial of The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul mentions the Corporation, which also appears listed in the instructions to the Atari Jaguar game Alien vs Predator as a manufacturer of medical equipment.
By-products of Designer People
In the backstory Young Zaphod Plays it Safe, the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation designed and produced synthetic personalities to order, but they turned out to be the "By-products of Designer People—amalgams of characteristics which simply could not co-exist in naturally occurring life forms". Some of these were dangerous as they did not alert people to their dangerousness. The starship Billion Year Bunker contained three of these in the hold, on their way to being blasted out of the universe—but one had escaped to Earth, "the man babbling gently about a shining city on a hill"; later revised editions clarify the reference by describing the figure as "a Reagan" (in other words, Ronald Reagan).
Doors manufactured by the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation are programmed to love their simple lives; they love nothing more than to open and close for passing users, and thank them profusely for so emphatically validating their existence. Most characters in the series grow to loathe the doors, particularly Marvin (the first to explain the doors' "cheerful and sunny dispositions").
Happy Vertical People Transporter
The lifts in the Hitchhiker's Guide offices are called Happy Vertical People Transporters. As designed by the Corporation, they are meant to be sentient (enough to argue with) and have "defocused temporal perception". The latter concept is meant to enable the lifts to see far enough into the future to arrive at a floor before potential passengers realise they wanted a lift, thus saving them from having to wait around and make friends as they would have to do normally.
The one lift with a voice appears in Fit the Seventh of the radio series, voiced by David Tate. The lifts make cameo appearances of sorts in the radio series The Quintessential Phase and in the computer game Starship Titanic.
Matter transference beams
Matter-transference beams feature as the main means of teleportation encountered throughout the series—first used by a Dentrassi to transport Ford and Arthur onto a Vogon ship seconds before the Earth is destroyed. Ford explains that one probably loses some salt and protein when transported for the first time through a matter-transference beam. In the Hitchhiker's game, this condition is fatal without eating peanuts. Used again in The Restaurant at the End of the Universe: as the team try to escape from Hotblack Desiato's stuntship, they find a room, approximately 6–8 feet tall, with what resembles a multiple shower unit with half-finished wiring tangled from the ceiling. Since there is no guidance programming and no automatic system, Marvin has to stay behind and operate the machine (he himself escapes by an artificially introduced Improbability Field). Arthur wakes up from the transport and states he has the worst headache imaginable. Arthur describes the experience as "Not as much fun as a good, solid kick in the head". As with most Corporation products, they were known to malfunction. A popular protest song about Matter Transference Beams sums it up by saying, "I teleported home last night with Ron and Sid and Meg; Ron stole Meggy's heart away while I got Sidney's leg."
Nutrimatic Drinks Dispenser
The Nutrimatic Drinks Dispenser is a product of the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation. The Guide has this to say on the Nutrimatic Drinks Dispenser:
When the 'Drink' button is pressed it makes an instant but highly detailed examination of the subject's taste buds, a spectroscopic analysis of the subject's metabolism, and then sends tiny experimental signals down the neural pathways to the taste centres of the subject's brain to see what is likely to be well received.
However, no-one knows quite why it does this because it then invariably delivers a cupful of liquid that is almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea.
In Fit the Ninth of the radio series, the machine fails to produce tea altogether, in fact refusing to try, and taps Eddie's logic circuits to compute why Arthur wants tea at all; "Because I happen to like it" doesn't compute. With the help of the spirit of Zaphod Beeblebrox the Fourth, Eddie eventually settles on the answer "because he's an ignorant monkey who doesn't know better", though this answer is not well received by Arthur.
In the novel The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, on the other hand, Arthur Dent manages to freeze up a Nutrimatic Drinks Dispenser (along with the rest of the spaceship they are on) by asking it to make him tea, due to the various servings of the terrible-tasting sludge he'd received from the machine during the entire trip. The Nutrimatic Drinks Dispenser defines tea as "The taste of dried-up leaves boiled in water". After many hours of considerable thought with the help of Eddie it manages to produce real tea, which Arthur describes as "the best tea he's ever drunk".
In the film adaptation, a machine similar to the drinks dispenser appears, serving brown sludge into a plastic cocktail glass. However, it is not mentioned by name, nor does it engage Arthur in conversation. There is also a similar machine nearby that detects and produces—according to Trillian—"what you're craving". While still incapable of making tea, this machine does not in fact paralyze the ship's systems—that feat is instead accomplished by the hitchhiking mice who are, in fact, the pan-dimensional beings who activated Deep Thought for the second time.
Billion Year Bunker
The Starship Billion Year Bunker appeared in Young Zaphod Plays it Safe. It was commissioned by the Galactic government to carry certain "by-products", such as aorist rods and biological weapons. It was meant to be almost indestructible and the cargo hold had been reinforced in many different ways. The crew was to steer the ship towards a black hole, where it would be sucked in and forever be destroyed. However, the captain took a detour to his home planet because he wanted some of the lobsters that were in abundance on the planet. The ship crashed into the water and split in two.
Blagulon Kappa policecraft
In the novel The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, this spacecraft is found on the surface of Magrathea, parked next to the Heart of Gold. It is described as "a bulbous, shark-like affair, slate-green in color, with stenciled writing in various degrees of size and unfriendliness informing whoever cared to read them as to where the ship was from, what section of the police it was assigned to, and where the power feeds should be connected." It is also totally dark and silent, as if dead.
The Blagulon Kappa policecraft arrives to attempt to arrest Zaphod. However, Marvin, being "bored and depressed", plugs himself into the computer and "talk[s] to it at great length; revealing [his] entire view of the universe to it", whereupon "It [commits] suicide", fortunately taking its two Blagulon Kappan pilots with it, since they required their shipboard computer to run their personal life-support systems.
The Golgafrincham B-Ark was two miles long and capped by a bridge that offered a panoramic view of the stars. Its interior corridors were covered in brown Hessian wall-weave, and home to fifteen million unwanted "colonists" in cryonic suspension. The ship was built as part of an elaborate con to exile an unwitting third of Golgafrincham's population; convincing them their planet was doomed, the majority sent them off to another planet, which happened to be Earth. Upon completing its five-year journey, the ship crashed into a swamp, taking the vast majority of its sleeping passengers with it.
Heart of Gold
Heart of Gold is the first prototype ship to successfully use the revolutionary Infinite Improbability Drive. It is 150 metres long and has been represented in various shapes. The original radio series did not specify a shape. In the novel adapted from the first four episodes of the radio series, it was described as a sleek white running shoe, which the TV adaptation adopted as a basis for its depictions. In the 2005 movie, it is more spherical with a hole and red brake lights on the rear that form the shape of a heart, a shape derived from a teacup in the brownian motion producer that powers the Infinite Improbability Drive. It also features a mural around the hole which depicts the invention of the Drive. It was built as a secret government project on planet Damogran from where Zaphod Beeblebrox, the then-President of the Imperial Galactic Government, stole it at the launching ceremony.
The ship's cybernetics consist of a new generation of Sirius Cybernetics Corporation robots and computers with Genuine People Personalities (including Eddie the shipboard computer and Marvin).
In the novel Life, the Universe and Everything, it is revealed that the core of the Improbability Drive is actually the Golden Bail of Prosperity, one of five items that forms the Wikkit Gate. The drive is subsequently stolen by the robots of Krikkit, but it is later recovered by Zaphod Beeblebrox and reinstalled.
Slartibartfast's ship in the novel Life, the Universe and Everything. The ship is said to work by abusing the laws of 'bistromathics', which is the specific mathematics of values of various factors in restaurants, such as the bill, number of people attending, number of people said to be attending, number of people who leave and the time they all arrive. In the novel Life, the Universe and Everything, bistromathics is explained that "Just as Einstein observed that space was not an absolute, but depended on the observer's movement in space ..., so it is now realized that numbers are not absolute, but depend on the observer's movement in restaurants."
The ship's appearance was described as having some of the features of a spaceship (guidance fins, rocket nozzles, escape hatches, etc.), but far more strongly resembling "a small upended Italian bistro."
A majestic and luxurious cruise-liner launched from the great shipbuilding asteroid complexes of Artifactovol. Its designers included an early form of Infinite Improbability Drive, theorising that it would then be Infinitely Improbable that anything bad would happen to it. Unfortunately, the nature of the Infinite Improbability Drive means that anything Infinitely Improbable was now bound to happen, and so the ship underwent a Total Existence Failure before it left the dock.
Vogon Constructor flagship
Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz's flagship used in the destruction of Earth. It is described in the novels as being yellow, "huge as [an] office block", and "not so much designed as congealed". Its interior is dark and squalid.
A spacecraft summoned by the Guide Mark II at Random Dent's request. Random is pleasantly surprised by the Guide's choice of ship, stating that she always wanted an RW-6. Random and the Guide use the ship to travel to an alternate version of Earth in search of her mother, Tricia McMillan.
The Bistromathic Drive is used in Slartibartfast's craft Bistromath and works by exploiting the irrational mathematics that apply to numbers on a waiter's bill pad and groups of people in restaurants. the novel Life, the Universe and Everything describes bistromathics as follows:
Bistromathics itself is simply a revolutionary new way of understanding the behaviour of numbers. Just as Albert Einstein's general relativity theory observed that space was not an absolute but depended on the observer's movement in space, and that time was not an absolute, but depended on the observer's movement in time, so it is now realized that numbers are not absolute, but depend on the observer's movement in restaurants.
Further explanation of the theory behind bistromathics:
The first nonabsolute number is the number of people for whom the table is reserved. This will vary during the course of the first three telephone calls to the restaurant, and then bear no apparent relation to the number of people who actually turn up, or the number of people who subsequently join them after the show/match/party/gig, or to the number of people who leave when they see who else has shown up.
The second nonabsolute number is the given time of arrival, which is now known to be one of those most bizarre mathematical concepts, a recipriversexcluson, a number whose existence can only be defined as being anything other than itself. In other words, the given time of arrival is the one moment of time at which it is impossible that any member of the party will arrive. Recipriversexclusons now play a vital part in many branches of mathematics, including statistics and accountancy, and also form the basic equations used to engineer the Somebody Else's Problem field.
The third and most mysterious piece of nonabsoluteness of all lies in the relationship between the number of items on the bill, the cost of each item, the number of people at the table and what they are each prepared to pay for. (The number of people who have actually brought any money is only a sub-phenomenon in this field.)
The bridge instruments of the Starship Bistromath are ensconced in fake wine bottles.
The central computational area is a fake Italian restaurant table with seating for twelve encased in a glass cage. The table is decked with a faded red and white check tablecloth with mathematically positioned cigarette burns. A group of robot customers sit round the table, attended by robot waiters.
The mathematics play themselves out in the complex interplay between continuously circulating keys, menus, watches, cheque books, credit cards, bill pads and scribblings on paper napkins.
Slartibartfast explains that "On a waiter's bill pad, numbers dance. Reality and unreality collide on such a fundamental level that each becomes the other and anything is possible."
Should the ship's captain sit at the table, the mathematical functions speed up; the customers become more vociferous and wave at each other. Eventually, the equation balances, and the customers become polite and civil once more. The more heated the argument, the more complex the equation, and the farther the ship may travel.
Effectively, the ship takes advantage of the strange rules that only restaurants operate under by turning itself into a controlled, artificial restaurant. This allows a ship equipped with a bistromathic drive to accomplish feats quite outside the normal capabilities of spacecraft, such as travelling two thirds across the galactic disk in a matter of seconds. The drive is notably more controllable than the Infinite Improbability Drive. It is also said to "make the Heart of Gold seem like an electric pram."
The Vogon ships use hyperspace travel to go faster than light. They also destroy Earth to make way for a hyperspace bypass. Ford Prefect describes going into hyperspace as "rather unpleasantly like being drunk". When asked what's so unpleasant about being drunk, he replies, "You ask a glass of water."
Infinite Improbability Drive
The Infinite Improbability Drive is a faster-than-light drive. The most prominent usage of the drive is in the starship Heart of Gold. It is based on a particular perception of quantum theory: a subatomic particle is most likely to be in a particular place, such as near the nucleus of an atom, but there is also an infinitesimally small probability of it being found very far from its point of origin (for example close to a distant star). Thus, a body could travel from place to place without passing through the intervening space (or hyperspace, for that matter), if you had sufficient control of probability. According to the Guide, the drive "passes through every conceivable point in every conceivable universe almost simultaneously;" in other words whoever uses it is "never sure where they'll end up or even what species they'll be when they get there" and "it's therefore important to dress accordingly". In the 2005 film, for instance, the first time the Improbability Drive is used, the entire ship ends up as a giant ball of yarn for a few seconds, and the main characters are rendered as animated yarn dolls.
The Guide's entry on the drive also states that it was invented "following research into finite improbability, which was often used to break the ice at parties by making all the molecules in the hostess' undergarments leap one foot simultaneously to the left, in accordance with the theory of indeterminacy". It further explains that many respectable physicists wouldn't stand for that sort of thing, "partly because it was a debasement of science, but mostly because they didn't get invited to those sort of parties."
The Heart of Gold was the prototype ship for infinitely improbable travel. It is the Infinite Improbability Drive in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy that saves Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect from very probable death by asphyxiation in deep space after being thrown out of the Vogon ship; the improbable odds against being rescued being 2276709 to one; the superscripted number incidentally being the telephone number of the Islington flat where Arthur went to a fancy dress party and first met—and totally blew it with—Trillian (in the film, the superscripted number is "2079460347" instead). Incidentally, Adams explained in the annotated volume of the original radio scripts that it was the eviction of Arthur and Ford out the spacelock of the Vogon ship that led to his conception of the Infinite Improbability Drive. Adams realized that he had worked the story into a dead end, thinking in frustration that the only solutions would be "infinitely improbable." In a flash of insight and what Adams called "mental jiujitsu", the Infinite Improbability Drive was born.
In the third book, the Infinite Improbability Drive is discovered to be the Golden Bail of Prosperity in the Wikkit Gate. It is stolen by the white Krikkit robots; however, it was returned and the Heart of Gold returned to operational status.
Adams developed the notion of the improbability drive having greater causal (and narrative) effects in later books. For example, when Zaphod's great-grandfather discusses his great grandson's career-to-date, he explains that Zaphod cannot escape his destiny now the improbability field "controls you".
Karey Kirkpatrick, who with Adams adapted the novel for the screen in 2005, described the improbability drive as a "plot contrivance machine", allowing Adams to construct elaborate plotlines based on coincidences that would, in other narratives, be considered too improbable to be believed.
Phargilor Kangaroo Relocation Drive
The Phargilor (or Penargilon) Kangaroo Relocation Drive appeared in Fit the Sixth of the radio series—it can also be heard on BBC Sound Effects No. 26: Sci-Fi Sound Effects. The drive allows, in an emergency, a ship to be ejected suddenly through the fabric of space time and come to rest far from the starting point, with the pilot rarely having time to plot where the ship will end up. Ford and Arthur use this drive to escape from the Haggunenons.
The Photon Drive or Conventional Photon Drive is the standard drive that the Heart of Gold utilizes when the Infinite Improbability Drive is not in use. It is discussed briefly in the first book after an episode about the Infinite Improbability Drive, where it states that "The Heart of Gold fled on silently through the night of space, now on conventional photon drive". Little is known about the Photon Drive, as it is only mentioned four times over the course of the entire series, once in the novel The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, twice in the novel The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, and once in the novel Mostly Harmless.
Kill-o-Zap blaster pistol
The Kill-o-Zap is a weapon first appearing in the novel The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, wielded by the police from Blagulon Kappa when they come to Magrathea to arrest Zaphod. It is referenced throughout the series in the role of a standard and widespread brand of raygun.
In the novel The Restaurant at the End of the Universe it is described in more detail:
The designer of the gun had clearly not been instructed to beat about the bush. 'Make it evil,' he'd been told. 'Make it totally clear that this gun has a right end and a wrong end. Make it totally clear to anyone standing at the wrong end that things are going badly for them. If that means sticking all sort of spikes and prongs and blackened bits all over it then so be it. This is not a gun for hanging over the fireplace or sticking in the umbrella stand, it is a gun for going out and making people miserable with.'
In the novel Life, the Universe and Everything, the group arms themselves with Kill-o-Zap guns against the Krikkiters. Arthur "fumbled to release the safety catch and engage the extreme danger catch as Ford had shown him. He was shaking so much that if he'd fired at anybody at that moment he probably would have burnt his signature on them."
In the 2005 movie adaptation, the gun has a sophisticated look. It is more of a white sphere that covers the hand and has a trigger on the inside. This version is wielded by Marvin.
Point of View Gun
The Point of View Gun is a device created by Douglas Adams for the movie version of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy; it does not appear in any of the previous versions of the story.
According to the film, the gun was created by Deep Thought prior to its long pondering of the Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything. When used on someone, it will cause them to see things from the point of view of the firer (the Guide says that it "conveniently, does precisely as its name suggests"). According to the Guide's entry on it, though the gun was designed by Deep Thought, it was commissioned by the Intergalactic Consortium of Angry Housewives, who were tired of ending every argument with their husbands with the phrase: "You just don't get it, do you?"
This neatly mirrors the Total Perspective Vortex, an earlier plot device from the radio series and second novel, created by the character Trin Tragula to show his wife the whole infinity of creation and herself in relation to it.
Humma Kavula wants to obtain the gun in order to expand the influence of the religion he heads. He agrees to trade it with Zaphod Beeblebrox for the coordinates to Magrathea, but takes Zaphod's second head as collateral instead, as Zaphod doesn't have the gun at the time. When the gun is discovered inside Deep Thought, it is playfully used by Ford Prefect and Zaphod on one another, and eventually taken by Trillian who, wanting answers from Zaphod about how upset she was over Earth's destruction, uses it to interrogate him until he does so (In the movie adaptation, Zaphod authorised the destruction of Earth, thinking he was simply being asked for his autograph for a fan, and was completely unaware why Trillian was angry with him when she discovered this on Vogsphere). Following this, Zaphod threatens to fire the gun at Trillian, to which she scathingly replies that she is "already a woman" (implying that the gun only works on men, mainly because it was commissioned specifically by housewives, but also because women are sympathetic and thoughtful of others, and therefore can already see things from another's point of view).
Near the end of the film, Marvin the Paranoid Android uses the gun to save the crew of the Heart of Gold from hundreds of Vogons. After the Vogons see things from Marvin's chronically-depressed point of view, they all collapse, no longer finding a point to life.
There are seven holsters for Point of View Guns inside Deep Thought, but only one actual gun. The rest of the holsters are empty. At the end of the movie Arthur Dent possesses the gun, and Zaphod has not yet turned the gun over to Humma Kavula.
Quite Unwieldy Experimental Sublimation Torpedo, an experimental anti-god missile used by Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz to attack the god Thor in the novel And Another Thing.... The Vogons bought the device from Zaphod, who reveals that he installed a lawnmower engine on it in a scheme to defraud them.
Featured in Life, the Universe and Everything, the supernova bomb is "a very very small bomb" that resembles a cricket ball, and is the greatest weapon of mass destruction ever created in the history of the universe. Initially designed by the supercomputer Hactar for the Silastic Armourfiends of Striterax, who had demanded that it create an "Ultimate Weapon" but forgot that computers take instructions literally, the bomb creates a path through hyperspace that connects all major suns together into one gigantic supernova, effectively destroying the entire universe. Hactar deliberately designed the bomb with a flaw that rendered it useless; when the Silastic Armourfiends discovered this, they smashed the computer into dust and then destroyed themselves through constant warfare.
Hactar's particulate form wrapped itself around the idyllic planet Krikkit, isolating it from the rest of the universe, and gradually re-engineered its society until they could recreate the bomb and fulfill Hactar's program. The Krikkiters were defeated in the Krikkit Wars, racial memories of which would lead to the invention of the game cricket on Earth. Billions of years later, they built Hactar's flawed bomb and tried to deploy it, leading to their discovery of the computer's influence on their evolution. Trillian noted that it was impossible for the Krikkiters to be smart enough to build this weapon on their own, yet stupid enough not to grasp that it would destroy them if they used it. Hactar created a fully functional duplicate of the bomb and hid it in a travel bag belonging to Arthur Dent, who very nearly caused it to explode before stopping it by accident at the last second.
A watch-like device that can create an artificial crisis situation of selectable severity, in order to sharpen the wits of the user. Carried by Lintilla in Fit the Eleventh of the radio series.
Earth's population are described in the first novel as "so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea." When Arthur Dent temporarily loses his left arm as a consequence of the Infinite Improbability Drive, he panics upon realising he can no longer operate his digital watch. Hyperintelligent pan-dimensional beings built the supercomputer Deep Thought in part to comprehend why people spend so much of their lives wearing digital watches. In the 1970s, when the series was first composed, digital watches were the height of techno-fashion. For the 2005 movie The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, references to digital watches were replaced by mobile telephones.
The Ident-i-Eeze, which was a card that you kept on your person in order to authenticate your identity.
It was invented as a means to alleviate the problem of biometric scanning, genetic analysis and the recollection of obscure facts regarding familial history which users needed in order to conduct financial transactions. Ford Prefect steals one from his new boss, and is able to give his company-issued Dine-O-Charge card unlimited credit, thus wreaking financial havoc on the company that took over the Guide.
Joo Janta 200 Super-Chromatic Peril Sensitive Sunglasses
Designed to help the wearer develop a relaxed attitude to danger. The lenses turn completely black at the first hint of trouble, thus preventing the wearer from seeing anything that might alarm him/her. Appeared in episode 3 of the TV series and in chapters 5 and 6 of the novel The Restaurant at the End of the Universe.
A special helmet that Zaphod Beeblebrox uses in the film adaptation. It is possibly an old-fashioned device, as stated by Ford Prefect that it was used when ship captains needed to concentrate. It is basically a helmet with a trigger device on top that resembles an automatic citrus juicer, which is why it is powered by common lemon juice. The effects of the thinking cap, in Zaphod's case, last about 10 minutes per lemon. On Magrathea, Arthur Dent negatively remarks to Ford's trust in Zaphod's ability at making guesses by angrily replying "Go with the hunch of a man whose brain is fuelled by LEMONS!?" After Ford starts the Thinking Cap, Zaphod (who was very groggy from having his second head removed by force) immediately was able to walk straight and think smarter than usual, and ten minutes later he could still walk, but was back to his normal, over-the-top self.
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy states that a towel is the most important item a hitchhiker can have. It also mentions that "to know where one's towel is" means to be in control of one's own life. It describes the towel as a multipurpose tool which can be converted into such things as a sail for a makeshift raft, a gas mask, a blindfold and a weapon for hand-to-hand combat. Resourceful hitchhikers have enhanced their towels in highly exotic ways, including embedding complex circuitry; Roosta, who Ford Prefect says "really knows where his towel is", fortified his towel with yellow stripes high in protein, green stripes with vitamin supplements, pink flowers of wheatgerm extract, and other areas containing barbecue sauce and anti-depressants. Ford Prefect, a traditionalist, has so far only reinforced his towel's seams, which enabled him to use it as a rope to stop himself from falling to his death. In the TV series, towels move of their own accord during hyperspatial jumps, and the amount they've moved allows an experienced hitchhiker to calculate the distance he has travelled. The towel was useful in the film version a handful of times, mainly by Ford. For example, while on the homeworld of the Vogons, he started to wave it around in front of a group of Vogons, who screamed and ran away. He also used it while attempting to cross the beach infested with shovel-like creatures which feed on thought. Another time, he used it to pull the pipe from the Vogon ship, attempting to increase the range of his ring.
The emphasis on towels is a reference to Hitch-hiker's Guide to Europe by Ken Welsh, which inspired Adams' fictional guidebook and also stresses the importance of towels.
Breathe-o-Smart was the "sexier and smarter" in-building climate-control air-conditioning technology (in the novel Mostly Harmless) that sparked the Great Ventilation and Telephone Riots (of SrDt 3454).
One of the smartest features of the Breathe-o-Smart is that it cannot possibly go wrong. So. No worries on that score. Enjoy your breathing now, and have a nice day.
The horror erupted when three simultaneous events happened: Breathe-o-Smart Inc issued a statement "best results were achieved by using their systems in temperate climates", the breakdown of a Breathe-o-Smart system on a particularly hot and humid day putting hundreds of office staff into the street where a rampaging mob of long distance telephone operators who had got so twisted by the repetitiveness of their work that they had finally taken to the streets with megaphones—and rifles.
In days of riots, every single window was smashed, to cries of "Get off the line, asshole!" and a variety of animal noises.
So now, all (mechanical or electrical or quantum-mechanical or hydraulic or even wind, steam or piston-driven) devices are now legally required to carry this text:
The major difference between a thing that might go wrong and a thing that cannot possibly go wrong is that when a thing that cannot possibly go wrong goes wrong it usually turns out to be impossible to get at or repair.
Sub-Etha is an interstellar faster-than-light telecommunications network used by hitchhikers to flag down passing spaceships. The primary hitcher's tool is known as the Electronic Thumb, a short black rod that can be used to contact passing ships and ask to be let on board. Ford also carries a Sens-O-Matic, a device for monitoring ships' Sub-Etha signals, and learns from it that the Vogons are on their way to demolish the Earth. Sub-Etha is used throughout the Milky Way for any kind of data transmission, such as listening to the news or updating the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy itself. The name is a reference to the ether, which was once believed to be a medium filling the universe.
Total Perspective Vortex
The Total Perspective Vortex is allegedly the most horrible torture device to which a sentient being can be subjected.
When you are put into the Vortex you are given just one momentary glimpse of the entire unimaginable infinity of creation, and somewhere in it there's a tiny little speck, a microscopic dot on a microscopic dot, which says, "You are here."
Located on Frogstar World B, the machine was originally invented by Trin Tragula in order to annoy his wife. Because she was forever nagging him for having no sense of proportion, he decided to invent something that would show her what having a sense of proportion really meant. Unfortunately the shock of being placed in the Vortex destroyed her brain, but Trin Tragula's grief was tempered by the knowledge that he had been right and she had been wrong. In Adams' words, the Total Perspective Vortex illustrated that "In an infinite universe, the one thing sentient life cannot afford to have is a sense of proportion." Gargravarr, a disembodied mind, is the custodian of the Total Perspective Vortex.
The machine produces a virtual reality model of the entire universe by means of the axiom that any piece of matter is affected by all other matter. The Vortex reconstructs the universe through computer processing of a high-resolution scan ("extrapolated matter analysis") of a piece of fairy cake. In the words of the Hitchhiker's Guide,
...since every piece of matter in the Universe is in someway affected by every other piece of matter in the Universe, it is in theory possible to extrapolate the whole of creation—every Galaxy, every sun, every planet, their orbits, their composition, and their economic and social history from, say, one small piece of fairy cake.
Only Zaphod Beeblebrox is reported to have survived the Vortex unscathed (and then to have eaten the small piece of fairy cake). When it showed him the "You Are Here" marker, Zaphod correctly interpreted the Vortex as simply telling him that he was the most important being in the universe. This is due to the fact that he entered the Vortex in an artificial universe, which had been specially created for his benefit (thus making him the most important being in it) by Zarniwoop. After emerging from the artificial universe's Total Perspective Vortex, Zaphod ate the piece of fairy cake, saying "If I told you how much I needed this, I wouldn't have time to eat it."
In the radio series The Quintessential Phase, the ideas behind the Total Perspective Vortex and the Guide Mark II are used to combine story lines from all of the radio episodes. This allows many of the plot lines from the divergent versions of the story to be wrapped up by the radio series' conclusion.
The Total Perspective Vortex was referenced as the name of an achievement for the 2016 video game No Man's Sky, which uses procedural generation to deterministically produce a virtual universe containing 18 quintillion (1.8 x 1019) planets.
In real life, astronauts and cosmonauts experience a version of this phenomenon when in orbit and after their space experiences known as the Overview Effect.
The Wikkit Gate is an artifact featured in the novel Life, the Universe and Everything.
The Wikkit Gate is a universal symbol among the diverse cultures of the Galaxy of the basic ideals of civilisation. The Galactic Government therefore chose to model the key that could unlock the envelope of Slo-Time surrounding planet Krikkit after a Wikkit Gate. The gate was destroyed, then the various parts re-animated as different objects around the universe. It is composed of:
- A Steel Pillar of Strength and Power (Marvin's leg, but only after it had been replaced by a scrap metal merchant)
- A Wooden Pillar of Nature and Spirituality (the reconstituted ashes of the cricket stump that was burnt in Melbourne, Australia to signify "the death of English cricket")
- A Perspex (Plexiglas) Pillar of Science and Reason (Argabuthon Sceptre of Justice, renamed the Plastic Pillar in the U.S. version of the books)
- A Golden Bail of Prosperity (The Heart of Gold's heart of gold—the Infinite Improbability Drive that powers the starship)
- A Silver Bail of Peace (the Rory Award For The Most Gratuitous Use Of The Word "Fuck" In A Serious Screenplay, changed to "Belgium" in the U.S. version)
According to the novel, the sport of cricket as played on Earth is a tasteless reminder of the Krikkit Wars, and the cricket wicket is a highly distorted racial memory of the Wikkit Gate. The novel describes the "bit where the little red ball hits the stumps" as being particularly offensive.
- Bartledanian story book: A very dull book, once read by Arthur Dent, in the novel Mostly Harmless. It chronicles the events of a Bartledanian whose unassuming apathy towards his life's happenstances is so complete that the lack of a working source of drinking water eventually leads to his death of dehydration. As a typical example of Bartledanian literature, the book reaches its conclusion not by bringing a satisfying end to the narrative, but simply by stopping at the 100,000th word.
- Bathsheets in Space by Werdle Sneng, Fit the Eighth of the radio series.
- Big Bang Theory - A Personal View, The by Eccentrica Gallumbits (the triple breasted whore of Eroticon Six) in the novel The Restaurant at the End of the Universe.
- Celestial Home Care Omnibus: A spacy version of Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management, in the novel The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy; though not as popular as the Guide.
- Dr Dan Streetmentioner's Time Traveller's Handbook of 1001 Tense Formations: This book deals with grammar in time-travel situations. Most readers get as far as the Future Semi-Conditionally Modified Subinverted Plagal Past Subjunctive Intentional before giving up, and indeed recent editions of this book have been left blank past this point to save on printing costs, in the novel The Restaurant at the End of the Universe.
- Encyclopedia Galactica: A book of this name appeared in Isaac Asimov’s short story "Foundation", and it is mentioned in the Hitchhiker's Guide books as a rival to the Guide, in the novel The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. It is noted as being slightly more expensive than the Guide and lacking the advice "Don't Panic!" on the cover.
- Everything You Never Wanted To Know About Sex But Have Been Forced To Find Out: Oolon Colluphid's latest book, in the novel The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
- Fifty More Things to do in Zero Gravity: Also 53 More Things to do in Zero Gravity, in the novel The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy; not as best-selling as the Guide.
- Heavily Modified Face Flannels by Frat Gad, Fit the Eighth of the radio series.
- My Favourite Bathtime Gurgles: a collection of poetry composed by the Azgoth poet master Grunthos the Flatulent, in the novel The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (called Zen and the Art of Going to the Lavatory in the TV series).
- Oolon Colluphid's God Trilogy: a trio of philosophical blockbusters in the novel The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, consisting of the books Where God Went Wrong, Some More of God's Greatest Mistakes and Who is this God Person Anyway? They aren't as controversial as the Guide.
- In the 2005 movie, the books are depicted by the Guide as having on their covers, respectively: the astrological symbol for Mars, representing males; the symbol for Venus, representing females; and a question mark.
- Siderial Daily Mentioner: The publication that sent a journalist to the trial where Prak was injected with too much truth serum, in the novel Life, the Universe and Everything.
- Siderial Daily Mentioner's Book of Popular Galactic History: Tells us that the night sky over the planet Krikkit is the least interesting sight in the entire Universe, and life in the Galaxy must be space-sick, time sick, history sick or some such thing .. and stupid, in the novel Life, the Universe and Everything.
- Songs of the Long Land: The book of poems that Lallafa had to travel back in time to write (again), in the novel Life, the Universe and Everything.
- Sqornshellous Swamptalk: A mattressy lexicography, in the novel Life, the Universe and Everything.
- Ultra-Complete Maximegalon Dictionary of Every Language Ever, The: ...is not worth the fleet of lorries it takes to cart its micro-stored edition around in, in the novel Life, the Universe and Everything.
- Veet Voojagig's Story: The story of the lost biros, in the novel The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
- Well That About Wraps It Up For God: Oolon Colluphid's fourth book, in the novel The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
- You and Your Planets: Gail Andrews' book whose astrological advice leads to the destruction of Earth by the Grebulons, in the novel Mostly Harmless.
- Michael Lockwood (2005). The Labyrinth of Time: introducing the universe. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-924995-4.
- Karey Kirkpatrick (28 May 2004). "HHGG Interview with Myself". Archived from the original on 29 March 2009. Retrieved 25 July 2015.
- According to Robbie Stamp, executive producer of the movie and longtime friend and colleague of Douglas Adams, the device is unique to the film: "Humma, the Point of View Gun and the "paddle slapping sequence" on Vogsphere are brand new Douglas ideas written especially for the movie by him." (Ask Slashdot, 26 April 2005).
- Not to be confused with the earlier Total Perspective Vortex, or the later phrase "It can be very dangerous to see things from somebody else's point of view without the proper training." from Mostly Harmless.
- Adams, Douglas, 1952-2001. (1992). Mostly harmless (1st ed.). New York: Harmony Books. ISBN 0517577402. OCLC 26158345.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
- "'The Hitchhiker's Guide To Europe' by Ken Welsh and Katie Wood—the Book". h2g2. 15 October 2007. Retrieved 8 July 2013.
- "SpaceX's historic Falcon Heavy successfully launches". Techcrunch. 7 February 2018.
- "Tweet by Elon Musk".
- Douglas Adams (1981). "9". The Restaurant at the End of the Universe. Ballantine Books. p. 70. ISBN 0-345-39181-0.
- Adams 1981, ch. 11, p. 76.
- From the Restaurant at the End of the Universe, pg. 61, chapter 11, paragraph 2,lines 1-4
- Arif, Shabana (1 August 2016). "No Man's Sky platinum trophy gives a nod to Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy". VG247. Retrieved 1 August 2016.