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

QI

BBC Two and BBC One panel show about quite interesting facts. 249 episodes (pilot + 17 series), 2003 - 2020. Stars Sandi Toksvig, Stephen Fry and Alan Davies.

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QI. Image shows from L to R: Alan Davies, Lucy Porter, Sandi Toksvig, Ross Noble, Frankie Boyle. Copyright: TalkbackThames.

Series N, Episode 15 - Next

Further details

Topics

- The difference between the next big thing and a turkey is that there are people who will always buy the turkey - as in the American showbiz term for something that flops commercially. There is a kind of consumer called "harbingers of failure", whose always buy a new product that later goes on to fail. Thus, people with a "flop affinity" are in demand from people in market research because they are good at predicting what products will go on to be unsuccessful. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology analysed 10,000,000 transactions at a chain of convenience stores, and they found that people who buy the nail polish that fails are also the people who buy the ice cream that fails. Harbingers of failure in the past have also bought watermelon-flavoured Oreo biscuits and a range of ready-meals made by the people who made Colgate toothpaste called "Colgate Kitchen Entrees".

- XL Tangent: The shortest running show at the West End was one in which the safety curtain was lowered during the interval and due to a technical fault could not be raised again.

- XL Tangent: There is a P.G. Wodehouse story about a producer who brings his ten-year-old child to every show and everyone around the producer thinks he is a really doting father, but the father actually thinks that the public's expectations are the same as a ten-year-old child, and so the child is judging whether or not the show is good. Ross claims that this is similar to how the US sitcom "Mork and Mindy" got made. The show was a spin-off from "Happy Days" and the man who made the show had a child who wanted to see an alien in the series. The creator decided to create Mork, played by Robin Williams, for one episode, and it was so popular that a whole series of "Mork and Mindy" was made.

- Tangent: Alan claims that two things that harbingers of failure bought were his book and his last DVD.

- Tangent: 90% of all new products fail. Michigan is home to the Museum of Failed Products, which includes pre-scrambled eggs in a cardboard tube designed to be eaten in a car, breath mints that look like crack cocaine, 100% recycled pillow-soft "Shit Be Gone" loo paper, and Whack Off insect repellent.

- Tangent: In the 1950s it was discovered that make turkey birds would mate with a lifelike model of a female turkey as eagerly as they would mate with the real thing. Scientists then tried to discover what the minimum stimulus that would be need to stimulate a turkey. After gradually stripping the model, they found the male turkey would even mate with just a head on a stick. A freshly severed head on a stick was most effective, followed by a dried male head, and then a two-year-old withered female head, and lastly (still getting a sexual response) was a plain balsa wood model of a head.

- Out of galaxies, hyenas, newlyweds, octopuses and burglars, the ones that make the best neighbours are the hyenas and the burglars. Most burglars do not rob houses that are close to where they live. Galaxies are bad neighbours, because when they reach a certain age they stop spawning new stars and just swallow smaller galaxies. For example, the Milky Way is expected to swallow the small and large Magellanic Clouds in 4 billion years, and in turn the Milky Way will be swallowed by the Andromeda Galaxy a billion years after that. Hyenas are good neighbours because they are good for pest control, clean up animal carcasses and don't attack humans. A survey in Colorado showed that people are much happier if they think people are having more sex than their neighbours, so newlyweds are bad neighbours because they make their neighbours depressed. The common Sydney octopus, aka the gloomy octopus, makes for a bad neighbour because it throws rubbish at the neighbours. It lives in Jarvis Bay, gathers debris in its arms, and then uses the jet propulsion siphons on the sides of its body to hurl the debris at the neighbours. It is one of the few examples of animals using a projectile weapon.

- Tangent: Hyenas as so aggressive that the first thing a new-born hyena does is try and kill the next new-born.

- Each of the panellists is given a neck tie and is asked to make a prat. A prat is a form of knot where the thin end is put on top of the thick end. The one the panel make is a self-releasing version called a "Nicky knot". If you take the thin end out of the knot, pulling on the thick end will unravel the rest of the tie without knotting it again.

- Tangent: "Peanutting" is when someone grabs the end of your tie and pulls it to jokingly try and make so tight you can't untie it. The way to stop is to put a 2p coin in the tie's knot.

- XL Tangent: In 1999, two Cambridge mathematicians, Thomas Fink and Yong Mao, calculated that the total number of possible ways to tie a tie was 85. However, Swedish mathematician Mikael Vejdemo-Johansson then watched "The Matrix Reloaded" and spotted that there was a tie in the film that was not tied in one of the main 85 ways, and he calculated that the actual total number of ways to tie a tie is 177,147, although he did slightly change the rules.

- Tangent: Ties have existed since the Thirty Years' War, which began in 1618. It was invented by the Croatians, from where we get the word "cravat" from. Louis XIV of France was so obsessed with cravats that he had a cravateur who would lay out and choose cravats for him to wear.

- XL Tangent: Someone once heckled Ross with the line: "You look like every single character from 'Lord of the Rings'."

- The panel do a trick with a large metal ring and a chain. The chain dangles down from the top of their hand, and they hold the ring in the same hand with their thumb and index finger. If you let just your finger go, the ring will travel in such a way that it will be caught in the chain and not fall on the ground.

- The panel hear some choral singing and are asked if this is "the necks best thing". The answer is that it would have been, between the 12th century and 1841. The thing that is being sung is a verse from the Bible in Latin. There used to be something called "benefit of clergy", where if someone could prove that they were a member of the clergy by quoting one particular verse of the Bible, they would be tried under ecclesiastical law and would get a less harsh sentence. The verse, known as the "neck verse" is from Psalm 51, and in English is: "O God, have mercy on me, according to thine heartfelt mercifulness", and in Latin is: "Miserere mei, Deus, secundum misericordiam tuam." Over time, quoting the verse was enough to prove that you were literate, thus creating a legal loophole. Illiterate people could remember to quote the verse by heart, and the courts were happy to give them a less harsh sentence as punishments at the time were often considered too harsh. Playwright Ben Jonson quoted the verse in 1598 to avoid being hanged for killing an actor called Gabriel Spencer in a duel.

- Tangent: Ben Jonson once murdered someone that he acted with in a play. The play was called The Isle of Dogs, and the play was so offensive that it was completely suppressed, and to this day no-one knows what the play was about. No scripts survive.

- XL Tangent: The dog collar worn by priests was invented by Scottish Presbyterians, and was later adopted by Anglicans in the 1840s. It didn't become widespread until the 1880s. The bands that hang down from the dog collar are called "Preaching bands". In Denmark, where they mainly have Lutheran priests, the clergy wear something akin to an Elizabethan ruff.

- The best thing about clickbait is the pleasure from anticipating them, and not from actually seeing it. A similar thing is the "spoiler paradox", where you are more likely to enjoy something when you know how it ends. To prove this Sandi says that Alan is going to come last.

- Tangent: Recently Frankie came across something about the FA Cup final on the BBC website which said: "Get involved", as if the website was saying that could actually get involved in the actual match.

- Tangent: Clickbait lists are also known as "listicles", a portmanteau of "list" and "testicles", because these lists are full of bollocks.

- The person who has green sponge balls is a Victorian seaweed collector. Seaweed collecting was a brief craze, popular among well-to-do daughters, and was also popular with Queen Victoria. One of the species of seaweed that was popular was the green sponge ball, that was so popular that it was over-collected and there is none left in the UK. (Forfeit: SpongeBob Square Pants)

- XL Tangent: Seaweed collecting was so popular that hobby shops sold specialist equipment for it. There were also ready-made seaweed albums sold.

- XL Tangent: The very first book of photographs ever published in the world was "Photographs of British Algae" by Anna Atkins. Atkins is thought to have been the world's first female photographer. There is thought to be between 200,000 and 800,000 species of micro-algae in the world.

- XL: There has been a huge increase in seaweed farming recently due to it being used as biofuel. The leading seaweed biofuel producing nations are China, Japan and South Korea. It is also part of the UK's renewable energy strategy, with seaweed farms being built in Scotland. The Sangou Bay seaweed farm in China stretches from 10km out to see and can be seen from space, unlike the Great Wall of the China. The seaweed that is most commonly eaten is the red marine algae, aka Pyropia tenera, and has been eaten since ancient times. In Japan this seaweed is known as "nori", while in Wales it is the laver in laver bread. For centuries seaweed could only be harvest in the wild, but in the 1940s Dr. Kathleen Drew-Baker worked out the life cycle of laver and how it reproduced. Nobody in Britain paid any attention to her discovery, but the Japanese embraced it. Her research kick-started the modern nori industry and the worldwide love for sushi. Dr. Drew-Baker never went to Japan, but the Japanese revered her as the mother of the sea, hold a festival in her honour every 14th April, and sing songs at her monument. Seaweed can be found in toothpaste, ice cream, chocolate, beer and sexual lubricants. (Forfeit: Sushi)

- XL Tangent: Some years ago an anthropologist asked young Welsh people why they no longer eat seaweed, and they said that it was slimy, old-fashioned and food for poor people. When asked to name a fashionable food, most said sushi.

- XL Tangent: Seaweed is also eaten in Donegal, where it is called "dulse".

- XL: Atomic gardening or gamma gardening works by exposing plants to radiation. After World War II the "Atoms for Peace" movement looked for peaceful ways to use the science the lead to the atomic bomb. One of the ideas was expose plants to radiation to see if it could produce interesting mutations. Examples include Todd's Mitcham, a single cultivar of peppermint from which almost all peppermint oil that is used to flavour things like chewing gum and toothpaste comes from. Other discovers from it included red grapefruits, super-sweet sweetcorn, new varieties of roses, dahlias, snap dragons and carnations. Atomic garden can be done by strapping packets of seeds to the inside of a hospital X-ray machine, leave them in the fallout zone of a nuclear testing site, or create a circular garden with a source of radiation in the middle. One woman, Muriel Howarth, used atomic gardening to grow the world's first atomic peanut in 1959, which germinated in four days and was two feet tall. Atomic gardening has since been mostly superseded by genetic engineering.

- XL Tangent: There is a movie called "The Effect of Gamma Rays On Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds" directed by Paul Newman. Sandi was living in New York at the time and auditioned for the role of the daughter in the film. Sandi was the second choice, with the role actually going to Newman's daughter.

- Your mum would have you for breakfast if you are a burrowing beetle larva that was nagging too much. This beetle lives in rotting corpses, where it has its babies, but it has to adjust the family size to fit the carcass. The University of Edinburgh found that the beetles will eat the larva that nags the most to make the brood the right size.

- XL Tangent: Research at Harvard Business School has shown that nagging does work. The best way for managers to get people to do something is to nag them continually. The most effective managers repeat themselves at least once, often in two different ways, so you might have a conversation first, and then follow it up with an email. Lucy once read a parenting book that said that rather than couching everything with words, you just say the salient word. Thus, if you want your child to put their shoes on, just say "Shoes!" Mothers who are nagged by their daughters grow up to become higher earners. In Japan, men who are trying to diet can subscribe to a virtual wife to make them stick to their diet by emailing you nagging emails four times a day. The wives come in four options: a maid, a businesswoman, a nurse or a manicurist.

- Tangent: In heterosexual relationships, even if a man does half the housework, it is usually the woman who is in charge of allocating the tasks and making sure it gets done. Thus, nagging itself is another job about the house that women are expected to do and men wriggle out of.

- The Euphonia of Philadelphia had an act which was talk in a way that sounded realistic - but it failed to do so. Built in 1845 by German inventor Joseph Faber, the machine had a woman's face and could talk. It had bellows for lungs; a tongue; a larynx made out of wires, reed and levers; and was operated by a piano-like keyboard. There were 16 keys, plus one to open the glottis, and foot pedals. Sounds that came out of Euphonia included laughing, whispering and singing "God Save the Queen". However, most people thought it was scary. The tongue rolled about in her mouth and the voice was awful. Faber twice destroyed the machine once out of frustration, and later committed suicide.

- XL: A dog will know another a dog is a dog if it can't smell it just by looking at it. Dogs come in a greater variety than any other animal, but one breed of dog will be able to tell than another breed is also a dog by their faces, even if they look totally different.

General Ignorance

- Dock leaves are not good for nettle stings. No-one knows why nettle stings hurt so much. The plants are covered in tiny little hollow hairs, which when they break off their act like needles. However, you can eat nettles as soup and they can be used as medicine. "Urtification" is the act of beating yourself with stinging nettles, and this was done by the Romans. Britain was so damp that the Romans caught arthritis, and hitting stinging nettles in the afflicted joints helped. A study in 2000 by the Royal Society of Medicine confirmed that this is a safe and effective treatment for rheumatic pain.

- There is no sort of question that barristers are not allowed to ask the witness. Not only is the idea that barristers are not allowed to ask leading questions wrong, but barristers are expected to ask them in cross-examination. Leading questions are however not allowed in evidence in chief, when the barrister is questioning their own side. (Forfeit: Leading questions)

- There is no kind of evidence that will not get you convicted under any circumstances. Most convictions depend entirely on circumstantial evidence because fingerprints, DNA samples, phone records, credit card receipts, bloodstains and lack of an alibi can all be used as circumstantial evidence. (Forfeit: Circumstantial)

- If a male black widow spider has just mated with a female black widow spider, nothing bad will happen to the male most of the time. It is rare to see the female eat the male after mating. The only widow spider that does regularly eat the male after mating is the redback spider of Australia. There are three species of black widow spider found in North America, and post-coital cannibalism in one of the three is rare, and is completely unknown in the other two. Their name comes from when people have watched them in captivity, where they behave differently. (Forfeit: She eats him)

- XL Tangent: A black widow spider's bite is not that dangerous to humans. It's almost unheard of from a human to die from it, unless they have a particular allergic reaction to it. A bit of soap and water will get rid of most of the poison. It is hard to be bitten in the first place, because the spider does not bit unless they absolutely have to, so most of the bites are dry ones with no venom.

Scores

- Ross Noble: 6 points
- Frankie Boyle: 5 points
- Lucy Porter: -4 points
- The Audience: -10 points
- Alan Davies: -25 points

Broadcast details

Date
Friday 3rd February 2017
Time
10pm
Channel
BBC Two
Length
30 minutes

Cast & crew

Regular cast
Sandi Toksvig Host / Presenter
Alan Davies Regular Panellist
Guest cast
Ross Noble Guest
Lucy Porter Guest
Frankie Boyle Guest
Writing team
James Harkin Script Editor
Mat Coward 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

Video

Sandi teaches Alan a new party trick

Sandi Toksvig, Alan Davies and guests demonstrate the ring-dropping trick.

Featuring: Sandi Toksvig, Alan Davies, Ross Noble.

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