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Ford Prefect instructs Arthur Dent to bring a towel with him before they leave Earth. Why?

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55  
"A towel, it says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have" – NominSim Feb 22 '12 at 18:28
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Because there is just no way to be frood without it. – Affable Geek Feb 22 '12 at 18:33
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lol 3 of us posted nearly identical answers within 15 seconds of each other.. :) (all 3 contain the same quote, two with a Wikipedia addition, and one with the preceding section from the book.) – K-H-W Feb 22 '12 at 18:38
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@KeithHWeston - The Good, The Bad and the Ugly? :) – DVK-in-exile Feb 22 '12 at 18:41
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@dvk - I'll volunteer for 'The Ugly', since mine is a straight copy from the book, with not enough formatting. (Fixing that now.) Since one got deleted, I think that automatically gets the Bad tag.. So, congrats! You get 'The Good'.. blondie :) – K-H-W Feb 22 '12 at 18:44
up vote 95 down vote accepted

To quote from the first book:

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has a few things to say on the subject of towels.

A towel, it says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have. Partly it has great practical value. You can wrap it around you for warmth as you bound across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta; you can lie on it on the brilliant marble-sanded beaches of Santraginus V, inhaling the heady sea vapors; you can sleep under it beneath the stars which shine so redly on the desert world of Kakrafoon; use it to sail a miniraft down the slow heavy River Moth; wet it for use in hand-to-hand combat; wrap it round your head to ward off noxious fumes or avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (a mind-bogglingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can’t see it, it can’t see you—daft as a brush, but very very ravenous); you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal, and of course dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough.

More importantly, a towel has immense psychological value. For some reason, if a strag (strag: nonhitchhiker) discovers that a hitchhiker has his towel with him, he will automatically assume that he is also in possession of a toothbrush, washcloth, soap, tin of biscuits, flask, compass, map, ball of string, gnat spray, wet-weather gear, space suit etc., etc. Furthermore, the strag will then happily lend the hitchhiker any of these or a dozen other items that the hitchhiker might accidentally have “lost.” What the strag will think is that any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the Galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through and still know where his towel is, is clearly a man to be reckoned with.

Hence a phrase that has passed into hitchhiking slang, as in “Hey, you sass that hoopy Ford Prefect? There’s a frood who really knows where his towel is.” (Sass: know, be aware of, meet, have sex with; hoopy: really together guy; frood: really amazingly together guy.)

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5  
+1 for a more complete book quote – DVK-in-exile Feb 22 '12 at 18:38
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@KeithHWeston +1 & the cigar. – Lego Barker Feb 23 '12 at 0:07
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My mind now reads all quotations, such as the above, in the voice of Steven Fry – user001 Sep 7 '15 at 9:56

From "Knowing where one's towel is" section of Phrases from HHGTTG Wiki: (emphasis mine)

Somebody who can stay in control of virtually any situation is somebody who is said to know where his or her towel is. The logic behind this statement is presented in chapter 3 of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy thus:

... a towel has immense psychological value. For some reason, if a strag (strag: nonhitchhiker) discovers that a hitchhiker has his towel with him, he will automatically assume that he is also in possession of a toothbrush, washcloth, soap, tin of biscuits, flask, compass, map, ball of string, gnat spray, wet-weather gear, space suit etc., etc. Furthermore, the strag will then happily lend the hitchhiker any of these or a dozen other items that the hitchhiker might accidentally have "lost". What the strag will think is that any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through, and still knows where his towel is, is clearly a man to be reckoned with.

Douglas Adams got the idea for this phrase when he went on holiday and found that his beach towel kept disappearing....

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9  
+1 for the final line; despite being a fan of the series, and having the whole set in e-book format.. I DIDN'T KNOW THAT DETAIL! :) – K-H-W Feb 22 '12 at 18:42
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+1 for where the idea came from. – AidanO Feb 23 '12 at 8:31

How else was he going to block the babel fish from flying down the drain?

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10  
+1 for the most obscure reference. – Jaydee Feb 23 '12 at 9:39
    
But, that requires a bathrobe to get the babel fish to the drain. – Bill Nace Feb 23 '12 at 12:37
    
It was a gamble ;) – Michael Brown Feb 23 '12 at 13:28
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And a satchel and a stack of mail. GOD that puzzle nearly killed me. – Dan Ray Mar 7 '12 at 16:25
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The BBC has released a 30th anniversary edition of the online version of the adventure game bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/1g84m0sXpnNCv84GpN2PLZG/… – DaveP Mar 10 '14 at 18:48

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