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"...a market economy is essentially a genetic algorithm for solving resource allocation problems..."
- Charles Stross

Towel  
  A simple scrap of cloth with surprisingly many uses.  

Towels are a very important part of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy; mostly because they are "the most massively useful" thing you can have while hitchhiking the Galaxy. Towels figured prominently in the autograph session I went to at my local book store; I only had my copy of the book, but others had brought towels and indelible marker pens.

A towel is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have. You can wrap it around you for warmth as you bound across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta…wet it for use in hand-to-hand combat…wrap it around your head to ward off noxious fumes…any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the Galaxy, rough it … win through, and still know where his towel is, is clearly a man to be reckoned with.
From The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams.
Published by Harmony Books in 1979
Additional resources -

Can you believe it - the paper towel was introduced by Scott Paper in 1907. Douglas Adams, were he alive today, would I'm sure eschew flimsy disposable towels for the massively useful fabric variety.

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
  More Ideas and Technology by Douglas Adams
  Tech news articles related to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
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