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


BBC Two and BBC One panel show about quite interesting facts. 266 episodes (pilot + 18 series), 2003 - 2021. Stars Sandi Toksvig, Stephen Fry and Alan Davies.

Next new episode is on Thursday at 9pm. Series R, Episode 15
Catch-up on Episode 14 on BBC iPlayer   Series K, Episode 13 is repeated on Dave today at 10pm.

QI. Image shows from L to R: Alan Davies, Nish Kumar, Sandi Toksvig, Holly Walsh, Phill Jupitus. Copyright: TalkbackThames.

Series N, Episode 11 - Nonsense

Further details


- The buzzers dictate a nonsense verse in form of a limerick:

"The trouble with kittens is that
While they sat on the mat, they get fat.
They grow and they grow
And the next thing you know
Your kitten's a boring old cat."


- The panel are asked to say something that is completely nonsensical but sounds profound.

- Nish: He gets annoyed by people who say: "I make my own luck", because if you do make it, that's not luck.

- Phill: He reads an extract from the Dadaist poem Fantastic Prayers by Richard Huelsenbeck: "Birribum, birribum. The ox runs down the circulum. VoilĂ , here are the engineers with their assignment. Light minds to throw in a still-crude state. Some showers."

- Alan: He likes to make up nonsense proverbs that are always reversible. One is: "You can change your mind, but you can't change your brain", which can also be, "You can't change your brain, but you can change your mind." Another one is: "You can't jump without landing", which can also be, "You can't land without jumping."

- XL Tangent: Another reversible proverb from Alan: "A dry man is not swimming", which can also be, "A swimming man is never dry."

- Holly: She comments on the railway announcements and signs that say: "Any unattended items will be destroyed without warning", which is actually a warning.

- Tangent: There is a website called the New Age Bullshit Generator that takes buzzwords from New Age tweets and combines to make sentences that are syntactically correct profound-sounding nonsense. Examples include: "Hidden meaning transforms unparalleled abstract beauty", "The infinite is calling to us via superpositions of possibilities", "Perceptual reality transcends subtle truth", and "Consciousness is the growth of coherence, and of us." Canadian students were asked to rate these sentences on a scale of one to five, and the average score was 2.6, "somewhat profound", so the researchers concluded that: "These results indicate that our participants largely failed to detect the statements are bullshit."

- XL Tangent: In 2014, German scientific paper "Springer" and the American Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers had to remove 120 papers from their websites because they discovered the papers were computer-generated nonsense.

- XL Tangent: There are also computer-generated novels. One is a version of "Moby Dick" with the words swapped with meows of the same length. Thus, "Call me Ishmael", becomes, "Meow me Meeeoow." Another example is a novel made of unconnected excerpts from online databases of teenage girls' accounts of their dreams.

- XL Tangent: People famous for saying things that sound nonsensical - or at least easily misunderstood - include the Delphic Oracle. Croesus, King of Lydia, went to see her to ask for advice on whether he should attack Persia. The Oracle said: "If you cross the river, a great empire will be destroyed." Croesus thought that this meant he would win, but it was his empire that fell. Another piece of advice the Oracle gave was: "You will go, you will return, never in war will you perish." However, the meaning changes on the punctuation. You could read it as, "You will go, you will return; never in war will you perish", or, "You will go, you will return never; in war will you perish."

- Netball is nonsense because it was based on a misunderstanding. It was based on basketball, invented by James Naismith in 1891. A P.E. teacher from New Orleans called Carla Bear asked for a copy of the rules. Naismith sent her a copy, which included a drawing of the court with lines pencilled across it, showing where the various players could best patrol. However, Bear misunderstood and thought that the players could not leave these areas. Then in 1903 a gym teacher from Massachusetts called Senda Berenson modified the rules more because she thought it was unseemly for young women. Berenson banned tackling, brought in the three-second time limit for holding the ball, and didn't think the players should run backwards and forwards because the girls' hearts would become hypertrophic.

- Tangent: Sandi and Holly rant about how awful it was to play netball at school. For example, because Sandi is so small whenever she received a chest pass the ball hit her in the face. Phill asks Sandi if she received a bib with SG on it, meaning "Short Girl".

- XL Tangent: Sarah Berenson wrote in an essay: "Unless a game as exciting as basketball is carefully guided by such rules as will eliminate roughness, the great desire to win and the excitement of the game will make our women do sadly unwomanly things."

- Tangent: Nish claimed that he was the first person in his school to be put into remedial rugby. At Sandi's school they had three divisions for swimming; A, B and C. Sandi was put into F.

- Tangent: Alan asks Nish if he likes kabaddi. This is an Indian sport where one man is sent out from a team chanting "kabaddi" repeatedly, and has to try and make it to the end zone. The other team are all holding hands and have to try and touch the lone player. Alan says it is like a combination of British bulldog and tag, although Nish dislikes the imperialist description.

- XL Tangent: Nish says that kabaddi players are normally dressed in loincloths, so he claims that if you tuned in it would look like a strange piece of all-male erotica. Holly was recently watching a Turkish sport on YouTube, which involved the players covering themselves in oil and wrestling in leather trousers. The object is to get your hands down the trousers of the opponent. Phill thinks that what Holly was actually watching was Turkish dogging. Sandi thinks that these rules should be introduced to kabaddi and that QI should have its own kabaddi team. Holly asks if it would up against other panel shows and quiz shows such as Have I Got News For You, leading Sandi to wonder how well she would do against Richard Osman from Pointless.

- The worst noise in the world, according to The Journal of Neuroscience, is a knife scratching on a glass bottle. The second worst noise is a fork scratching on a china plate.

- XL Tangent: Alan claims that the worst sound is Stan Collymore on talkSPORT.

- Tangent: Alan was once staying in a hotel. He was drunk and had fallen asleep in his clothes. An alarm then rang which he started to hit with his shoe in order to make it stop. The alarm fell off the ceiling and was dangling by a wire. Alan then rang up the reception to complain about the noise, and they told him it was the fire alarm and that he needed to evacuate the building. Alan then told the reception that when the alarm went off, it accidentally fell from the ceiling. When he did evacuate, Alan was the only guest who was fully dressed.

- Tangent: In 1761, Benjamin Franklin was visiting Cambridge and witnessed someone playing with musical glasses. Franklin decided to improve on this design and he invented a musical instrument that he called the "glass harmonica". The glass harmonica consists of 37 bowls mounted horizontally on an iron spindle, which is turned via means of a foot pedal. The sound is produced by touching the rims. The idea took off and thousands were made, with one factory employing over 100 people to make them. Many performers were women, and one of them, Marianne Davies, toured Europe and taught Marie Antoinette to play the instrument. However, the glass harmonica got a bad reputation because people thought that the noise would eventually drive you mad and that it could even summon the dead. Some players claimed they got mental anguish from playing the instrument, but it is more likely they got lead poisoning from the glass.

- XL Tangent: Alan thinks that bagpipes make an annoying sound. During the Edinburgh Festival, he stayed in a hotel on Princes Street, and every morning at 10am a bagpiper came and played outside the Waverley Shopping Centre. Alan claims, "I was going to hire a sniper." Phill says that if you are staying on the other side of the same hotel, then you have to put up with the sound of panpipes. Alan likes them, but is annoyed that when you buy any of their music, it is not traditional panpipe music they are selling.

- The thing that blows its nose for something to eat is a nemertea, also known as a ribbon worm. It is an animal that literally blows its nose out of its body. It explosively ejects it proboscis in order to search of food. The panel are shown footage of a nemertea called a gorgon worm, whose inside-out proboscis has spaghetti-like tentacles, which envelops the pray with a sticky toxin and then it draws the pray back into its body.

- XL Tangent: Nemertea can regenerate lost body parts, but one species, the ramphogordius sanguineus, is able to make almost any part of its body regenerate into a new worm, except to the tip of the tail where there are no nerves. You could cut up a 15cm worm, and 200,000 worms could grow from it. The UK's most common nemertean is the bootlace worm, which can grow up to huge lengths. One washed up ashore in St. Andrews in 1864 that was reportedly 180 feet long, making it possibly the longest animal in the world.

- XL: A question from a master of nonsense, Lewis Carroll: between a clock that is right twice a day and a clock that is right every two years, the one that is most useful is the latter. The first clock has stopped and thus it can't tell you anything about the time, because you would have no idea when it was right. The second clock loses a minute a day, and you could tell the time from it if you knew how slow it was. Carroll wrote about this in a miscellany called The Rectory Umbrella.

- XL Tangent: Sandi produces a box that was designed by the Copenhagen Institute of Design, which has nothing on it to tell you the time, but it will tell you the time if you knock on it twice. The box first makes knocking noises to tell you the hours, pauses, and then knocks again indicating the minutes at ten minute intervals. This box was created by Paul Plowman.

- A nonsense museum is the Nonseum in Herrnbaumgarten, Austria. Founded in 1994, it has a selection of absurdist items. These include the selfie rifle, a gun that points back at the person firing it; divorce crockery, which features plates and cups split in two; keyhole-shaped spectacles for voyeurs; and a biological lawnmower, which is a normal lawnmower with a sheep standing on it, poking its head through a hole in the top so it can eat the grass.

- Tangent: Other odd museums include the Leicester Gas Museum, which Holly has visited. The man who runs it is a James Bond lookalike, but he asked Holly and her friends to guess which Bond he looked like and they all got it wrong (he was Sean Connery). Because Holly and her friends were so enthusiastic about the museum, the owner gave them some British Gas tracksuits from 1988. Another odd museum is the Keswick Pencil Museum, as visited by Phill. He thought it was the best museum in the world, until he went to the Barbed Wire Museum in McLean, Texas. Barbed wire actually changed the entire face of the USA. The stereotypical Wild West only last about 20 years because barbed wire fences soon meant that it was impossible to drive cattle across the country as land was fenced in.

- XL Tangent: The best museum that Sandi ever went to was the Margaret Mitchell Museum in Atlanta, Georgia. The museum burned down in 1982 and had been rebuilt. Then it burned down again four years later, and was rebuilt again. Because of the damage, the Margaret Mitchell Museum has nothing in it that actually belonged to Margaret Mitchell (the author of Gone With The Wind).

- XL Tangent: Belfast has a Titanic Museum, which has a reproduction of the central staircase from Titanic's main atrium, but it is in a shut-off area of the museum. You can only go to see it if you have Sunday tea. Also, whilst you might expect the museum to be full of artefacts from the Titanic, all it has is one letter that was written by a doctor on board the ship. Alan however liked the museum because he enjoyed learning interesting things about the Titanic, such as the number of rivets used to make it. Sandi was once taking a tour around Manhattan, and she went under the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. When she asked how many rivets it took to make the bridge. The guide said: "If you took all the pieces it took to make this bridge and you laid them end to end, the bridge would fall down."

- Tangent: The US Patent Office has a collection of odd patents. This include the Behringer vacuum cleaner, which was powered by someone sitting in a rocking chair, moving back and forth to create a vacuum while someone else did the cleaning. There is also the centrifugal birthing machine, invented by George and Charlotte Blonsky in the 1960s. Women were strapped into it, rotated at high speed, and the babies would be fired out of the woman and land into a net, triggering the machine to stop.

- XL Tangent: Another US patent is the pedestrian catcher. This was akin the cowcatcher for trains, but this was used on trams to catch people instead. It consisted of a long, thin, upholstered sofa across the front of the tram. Alan suggests they should instead use a bouncy castle. In the USA, a bouncy castle is known as "bounce house".

- The official name for the middle of nowhere is Point Nemo, also known as the Oceanic Pole of Inaccessibility. This is the point on the Earth which is the furthest away from land. It is located in the middle of the southern Pacific Ocean, 1,700 miles away from any coast, and is named after Captain Nemo from Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea. "Nemo" is a rendering of the Greek "outis", meaning, "nobody". Point Nemo is a spacecraft graveyard, with over 160 different spacecraft littering the ocean there, mostly Russian. It is much cheaper to allow the orbit to decay naturally than it is to push it out into space, but whenever spacecraft are to be allowed to crash-land there, controllers have to check if there are any nearby sailors who might be in danger. If you are at Point Nemo at the right time of day, you will be closer to the astronauts in the International Space Station than any other human being on Earth, as the ISS is only 250 miles away.

General Ignorance

- There are over 1,000 examples of stone chicken houses on Easter Island. There are 1,233 of them. As there are no trees on the island to provide wood for construction, the chickens were protected by fitting the one and only entrance with a single, flush stone, so no-one else could tell where the entrance is. There are only 887 giant heads on the island, and these are called "Moai". (Forfeit: Giant heads)

- Tangent: Many of the Moai are missing their head pieces, which were large red topknots. They are also missing their bodies, and they also had insertable eyes made out of coral, which were used for special occasions. The volcano from where the stones come is Rano Raraku, which is believed to be the sacred site of the statues.

- There was only one Rex Britanniae named Alan. This was Alan the Great, King of Brittany between c. 876-907 AD. He was given the title by the Emperor Charles the Fat, and by the time Alan had died the emperor was Charles the Simple. Alan's main adversary was Fulk of Angouleme. When Alan the Great died, Brittany was overrun by Vikings, who were driven out by Alan's grandson, Alan II, but he was never a king.

- XL Tangent: Many of the names that we use today come from Brittany and Normandy, such as David, Robert and Alan.

- A house spider's natural habitat is a house. It is one of the few animals that can only live indoors, and it will die if it goes outside. Similarly, garden spiders will die if you bring them indoors.

- The phrase you use to end a radio conversation is: "Out". "Over" means, "This is the end of my transmission to you and a response is necessary. Go ahead, transmit." "Out" means, "This is the end of my transmission to you and no answer is required and expected." So, "Over and out" would technically mean, "You can talk now if you want, but I'm not going to be listening." (Forfeit: Over and out)

- Tangent: Alan got his children some walkie-talkies to play with, but they mistakenly say: "Out and in".

- XL Tangent: The phrase, "Roger wilco" is also wrong. "Roger" means, "I have received your last transmission satisfactorily, radio check is loud and clear", while "wilco" means, "I understand and will comply", so the "roger" is completely redundant.


- Nish Kumar and Phill Jupitus: 3 points
- Alan Davies: -4 points
- Holly Walsh: -6 points

Broadcast details

Friday 6th January 2017
30 minutes

Cast & crew

Regular cast
Sandi Toksvig Host / Presenter
Alan Davies Regular Panellist
Guest cast
Phill Jupitus Guest
Holly Walsh Guest
Nish Kumar Guest
Writing team
James Harkin Script Editor
Justin Pollard Question Writer
Production team
Ian Lorimer Director
John Lloyd (as John Lloyd CBE) Series Producer
Piers Fletcher Producer
Sohail Shah Executive Producer



Supporters and subscribers get more

Additional content and tools are available across the site for Supporters and BCG Pro subscribers. On this page you can:

  • Broadcast details of 12 further repeats of this episode
  • Details of when and where this episode was recorded
  • This episode's inital overnight ratings
  • BCG Pro business users can see additional crew credits  
    If you join BCG Pro business, you can see composer, editor, production designer, researcher & lighting designer credits for this episode.

Donate (for fans) BCG Pro

Already a donor or Pro user?