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 - 2020. Stars Sandi Toksvig, Stephen Fry and Alan Davies.

Returns Wednesday 23rd December at 9pm. Episode Guide
Series J, Christmas Special is repeated on Dave tomorrow at 1am.

QI. Image shows from L to R: Alan Davies, Ed Byrne, Sandi Toksvig, Rhod Gilbert, Sindhu Vee. Copyright: TalkbackThames.

Series P, Episode 14 - Pathological

With guests Ed Byrne, Rhod Gilbert and Sindhu Vee.

Further details


- All the panel are dressed in white lab coats. The buzzers are all of patients ringing a bell and shouting for a nurse, except for Alan's who has Chopin's "Funeral March".


- A question set in the Pacific Islands. The best time for a coconut to fall on your head is during the daytime, because you heal twice as fast during the day than at night. The body has cells called fibroblasts, which help heal a wound when the skin is cut. These cells appear to switch on and off in day and night cycles. The reason for this is believed to be evolutionary, because historically people were more likely to be injured during the day. If you can trick the body into thinking it's day all the time, the body will heal faster.

- Tangent: Rhod says he had a friend who was hit on the head by a coconut. He was desiccated.

- Tangent: In the 19th century, if you were hit on the head with a coconut, they might use the same coconut to heal you. They would remove the damaged part of the skull, replace it with part of the coconut at a precise growth stage called "niur", and new bone would grow around the coconut making it now part of the skull. Broken and missing bones could also be replaced with wood.

- Tangent: A 2001 study of the period between 1994-99 showed that one in 29 of all injuries that were presented to the surgical departments in the Pacific Islands were related to the coconut palm. 85 people fell out of a coconut tree, 16 people had a coconut fall on them, three people had a coconut tree fall on them, and one person injured their foot kicking a tree.

- XL Tangent: Seas urchin spines can be used to fix broken bones, by creating a kind of scaffold around which the new bone can grow. The spines are porous, strong, biodegradable, easy to cut into specific shapes, and cheaper than metal rods. Also, unlike the metal rods, the spines don't set off metal detectors.

- XL Tangent: You can use a stethoscope and tuning fork to tell if someone has a broken bone by setting off the fork by hitting it on a hard surface, put the fork against the bone and listen with a stethoscope, and if the bone rings like a bell then the bone is fine. If it doesn't ring, then it is broken.

- Tangent: The word "coconut" comes from Portuguese folklore. "Coco" means "grimace" or "grinning bogey man", and it refers to the dots on the coconut that make it look like a face. In the Philippines, there is a Coconut Palace Court, a government building made entirely from coconuts.

- XL Tangent: Coconut husks are used to make shirts that were famously worn by Ferdinand Marcos. Sindhu's mother bought one for Sindhu's father, and Sindhu says he looked like a complete weirdo. However, he would still wear it around India, telling people what it was and no-one understanding him.

- Tangent: Sindhu demonstrates how to open a coconut into two halves with one good smack on the ground. Coconuts are used in Sindhu's culture to start any auspicious prayer. Once, her grandmother got a new car and used a coconut to make it auspicious, but she whacked the coconut on the car and damaged the car. Thus Sindhu's grandmother said that this was inauspicious and the car should be returned. When cracking the coconut, if it fails to break the first time, it is you that are at fault because you have done something inauspicious. The brown coconuts are for eating while the green ones are for drinking.

- XL Tangent: Sandi gives the panel coconuts with ring pulls, so that they can open them up and drink from them, but Sindhu is the only one who can get the ring pull to work. Coconut water can help dissolve kidney stones, and it can be used to replace blood plasma in an absolute emergency.

- You can tell the sex of a skeleton by looking at the pelvis. While there is no 100% accurate way of telling the gender of a skeleton, the pelvic gap (the space between the top of the thighs) is wider on a female and the hips bones also flare slightly more outwards. The "Phenice method", named after American physical anthropologist T. W. Phenice, is used to determine the gender of sexually mature skeletal remains, and is around 96-100% accurate.

- Tangent: Rhod asks if it is possible to sex a watermelon or if it's a myth. Ed says that if you do sex a watermelon, they throw you out of the greengrocer's.

- XL Tangent: Rhod says that unlike panel show hosts, he finds female watermelons sweeter. Sandi moves her seat, which is on casters, to Rhod to ask very deliberately what he said. Female watermelons however are indeed sweeter and rounder.

- Tangent: Because we only have 40% of her full skeleton, we do not know for certain the gender of Lucy, the Australopithecus afarensis, and one of our oldest human ancestors. She was found in Ethiopia and dates back to about 3.2 million years. However, because her pelvis has a large pelvic knot, it does suggest that she is female. She is named Lucy because the archaeologists uncovering her kept playing the song "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" while working.

- Tangent: During pregnancy, women secret a hormone called relaxin. The joints between the pelvic bones loosen very slightly. It was discovered Prof. Frederick Lee Hisaw, who studied the sex life of pocket gophers. The pelvises of older women are 8% narrower than those of middle-aged women.

- XL Tangent: During pregnancy the woman's heart moves over. Everything has to shift in order to make space. A pelvic digit, also known as the eleventh finger, is a bone formation in the pelvis that almost looks like a finger. It is very rare, symptomless and there are less than 50 cases of it that are known.

- An ancient Egyptian pregnancy testing kit, as listed in the Berlin Papyruses read thus: "Another test for a woman who will bear or a woman who will not bear. Wheat and spelt, let the woman water them daily with her urine. If they both grow, she will bear. If the wheat grows, it will be a boy. If the spelt grows, it will be a girl. If neither grows, she will not bear." While the test for gender was wrong, the Ancient Egyptians knew that women underwent chemical changes when pregnant. In 1963, archaeologists tested this and it was found to be 70% accurate as a predictor of pregnancy against non-pregnancy.

- Tangent: Rhod's guess for the pregnancy test is that when they wrap the woman up in bandages it is a good sign you are going to be a mummy.

- Tangent: An even earlier pregnancy test in the Brugsch Papyrus from around 1350 BC involves a watermelon. It reads: "A watermelon pounded is mixed with the milk of a woman who has borne a son, and is given to the patient to drink. If she vomits, she is pregnant. If she only has flatulence, she will never bear again." The part about flatulence is not proven to be true, and as Ed points out vomiting is normally a sign of pregnancy anyway.

- XL Tangent: Ed wonders about whether the people who were proved right about these things thought what they were doing was worth it, because everyone else around them must have thought they were weirdos.

- XL Tangent: A text from 1552 said that pregnant women had urine that was clear, pale lemon coloured, leaning towards off-white.

- Tangent: In the 1920s, they knew that the hormone called hCG is present in the urine of pregnant women. This urine was injected into sexually immature rabbits and rodents, after the fifth day the animal was killed, and the animal's ovaries were examined. If the ovaries had bulging masses, the woman was pregnant. In the USA, the phrase: "The rabbit died", was a euphemism for a woman being pregnant.

- Tangent: At the beginning of 2018, IKEA advertised a range of cots with a flyer in magazines that revealed a discount code when it was urinated on by a pregnant woman.

- The panel are asked to describe an ancient Egyptian prophylactic. The Egyptians, Greeks and Romans all viewed contraception as entirely the woman's responsibility. The only well-documented contraception methods are female-controlled. In 1550 BC, one manuscript told women to grind dates, acacia tree bark and honey together into a paste, apply the mixture to fibre from cotton plants, and insert it into the vagina.

- XL Tangent: The ancient Egyptian prophylactic did have some benefits. The acacia is fermented, turning into lactic acid and having spermicidal properties, while the wool serves as a physical barrier. Women were buried with these prophylactics so as to avoid becoming pregnant in the afterlife. Meanwhile, in the 17th and 18th century, women used half a squeezed lemon as a kind of cervical cap. Casanova took credit for inventing this idea, but there is lots of evidence to show other people also having the idea.

- Tangent: In 1928, one Dr. Declan invented anti-baby marmalade. He prescribed two spoonfuls on bread every morning. The marmalade was mostly made from peas and it didn't work. In German, the term for a contraceptive pill is, "anti-baby pill".

- Tangent: The earliest evidence for condoms comes from a cave painting in Grotte des Combarelles in France.

- XL Tangent: The first written mention of condoms comes from Greek mythology, where a curse caused King Midas's semen to contain serpents and scorpions, so he used a goat bladder to protect his partner.

- XL Tangent: Soldiers were once given reusable, washable condoms.

- XL: The thing that living statues can teach you about posture is how to do Pilates. Joseph Hubertus Pilates, after whom the exercise Pilates is named after, created it as a way of keeping prisoners of war fit. Pilates was a one-eyed Greek-German boxer and circus performer, who was very sickly as a child, suffering from asthma, rickets and rheumatic fever. He got himself fit by studying anatomy, yoga and bodybuilding. When World War One broke out, Pilates was working in the UK as a living Greek statue in a circus, and as a German was interned, being held in Lancaster Castle near the Isle of Man. While there, Pilates taught fellow prisoners lots of postures and movements he created to strengthen muscles and improve fitness. Pilates called his system, "controlology". His system is said to be the reason why every inmate survived the Spanish flu epidemic.

- XL: As Pilates is named after Mr. Pilates, Sandi asks some true or false questions on things being named after people with unusual names.

- Praline was invented by Mr. Praline? False: It was invented by Mr. Lasagne.

- Blankets were invented by Mr. Blanket? Possibly true: There was a blanket seller in Bristol in the 1300s, and Flemish weavers were selling them. One man was called either "Blanket" or "Blon-ket", and he was in the country at the time the word came into English.

- XL Tangent: The Cyrillic alphabet is named after someone called Cyril.

- Sandi demonstrates what happens when water reacts with magnesium and silver nitrate, by firing water from a water pistol over a sample of it placed on the other side of the desk. The water makes the mixture spark. Sandi then asks the panel when a reaction like that happens in the body. It occurs at the moment of conception, when the sperm fertilises the egg. When a sperm enzyme activates a human egg there is an explosion of zinc. A team from Northwestern University, Illinois, took images of an egg's zinc storage capability. The egg has about 8,000 zinc compartments, and each one contains around a million zinc atoms. At the point of conception, they are all released in a display that look like tiny fireworks, and this lasts for about two hours.

- Tangent: The rest of the panel try the same experiment Sandi did, but only Rhod and Sindhu get their sample to spark.

- XL: The best thing about a Prohibition Party is that their other policies are very forward thinking. In the USA, the Prohibition Party is the oldest third party in the country, having been on every presidential ballot since 1872. Aside from banning alcohol, other polices included equal rights for women back in 1869, universal female suffrage in 1870, and equal pay for women in 1892. In 2008, the presidential candidate for the Prohibition Party was Gene Amundson, who is famous for standing outside wineries dressed as the Grim Reaper. The Party's arguments against drinking are not just religious but also based on science too.

- XL Tangent: There is a myth people got around the laws on prohibition so much that drinking remained at the same level or even rose during the prohibition period in the USA, but in reality alcohol consumption declined dramatically, cirrhosis deaths fell incredibly and admission to mental hospital for alcoholic psychosis fell. Prohibition did however lead to one of the biggest mass poisonings in history, because the American government poisoned industrial alcohol, which was stolen by crime syndicates who re-distilled it. The government put brucine, gasoline, benzene, iodine, zinc, mercury salts, nicotine, formaldehyde and chloroform into the alcohol and told people that it was indeed poisoned, but it didn't stop people from drinking it, resulting in about 10,000 deaths.

- XL Tangent: A photo is shown of a bar marking the end of prohibition in the USA, showing a woman with a gigantic drink in her hand and a sign saying: "Farewell 18th Amendment", as the 18th Amendment is the one that banned alcohol. Ed says that it is thus perfectly possible for the American government to get rid of amendments that don't work - like the 2nd which allows the right to bear arms.

General Ignorance

- Too little stomach acid causes heartburn. If the stomach has less acid, it is less efficient at killing microbes, gives yeasts and pathogenic bacteria a chance to thrive, and this produces gas. The gas increases the pressure in the stomach to such an extent that the oesophageal sphincter is forced open, allowing acid to escape and burn the oesophagus. (Forfeit: Too much)

- The panel are shown three contortionists and are asked what unusual physical trait they all have. They all have hypermobility, also known as joint laxity, which means they can move their joints further than most people. 10-15% of people have it to some extent, but to be hypermobile you have to be able to do it without practising or stretching. You can test it on yourself by bending your fingers back over 90 degrees and touching your wrist your thumb. (Forfeit: They're double-jointed)

- Tangent: One hypermobile man is Gary "Stretch" Turner, whose skin is very stretchy. It is an extreme case of Ehlers Danlos syndrome. A photo of him shows his face skin being pulled by large office binding clips. He can also stretch his stomach skin into a table which can hold three pints of beer. The syndrome can cause terrible joint pain.

- A compound fracture is one that causes an open wound in the body. Breaking a bone in multiple places is a multiple fracture. A compound fracture not only causes problems with the broken bone, but also there is now a big hole in the skin. Other kinds of fracture include the transverse, where a fracture is at right angles to the normal way the bone goes; the greenstick, where the bone bends; the comminuted, where the bone fragments into several pieces; and impacted, where the ends of the bone are driven into each other. (Forfeit: A break in several places)

- Tangent: When Ed gets the forfeit for the above question, he says it was given to him incorrectly because he said that a compound fracture is when you break more than one bone at the same time. He thus demands an apology. (Forfeit: Sorry)

- XL Tangent: Sindhu's children go skiing and her son broke his leg badly in one accident, but Sindhu's husband was arguably more afraid of calling her up and telling her what had happened. Her husband told her: "So there's this thing that's happened, and it's bad, but he's alive." Her son had a titanium rod put in his leg, and she asked the surgeon if she could take some of this metal home to apply to her husband's head.

- The plant that gives your toothpaste its flavour is pine trees. Originally, peppermint was used but if the crop is lost due to a bad harvest then you can't make the toothpaste. Thus, synthetic menthol is more reliable, and this is most commonly made out of turpentine oil, which is extracted by tapping pine trees. (Forfeit: Mint)

- Tangent: When Rhod gets the forfeit for the above question, he asks for the elves to apologise after Sandi says that peppermint used to be in toothpaste. (Forfeit: No)

- XL Tangent: In India people chew neem branches, or rather mother's make their children chew them, to keep their teeth healthy. It tastes very bitter, but it works.


- Ed Byrne: 7 points
- Alan Davies: 5 point
- Rhod Gilbert: -5 points
- Sindhu Vee: -12 points

Broadcast details

Friday 8th February 2019
30 minutes

Cast & crew

Regular cast
Sandi Toksvig Host / Presenter
Alan Davies Regular Panellist
Guest cast
Rhod Gilbert Guest
Ed Byrne Guest
Sindhu Vee Guest
Writing team
James Harkin Script Editor
Alice Campbell Davis Question Writer
Production team
Ian Lorimer Director
John Lloyd (as John Lloyd CBE) Series Producer
Piers Fletcher Producer

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