QI. Image shows from L to R: Alan Davies, Sandi Toksvig. Copyright: TalkbackThames


  • TV panel show
  • BBC Two / BBC One / BBC Four
  • 2003 - 2022
  • 279 episodes (19 series)

Panel game that contains lots of difficult questions and a large amount of quite interesting facts. Stars Sandi Toksvig, Stephen Fry and Alan Davies.

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Series M, Episode 9 - Messing With Your Mind

QI. Image shows from L to R: Alan Davies, Tommy Tiernan, Stephen Fry, Sarah Millican, Josh Widdicombe. Copyright: TalkbackThames

Further details


- Stephen as Alan if when they first met if it was love at first sight. The answer is that there is no such thing as love at first sight, because we may not remember things correctly after a long period of time. There was a survey of 10,000 people in long-term relationships, and while half of the men said they fell in love at first sight, only a quarter of the women said they did so. Some people therefore argue that men are more sentimental than women. (Forfeit: Yes, Stephen)

- Tangent: Tommy asks if there is a difference between fact and truth. He says this because Tommy's father remembers things that did not actually happen, but there is truth in the memory. Josh thinks that the opposite happens to him, because his first memory is something that has been told to him so many times that he himself can no longer remember it.

- Tangent: A journalist once interviewed a busy woman about who makes the important decisions in the household. The woman said that she did the less important things like what the children should wear, what they should eat, how much to spend on the household budget, where they should go on holiday and what sort of car they should drive. Meanwhile the woman said her husband makes all the important decisions, like whether there should be a United Nations presence in Bosnia.

- XL Tangent: Other memory tricks that have occurred include what you were doing when the first plane hit the World Trade Centre. Josh claims he was one of the first people to find out because he was watching a lunchtime repeat of "Neighbours", and the BBC interrupted the programme to report on the news. An Irish friend of Tommy's was living in New York at the time of the disaster, and slept through it. One false memory however is of people seeing footage of the first plane crashing, because it was not shown on the day. This footage was not shown until the day after. One idea common among conspiracy theorists is that George W. Bush once mistakenly said: "Seeing that plane go in to the first tower, my heart sank", which the theorists believe is proof that Bush was actually watching it and had a secret camera showing the first plane crashing, when actually he do had a false memory.

- XL Tangent: Another false memory test has shown that 70% of participants were convinced into thinking they had committed crimes such as theft and assault during their adolescence when none of them did.

- XL Tangent: When Tommy's father cannot sleep he tries to remember things he has never remembered before.

- Magic Trick: Stephen produces a small piece of blank paper and a special printer consisting of a roller and a bit of wooden board. Rolling the printer over the paper results in it printing out a £10 note, accurately produced on both sides of the paper.

- XL Tangent: Examples of people trying to make their own money include con artist Victor Lustig, who made a machine which he claimed could print $100 bills, which he sold for $30,000, but the money was fake. During his lifetime Lustig successfully con people twice into thinking he was going to sell the Eiffel Tower.

- XL Tangent: Sarah was once given a rose underneath the Eiffel Tower, and then she noticed that the same man ran after her husband for €15.

- The panel are asked which of the following the most convincing: The IKEA Effect; The Rhyme as Reason Effect; of The Frequency Illusion. The IKEA Effect is when you think something is better because you make it yourself, like when you build a piece of IKEA furniture, or make a meal out of food that you yourself have grown. The Rhyme as Reason Effect is when a phrase seems more believable because it rhymes. One experiment shows that if you say the phrase: "Wealth makes health" people will believe it, but if you say the phrase: "Financial success improves medical outcomes" people will not believe it, even though they both mean the same thing. A famous example of the effect was given by O.J. Simpson's defence lawyer Johnnie Cochran who said: "If the glove doesn't fit, you must acquit." The Frequency Illusion is when you first hear something, and then over the next few days this same thing occurs a lot more often. These three effects are all examples of "cognitive bias".

- Tangent: Josh gives an example of the Frequency Illusion provided by Richard Osman, who said that people were always complaining to him about the number of questions about tennis on Pointless and from then on if you see another tennis question you think that this enforces the argument made.

- If an amnesiac were to be asked for his name by a doctor he would be able to remember it. Despite all the films and stories about amnesia it does not make you forget things. Amnesia prevents you from remembering new things. (Forfeit: I don't know)

- Tangent: There was a con artist who pretended to have amnesia, and instead of writing or telling people his name, he would play the piano to communicate.

- XL Tangent: Another cognitive impairment is if you take a photo of something then you are less likely to remember it. However, if you zoom in on an object, then you remember both the area you zoomed in on and the object itself.

- Stephen gets the audience and the panel to do a memory test. He says the following list of words which people have to remember for the end of the show: Bed. Rest. Awake. Tired. Dream. Wake. Snooze. Blanket. Doze. Slumber. Snore. Nap. Peace. Yawn. Drowsy.

- Magic Trick: Stephen produces another blank sheet of paper, along with an ink blotter and pad. Stephen pressed the blotter onto the paper, and in doing so produces a £5 note, accurately produced on both sides of the paper.

- A multiple choice question - True or False? True or false questions are more likely to be true than false. The answer is true. A large bank of true or false questions in American exam papers was investigated and it showed that 56% of true or false questions had true answers. The reason given is that the examiners find it easier to think of questions with true answers.

- Tangent: When Josh was doing his school exams he was told that when doing multiple choice questions with four choices, you should go for one of the middle answers as that is where you will most likely find the right answer.

- If question one in a "true or false" exam has a true answer, then question two is more likely to have a false answer. It is most likely the first few questions will go true, false, true, false, but of course this is not always the case. The chance that the next true of false question will have the opposite answer is 63%. If you want to optimise your score in such an exam, first you should answer all the ones you know the answer to, then questions next to the ones you know will more likely have the opposite answer, and then for all the questions left over you should say the answer is true. (Forfeit: True)

- XL: The panel are asked to watch a film and say what happens. The film is of a street front, and is filmed to look like you a blinking. Slowly the panel notice that a person in the picture changes from a woman to another woman walking the other way with a dog. However, when the film is played without the blink they discover that something changed with every frame of footage, including signs, doors and trees appearing. This film was shown at the Royal Institution Christmas Lecture by Prof. Bruce Hood. This form of blindness, known as saccadic masking, is a problem for witnesses of crimes. This sort of thing happens every day. For example, if you look at yourself in a mirror and look at your right eye, then look at your left eye, you do not see your eyes move even though they do, because your brain shuts down your vision for that moment. Saccadic masking can add up to 30-45 minutes a day, meaning you are temporary blind for 2 years of your life on average.

- XL Tangent: There is a similar film made in America, where people are told to count how many times a basketball is past forwards and backwards, and while this is going on nobody noticed that a man in a gorilla suit walks past, waving at the camera.

- Magic Trick: Stephen produces a rolling press printer with a dial on the front of it, which produces bank notes of varying sums. Stephen first tests it on the £20 setting, puts a piece of blank paper in the printer, and accurately produces a £20 note. When Josh asks him to put the printer on the £100 setting, Stephen puts in one blank sheet of paper, and magically produces two £50 notes.

- A paradoxical insomniac gets the more sleep than they think they got. It is a rare condition in which medical tests and machines shows that you are sleeping, but you are actually awake.

- Tangent: Tommy jokes that a paradoxical kleptomaniac is someone who leaves things in shops.

- XL Tangent: The proper name for paradoxical insomnia is "sleep state misperception". The reverse of this is "negative sleep state misperception", in which you think you have slept for much longer than you have.

- You can swear like a pre-pubescent supercomputer by filling it full of entries from UrbanDictionary.com. The 11-year-old supercomputer Watson, most famous for taking part and winning the American gameshow Jeopardy! where the rules are you must answer in the form of a question (e.g. For "This actor played Jonathan Creek" the correct answer is "Who is Alan Davies?"), was fed a dictionary. The problem however is that UrbanDictionary.com is full of swearwords. Examples of UrbanDictionary.com words beginning with "M" include "man cave", "milkshake", "metrosexual", "motorboat", "minger" and "muffin top". When testing Watson before it went on Jeopardy! it just kept swearing, so Watson had to be reprogrammed.

- XL Tangent: The most powerful computer in the world is Tianhe (Milky Way) in China. It can run 100,000 times as many calculations per second as there are stars in the galaxy. However, all computers are still very slow in comparison to the human brain. The fastest supercomputers can mimic one second of human brain activity in about 40 minutes. Alan says that this means that computers are rubbish at playing snap. Tommy once tried to teach a cat to play snap over the course of one summer, and hope to make money at a fair. People used to take pigs to fairs that were trained to spell out words. The farmer would make particular poses in order to signal where the pig should go.

General Ignorance

- XL: The reason why the camel got the hump and where was because camels originally came from the arctic and humps are used to store fat and keep camels warm. (Forfeit: For storing water)

- XL: In the war between the grass and the grass-eaters everyone is winning really. While some forms of grass evolve ways to make itself unpleasant to eat, it does not evolve to stop it from being eaten. Unlike most plants, the centre of being of grass is at the bottom, so a cow can eat up to 95% of the top of the grass and the grass itself is fine. The grass itself is helped by being kept cropped. (Forfeit: The grass; The grass-eaters)

- Mushrooms have no preference between growing in the light or the dark. People prefer growing them in the dark because it saves money on lighting and electricity. (Forfeit: The light)

- Tangent: In order to prevent magic mushrooms from giving you an upset stomach the traditional measure was to give the mushrooms to the village idiot, get him to urinate and then you would drink the idiot's urine.

- Tangent: Tommy claims that there was a theory that Jesus Christ was a magic mushroom. There is a thing called the Amanita muscaria, the notion of using magic mushrooms to reach transcendence. Tommy claims he does not know the rest of the story.


- Tommy Tiernan: 2 points
- Alan Davies: -6 points
- Sarah Millican: -18 points
- Josh Widdicombe: -22 points

One last thing...

- Stephen gets the audience to provide answers to the memory test by asking them to put their hands up if they remember certain words. When Stephen asks them to put their hands up if they remember the word "Sleep" some of the audience do, and get the klaxon, because "Sleep" was not one of the words. The audience fell into a false memory trap into thinking that Stephen had said it. (Forfeit: Sleep)

Broadcast details

Tuesday 29th December 2015
30 minutes


Show past repeats

Date Time Channel
Saturday 2nd January 2016 10:40pm
45 minute version
Tuesday 2nd August 2016 10:00pm BBC2
Monday 22nd August 2016 10:00pm BBC2
Wednesday 26th October 2016 9:00pm
60 minute version
Thursday 27th October 2016 12:00am
60 minute version
Sunday 25th December 2016 10:30pm
45 minute version
Monday 6th February 2017 9:00pm
60 minute version
Saturday 20th May 2017 10:35pm
45 minute version
Saturday 20th May 2017 11:35pm
45 minute version
BBC2 Wales
Sunday 22nd October 2017 12:35am
60 minute version
Thursday 12th April 2018 7:00pm
60 minute version
Monday 11th June 2018 9:00pm
60 minute version
Thursday 18th April 2019 1:00am
60 minute version
Thursday 18th April 2019 9:00pm
60 minute version
Monday 29th July 2019 9:00pm
60 minute version
Monday 28th October 2019 9:00pm
60 minute version
Tuesday 4th February 2020 6:00pm Dave
Sunday 17th May 2020 10:00pm
60 minute version
Wednesday 30th September 2020 9:00pm
60 minute version
Friday 14th May 2021 1:00pm
60 minute version
Friday 14th May 2021 9:00pm
60 minute version
Thursday 9th September 2021 9:00pm
60 minute version
Friday 10th September 2021 6:00pm
60 minute version
Saturday 13th November 2021 8:00pm
60 minute version
Sunday 14th November 2021 2:10am
45 minute version

Cast & crew

Stephen Fry Host / Presenter
Alan Davies Regular Panellist
Guest cast
Sarah Millican Guest
Josh Widdicombe Guest
Tommy Tiernan Guest
Scott Penrose Master Magician
Writing team
James Harkin Script Editor
John Mitchinson Question Writer
Justin Pollard Question Writer
Molly Oldfield Question Writer
Andrew Hunter Murray Question Writer
Production team
Ian Lorimer Director
John Lloyd (as John Lloyd CBE) Series Producer
Piers Fletcher Producer
Sohail Shah Executive Producer
Nick King Editor
Jonathan Paul Green Production Designer
Howard Goodall Composer
Mat Coward Researcher
Anne Miller Researcher
Anna Ptaszynski Researcher
Alex Bell Researcher
Stevyn Colgan Researcher


Review: QI series M, episode 9: messing with your mind

Tommy Tiernan, was the stand-out guest of the three, providing some memorable moments such as the difference between fact and truth, as demonstrated by the time he clearly remembers of his father dangling him off the side of a boat, or when he tried to spend one summer teaching a cat to play snap.

Ian Wolf, On The Box, 3rd January 2016

Radio Times review

"Isn't there a difference between fact and truth?" asks Irish comedian Tommy Tiernan, threatening to toplle 12 years of QI trivia quizzery in one fell swoop. "I would remember stuff from my childhood that my father says didn't happen - but there's truth in memory."

In other words, can a fake memory be "real" if we believe it to be true and it says something about our lives? Luckily, QI doesn't go too far down this rabbit hole, but it's one of many philosophical issues raised in this mind-themed episode. Though, be warned - if you believe in love at first sight, you might get a rude awakening...

Huw Fullerton, Radio Times, 23rd December 2015

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