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


BBC Two and BBC One panel show about quite interesting facts. 269 episodes (pilot + 18 series), 2003 - 2021. Stars Sandi Toksvig, Stephen Fry and Alan Davies.

Series S recorded.
Series M, Episode 3 is repeated on Dave today at 1pm.

QI. Image shows from L to R: Alan Davies, Jimmy Carr, Sandi Toksvig, Lee Mack, Alice Levine. Copyright: TalkbackThames.

Series P, Episode 10 - Pain & Punishment

Further details


- There are nine circles of Hell, according to Dante's Inferno from The Divine Comedy. Although people talk about the seventh circle a lot, there is nothing that special about it. It is where murderers are sent. Fraudsters are punished in the eighth circle - to the annoyance of Jimmy. Also punished there are pimps, hypocrites, coin forgers and flatterers, the latter of whom are punished by being immersed in dung. Quacks are punished by having to suffer from the ailments they caused in life. People who try to predict the future have to walk with their head on backwards, so they can't see what's ahead. The first circle of hell is Limbo, which is whom to virtuous non-Christians. The second circle (the first of the circles of incontinence) is where the lust are punished, and is home to Cleopatra and Helen of Troy. The third circle is gluttony, where victims are trapped in a vile slush and pounded by icy rain. The fourth circle is greed, where the punishment is to push rocks around pointlessly. The fifth circle is anger, and is also where the sullen are sent. The sixth circle is for heresy and the seven for violence. The final, ninth circle are four circles inside itself, and worst is named after Judas Iscariot. (Forfeit: Seven)

- Tangent: Alan says Gary Lineker would go to Limbo. When Lee asks why, Alan claims that's just what he says about any ex-Tottenham player.

- XL Tangent: Those in Limbo are in an inferior version of Heaven.

- Tangent: Lee asks if there is a way to push rocks around which isn't pointless, to which Jimmy says: "Yes, if you say it's curling."

- Tangent: Sandi jokes that if you think the nine circles of Hell are bad, Milton Keynes has 130 roundabouts. Jimmy likes this about Milton Keynes, because there's lots of chances to turn back.

- XL: Many people used to believe the Purgatory was in an Irish cave. Purgatory is the place where you suffered for your earthly sins before you enter Heaven, and that it was a physical place on Earth. Some peopled believed it was under Mount Etna, but then a popular 12th century text called The Treatise of St. Patrick's Purgatory persuaded a lot of Catholics that Purgatory was in a cave on Station Island in Lough Derg, County Donegal. Purgatory thus was added on lots of medieval maps. 15,000 people a year still go on pilgrimages to the cave. The traditional belief is that only saints went straight to Heaven, so for most people Purgatory is the best place to go. Hell is where unrepentant sinners went to. In Purgatory, your soul burns in flames until it was clean enough to enter Heaven. (Forfeit: Milton Keynes)

- XL Tangent: The question is illustrated by Domenico di Machelino's painting of Dante, with the poet holding is poem out open. Lee says it looks like he is presenting a showstopper on "Bake Off" and even showing off the recipe. Sandi then reveals that one belief about getting out of Purgatory was for give other people cake to eat on your behalf. On the evening before All Souls' Day, people would offer to say prayers for the dead in return for food that was called "soul cakes". The other way to get out of Purgatory was to pay for institutions to pray for your soul on your deathbed. This still exists, with nuns, especially in the USA, who you can pay to pray on your behalf.

- Out of the penalty of the sack, a parking fine in Assyria, and a drunkard's cloak, the punishment you would most likely want to undergo is the cloak. In 700 BC, the Assyrian king Sennacherib passed a series of restrictions on the kingdom's Royal Road, forbidding people to build anything on it or parking chariots on it. The punishment for breaking the law was to be impaled on a stake and planted in your own garden. There were signs on the road in Akkadian cuneiform reading: "Royal Road, let no man decrease it". The penalty of the sack, also known as "Poena cullei", was the Roman punishment for parricide (killing your parents). It involved being whipped, stitched into a leather sack and thrown into the sea. Emperor Hadrian changed the law by adding animals in the sack, like a dog, cockerel, snake or monkey. No-one knows if animals were used or if it was just a deterrent in Roman times, but the punished lasted until 18th century Germany. However, as monkeys and snakes were hard to find, in 1715 one man was "sacked" with a dog, a cockerel, a cat and a picture of a snake. The drunkard's cloak was a 1640s punishment in Newcastle-upon-Tyne targeted to stop drunkenness in the streets. After the offender was put in the stocks, the offender was paraded around town while being forced to wear a barrel with the bottom removed and holes for the hands and head to stick out off.

- XL Tangent: The average person at the time of the Assyrian parking fine could read.

- Tangent: The drawing showing the drunkard's cloak also shows a woman in a scold's bridle, which was the punishment for nagging women, that included a metal piece that forced the tongue down so they couldn't speak.

- XL Tangent: In Ancient Jewish culture and Ancient Athens male body hair was valued, so one punishment was punitive depilation - burning off your anal and pubic hair. Men found it emasculating because women often singe off their hair for beauty reasons.

- The best punishment to keep people punctual is guilt. Two Israeli economists did a study where they discovered that punctuality gets worse if you fine people for being late. Ten daycare centres were studied, some of which had rules where if the parents were late picking up their children the parents just had to make peace with the teacher. They then changed the system and the late parents were punished with a small fine of around £2. Punctuality immediately got worse when they swapped to the fine, because people are happier to pay it than having to apologise to someone in person. (Forfeit: Impale them on a stake)

- Tangent: Jimmy has only been late once in his professional comedy career, where he was late for a gig in Blackburn by two hours because his train just stopped. Jimmy had to buy a drink for everyone at the gig, but Lee says that with Jimmy's audiences it would only cost him £18. Sandi once had a gig in Torquay, and she was told she could fly there from Gatwick, but the flight was cancelled so she went to the cab rank and asked to be driven to Torquay. She was 10 minutes late and the bill was "eye-watering".

- XL Tangent: In the Israeli lateness experiment, lateness did eventually stabilise when the fines were in place, but lateness was twice as high as it was.

- XL Tangent: In Qin dynasty China, the punishment for lateness was death. Any government worker who turned up late for work, whatever the excuse, was executed. In 209 BC, this punishment led to an uprising by two officers called Chen Sheng and Wu Guang. They were delayed on a journey by torrential rain and had been ordered to lead 900 soldiers to Yuyang to help defend the northern border. As they were delayed, they thought they had nothing to lose, so they started a rebellion. 20,000 other people joined them and they won. However, Sheng and Guang were just as paranoid and arbitrary in their own regime, and they were murdered by their own bodyguards.

- Parrots, in particular Puerto Rican parrots, would think that the Dead Parrot sketch is a way of educating them on the dangers of predators. Puerto Rican parrots are endangered, so the authorities raise some in captivity before releasing them into the wild, but they have to be trained to watch out for predators like hawks. They are trained by flying hawk-shaped cut-outs over the aviary, playing hawk calls, allowing a live hawk to attack the cage with the parrots safely inside, and finally staging a parrot murder scene which the trainee parrots have to watch. The learner parrot faces another parrot wearing a small leather vest, a hawk is released to attack the leather parrot, the protection means the leather parrot survives, and the trainee learns to avoid the hawk.

- Tangents: Parrots and many other birds are able to see ultraviolet colours. Some can see animal urine on the ground, which helps the bird to find burrows. Many small rodents which birds prey on are incontinent so leave urine trails around all the time.

- XL Tangent: Parrots are the only non-human animal to play the drums. The male Northern Australian palm cockatoo beats out rhythms on hollow trees with seed buds to impress females. It has a regular non-random beat, and it also trims down the sticks to get the length right. Jimmy asks if they have any footage, and Sandi says they don't, leading Jimmy to claim this is all made up. Sandi says they don't have the footage because they can't afford it.

- XL: Cats hate Hitler because people mistakenly killed their pet cats in a panic during World War II. In the first four days of the war, 400,000 cats and dogs were put down, which was a quarter of all the pets in London. This was all due to a terrible mistake. The government body which made provision for British animals, the National Air Raid Precautions Animals Committee (NARPAC), issued advice just before the war to pet owners about what to do in an immediate emergency, and said: "If you can't get your animals to the countryside, then the kindest thing to do would be to have them destroyed". This led to a massive overreaction, because people wrongly thought it meant they should kill the animals immediately, rather than wait until things got very bad, and rumours got out of hand. People worried about their pets starving to death and panicking during bombing raids.

- XL Tangent: During the war, London Zoo beheaded their black widow spider in case it escaped, and they also killed a manatee. Manatees are afraid of their own air bubbles. There are also cases of animals in zoos being eaten during other conflicts, such as the Siege of Paris in 1870 where almost everything in the zoo was eaten. You could buy slices of elephant trunk. When Lee asks what elephant tastes like, Jimmy says you never forget. When Sandi canoed the Zambezi, she ate hippo in Mozambique, which she found very unpleasant. Sandi says it was an enormous stake, to which Lee says that given how small she is, Sandi could have just had a guinea pig instead.

- XL: A question about punishing perverts. The panel are shown a photo of an Edwardian woman and are asked where her concealed weapon is. It is in her hat, in the form of her hatpins. These 10-inch long pins were needed to fasten ornate decorations to their increasingly large hats. One San Francisco publication said the pins could: "pick a lock, open an ink bottle, or furtively spear a pickle." However, they could also be used to defend yourself from lecherous men known as "mashers", who took advantage of the fact that women were increasingly travelling unchaperoned. There were newspaper reports across Europe and America of women foiling robbers and muggers using hatpins. Self-defence manuals recommended combining the hatpins with jujitsu and using umbrellas to beat men off. One music hall song at the time was Never Go Walking Out Without Your Hatpin.

- XL Tangent: These hatpins had problems, such as the 19-year-old girl in Scranton, New Jersey, who playfully thrust her hatpin at her boyfriend and fatally pierced his heart. Another story concerned a New York streetcar passenger who felt a sharp pain behind his ear, which was an accidental prick from a stranger's hatpin, and within a week he fell into a coma and died. People panicked and the hatpins became associated with violent suffragette tactics. When one London flower seller stabbed a policeman a magistrate said: "The hatpin is as dangerous a weapon in the hands of a woman as a revolver in the hands of a man." In Los Angeles, they debated limiting hat feathers on the grounds of constant tickling on the bus was annoying. From 1912, various local councils passed rules saying that hatpins could be no more than 7-9 inches, with longer ones needing a permit. In 1910, hatpins that were longer than 9 inches were banned in Chicago. However, it was not laws that got rid of the hatpins, but the change of fashion towards the flapper style, and the objects of some organisations who protested against birds being killed just for the feathers.

- The panel are shown four prizes and are asked which of them they would prefer to win:

- The Oldest Mouse Award: The Methuselah Foundation, a scientific body devoted to extending the healthy life of humans and fighting aging, offer a cash prize if you can bread the oldest mouse. The current record is five years, and the average mouse lives to three years, so in human terms that would be us living to 150-180 years. There is another prize for rejuvenating a middle-aged mouse. The prize is $1.4million to the research team that can break the record, and the current prize pot is $4.5million, with the overall winner receiving a chunk of money for each week the mouse survives after breaking the old record and setting a new one. Humans are mice are genetically very similar.

- Solving the Brich and Swinnerton-Dyer Conjecture: This is one of seven maths problems that the Clay Mathematics Institute dubs the "Millennium Problems", and you win £1million if you solve any one of them.

- XL Tangent: The Birch and Swinnerton-Dyer Conjecture is the set of rational solutions to equations defining an elliptic curve. It is an open problem in number theory.

- The Val d'Isère Skiing Cow: This is the traditional prize in the World Cup downhill skiing championship. In 2005, Olympic skier Lindsey Vonn won the cow. Normally, the person who wins rejects the cow and is given $5,000 instead, but Vonn insisted on having the cow as the prize, which was worth $20,000 and was pregnant at the time. She named the cow Olympe, it now lives on a farm in Kirchberg, has given birth to other cows which have also given birth themselves, and all of them are named after members of her family.

- The Aussie Non-Drunk-Driver Cup: In 2016, traffic police in Nanango, Queensland, started offering cash prizes to any driver found to be sober. If a driver was found to have a zero blood alcohol limit, they were entered into a prize draw where they could win AU$500. The idea has since spread across Australia.

- Tangent: Jimmy comments that he likes the idea of being able to buy your own breathalyser. Lee comments that there are now plans to develop cars that have built-in breathalysers so that you have to be sober before you can start them, but Lee says you could just get around it by having your child with you.

General Ignorance

- The most volcanic country on Earth is the USA as they have 173 volcanoes. After the USA, the countries with the most volcanoes are Russia, Indonesia and Japan. Indonesia has the most active volcanoes, followed by the Philippines and Japan. The Pacific Ring of Fire has 452 volcanoes. The densest region of volcanoes is in Western Antarctica, where in 2017 researchers at Edinburgh University discovered 91 new volcanoes under the ice sheet, a ratio of one volcano every 4,800 square miles, but it is expected that more will be discovered. Some of these volcanoes are as tall as the Eiger. This is a major issue because if one of these volcanoes erupts, it could melt the ice from below and cause sea levels to rise. (Forfeit: Indonesia)

- After Great Britain and Ireland, the third most populous island in the British Isles is Portsea Island, the island which Portsmouth is on. It has the highest population density of any of the UK's islands, and Portsmouth is the only island city in the country. It was also one of the most heavily defended cities in the world during the Napoleonic wars. The island was home to the first mass production line, where pully blocks were made by Marc Isambard Brunel, the father of Isambard Kingdom Brunel. The island also pioneered free venereal disease clinics. The Isle of Wight is the fourth most populous island. (Forfeit: Isle of Man; Isle of Dogs)

- XL Tangent: Sandi was chancellor of the University of Portsmouth for five years. The city was home to some of the earliest free schools for working class children.

- The panel are shown two landscape paintings by Turner and are asked where it is located. The paintings were called Festive Lagoon Scene, Venice and Procession of Boats with Distance Smoke, Venice, but both are actually paintings of Portsmouth. They were both wrongly titled in the 1960s when they were exhibited in New York, but in 2003 a curator at the Tate declared that they were not of Venice at all. The paintings have since been renamed The Arrival of Louis-Philippe at Portsmouth, 8th of October, 1844 and The Disembarkation of Louis-Philippe, 8th of October, 1844. This is not the first time this happened to one of Turner's paintings. Another work, which was originally identified as a view of Monte Rose in Italy for over a century, turned out to be depicting a pier in Scotland. (Forfeit: Indonesia; Venice)


- Jimmy Carr: -2 points
- Alan Davies: -3 points
- The Audience: -8 points
- Alice Levine: -9 points
- Lee Mack: -27 points

Broadcast details

Friday 11th January 2019
30 minutes

Cast & crew

Regular cast
Sandi Toksvig Host / Presenter
Alan Davies Regular Panellist
Guest cast
Jimmy Carr Guest
Lee Mack Guest
Alice Levine Guest
Writing team
James Harkin Script Editor
Andrew Hunter Murray Question Writer
Production team
Ian Lorimer Director
John Lloyd (as John Lloyd CBE) Series Producer
Piers Fletcher Producer

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