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


BBC Two and BBC One panel show about quite interesting facts. 267 episodes (pilot + 18 series), 2003 - 2020. Stars Sandi Toksvig, Stephen Fry and Alan Davies.

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QI. Image shows from L to R: Alan Davies, Phil Wang, Sandi Toksvig, Ellie Taylor, Joe Lycett. Copyright: TalkbackThames.

Series P, Episode 15 - Past Times

Further details


- You beat a bull at poker by hoping the bull attacks another player. The Angola Prison Rodeo in Louisiana have an event called "Convict Poker", where four inmates play a game of poker while seated in the middle of the rodeo, then a bull is released and tries to unseat the poker players. The last man that remains seated is the winner. If you move at all, you are disqualified. Louisiana State Penitentiary is called "Angola Prison" because most of the African Americans from Louisiana were ancestors of slaves who originated in Angola. After playing Convict Poker they hold another event called "Guts and Glory", where a poker chip is tied to a Brahma bull and the players have to get close enough to the bull to win the chip. Angola Prison is probably the only prison also to have a golf course.

- Tangent: Rodeo is so popular in the USA that there are gay and black variations of it. Sandi went to a gay rodeo where one of the events was "Goat Dressing" where you had to put underpants on a goat.

- XL Tangent: The execution chamber in Angola Prison is designed for either sex.

- Tangent: Phil has been to an Indonesian rodeo in Sumatra. However, he says it is not so much a rodeo as some cows in field. To be exact, it is a paddy field flooded with water, and men compete with each other to surf off the back of a brace of buffalo on just their feet. The players grab each tail of buffalo that are yoked together. The audience watch from in front of the buffalo, and if the buffalo come towards you, you need to move out of the way. Joe asks what is wrong with just a quite game of "Catch the Bus", before correcting himself and saying "Stop the Bus", which was an old card game his grandmother taught him.

- Tangent: Convict Poker is still not the worst prisoner sport in America. Even worse was the Penitentiary Row All Stars, a 1911 baseball team made up entirely of Death Row inmates from Wyoming State Penitentiary. If they won the match that could mean a little bit of a reduction in their sentence, but if they lost it could bring their execution forward. They won all four of their matches before the team was scrapped and the star player Joseph Seng was executed. People places bets on them totalling $132,000, including bets made by three state politicians who were raising funds for re-election.

- You can tell if your partner is dead by tossing them up in the air. Johann Unzer, an 18th century German doctor once visited Corsica and wrote that when a married man died it was common for the villagers to toss the corpse on a blanket for hours on end, which occasionally had the effect of bringing the man back to life. If the man remained dead, the local women would beat his widow as a punishment. Tossing people also occurs in Spain, where it is called "pelele", and in Germany, where it is called "prellen". The idea of tossing people has a superstitious background, the idea being that you are warding off evil spirits, similar to "winnowing", the way people separated the wheat from the chaff by tossing it in the air.

- Tangent: One famous fiction person to be tossed was Sancho Panza in Don Quixote, where in chapter 17 he and his master refuse to pay an innkeeper's bill, so he is grabbed by a group of lodgers who tossed him as punishment.

- Tangent: Alan says that Elizabeth II was tossed on the day of the coronation. They had a rehearsal, during which the Archbishop of Canterbury and a few cohorts tossed her. Alan says people are not familiar with this because we have not had a coronation for ages, but Charles will be next. Joe asks if this really happens, to which Alan replies: "Of course not, you fool!"

- Tangent: If you really want to punish someone by tossing thing, you would laden the whole thing with logs and tools.

- Tangent: In Germany, there was a game called "Fuchsprellen", meaning "Fox tossing". Played by 17th century aristocrats, courts were built especially for it. The winner was the team that got their fox highest in the air. The whole ground of the court was covered in sawdust to protect the foxes. The most famous match was held in Dresden, where Augustus II, aka Augustus The Strong, took part, tossing animals with just one finger, using a sling attached to the blanket. 647 foxes, 533 hares, 34 badgers and 21 wild cats were tossed and the game finished with the animals being clubbed. Augustus the Strong also liked to break horseshoes with his bare hands.

- Tangent: Alan says tossing is worse indoors, but Ellie says it is even worse for women because of the glass ceiling.

- Most yoga poses are relatively recent inventions, dating to the 19th and 20th centuries. Ancient yoga is a meditative and philosophical practice, and there was just one posture: sitting comfortably. The lotus position might be an old pose, but the guide to yoga poses known as the asana, which was created in the 15th century, are not recognisable as the poses we use today. Most of the 15 poses in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika are seated or flat on your back. This same book also contains instructions on how to avoid death by redrawing discharged semen back into your penis, and how to lengthen your own tongue so you can lick your forehead.

- XL Tangent: Indian prince Krishna Raja Wadiyar III wrote a yoga guide in the 19th century that contained 122 poses, but they were mostly borrowed from gymnastics. Yoga however, mainly evolved in the west.

- Tangent: The most difficult yoga pose is the "Yoganidrasana", aka the yoga sleep pose, where you lie on your back, our hands grab your buttocks, and our legs fold up so the feet are either under your chin or behind your head as a sort of pillow.

- Tangent: Full-body yoga is supposed to be good for you, lowering blood pressure, treating depression and helping with musculoskeletal conditions like lower back pain, but it causes as many injuries as any other sport. Sandi gives out two pieces of practical advice on avoiding injuries when doing yoga, from a 2013 review of yoga case studies: avoid headstands, and don't practice yoga while under the influence of psychoactive drugs.

- XL: The first American Civil War re-enactment was performed during the war itself. Battles were re-enacted the day after they took place, and it first began after the very first battle of the war. These were known as "practice battles" or "sham battles". They were done partly for practice, and partly to retell to other people what happened, like an early form of newsreel. These re-enactments were mainly done by the northern Unionists. The southern Confederates didn't do it as often because they couldn't afford the blank ammunition, but in the winter they had snowball battles with full military tactics.

- XL Tangent: Live-action role-players, also known as Larpas, are people who act out make-believe battles like those you might find in a fantasy story, for real. In 2014, a Larpa in Portland named Conrad Bass was arrested after running into a busy intersection in full armour, while on acid. Bass unsuccessfully tried to joust with a car.

- XL Tangent: Alan watched an English Civil War re-enactment as a child, but he was annoyed by the fact that the shot actors would get up after about 15 seconds and join in again.

- XL Tangent: Staged battles go back to Roman times. "Naumachiae" were sea battles put on for the public in specially constructed theatres, with ships crewed by thousands of prisoners of war, slaves and condemned men. The performers often fought to the death. The first naumachiae was staged by Julius Caesar, when he was celebrating the end of four different wars. A basin was dug near the Tiber, capable of holding full-sized ships. More than 2,000 combatants and 4,000 rowers, all of them POWs, had to fight.

- XL: The first "beautiful game" was Ponte dei Pugni, a battle held by inhabitants of an entire city. Called "The Battle at the Bridge of the Fists", it was held every year in 17th century Venice. It was a mass fist fight between the Castelanni in red from the industrial east, and the Nicolotti in black, who were mainly fishermen from the west of Venice. In 1494, diarist Allegro Allegretti, referred to the Sienese pugni as: "un belissimo gioco" - "a beautiful game". The Diedo bridge in San Marziale, opened in 1670, had marble footprints in it so fighters knew where to take their mark for the fight.

- XL Tangent: One of the greatest battle re-enactments was in the St. Louis World's Fair in 1904. It featured a British Army encampment, native Zulus and bushmen. Twice a day, they would re-enact battles from the Boer War. They had several generals and 600 veteran soldiers from each side. At the end of the show, the Boer general Christiaan de Wet would escape on horseback by leaping from a height of 35 feet into a pool of water. This is even more remarkable that the war had ended only two years earlier and both sides hated each other.

- XL: Examples of a European paradise include the Province of Cockaigne. It is a place where nobody grows old, houses are made of food, ready-roasted pigs walk by which you can eat into, a sky made of cheese, onks could beat their abbots, nuns are flipped over to show their bottoms, and you are paid for sleeping. Cockaigne Palace was built in 1747 in front of the Palace of Naples, to celebrate the birth of the son of King Carlos, Felipe. Every inch was covered in food, and they allowed a crowd of starving commoners into the grounds to grab as much food as they wanted while the royalty watched.

- XL Tangent: The word "paradise" is actually a Persian gardening term. It comes from "pairi", meaning "around", and "daeza", meaning "walled".

- XL: The member of the panel who thinks that this show is dragging the most is youngest, because time appears to drag the younger you are. The US Society of Neuroscience did a study involving a group of people aged between 19-24 and another between 60-80. Each group was asked to judge how long it took for three minutes to elapse. The younger people guessed on average at 3:03min, while the older group guessed on average at 3:40min.

- XL Tangent: According to Einstein's theory of relativity, the fast you travel, the slower time passes. This is known as time dilation. One thought experiment says that if you travel at the speed of light then time stops. If you were to imagine a clock behind you, got on a really fast bus that was travelling at the speed of light, then the light that is coming off the clock cannot be faster than you, so the clock stays the same. In 2014, Leicester University did a study which showed that Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia ages would be vastly different due to time dilation caused by separate light-speed travels in "The Empire Strikes Back". Due to them travelling at different speeds, distances and gravitational fields, by the end of the film Luke is 1.75 years younger that Leia, despite the fact they are both twins.

- XL Tangent: Alan was flicking through the TV and came across Jim Davidson being interviewed by Piers Morgan, and Alan claims that the time it took him to change the channel felt like the equivalent of four years.

- XL Tangent: In 2007, a pair of twins were born in America on the day the autumn clocks changed, meaning that the second child that was born 34 minutes later than the first child, ended up being older because the clocks went back an hour, so the second child was officially declared to have been born 26 minutes earlier than the first.

- Sandi gets Joe and Alan to read out the following poems respectively and asks they want their think of the author and what is wrong with the poems:

Man with the broken blood blue glass and gold,
Tell me that story that my mother told.
The story started with your perfect smile,
Just after you began to come awhile.

The frozen waters are dead are now
Black as the rain to freeze a boundless sky,
And frozen ode of our terrors with
The grisly lady shall be free to cry

Both poems are rubbish because they were written by a computer. Jack Hopkins, a researcher at the University of Cambridge, fed huge amounts of poetry into a deep learning programme to teach the computer to create its own poetry.

- Tangent: The person considered to be the worst poet in the history of the English language is Scotland's William McGonagall (1825-1902). Examples include his ode to the Tay Bridge Rail Disaster of 1875, where a bridge collapsed under a train during a storm, killing everyone on board. McGonagall wrote: "And the cry rang out all o'ver the town, Good Heavens! The Tay Bridge is blown down". Another bad poem was one by Theophile-Jules-Henri Marzials, a British Museum employee, whose poem A Tragedy ends: "I can dare, I can dare! And let myself all run away with my head, And stop. Drop. Dead. Plop, flop. Plop."

- Before the show, everyone wrote their own poem and Sandi picks her favourite.

- Sandi: What would we be without Alan?
Totally unbalan-ced.
That's where.

- Ellie: First time on QI.
Must not swear and let Mum down.
Piece of fucking piss.

- Joe: I really like to go on QI.
It is better than if I die.
Sandi Toksvig is so nice,
but Alan Davies has got lice.

- Phil: Does pastime have one T or two?
I haven't the foggiest, do you?
I suppose it doesn't matter.
We're only here for the patter.
Does anyone else need a poo?

- Alan: Denmark, what a lark!
Everyone agrees.
Sandi Toskvig's at her tallest
when she's climbing trees.

Sandi names Phil's poem the best.

- Tangent: One man, Roderick Maclean, once tried to shoot Queen Victoria because she didn't like his poetry. He sent her a poem, flet that he got a less than generous reply, and he fired at her at Windsor Station on 2nd March, 1882. Maclean missed and was subdued by two Eton schoolboys who hit him with their umbrellas.

- The ancient Chinese gave wine to their dogs to make them smaller. They gave rice wine to Miniature Pekingese, also known as "sleeve Pekingese", because the dogs were kept up people's sleeves. This was partly to keep hands warm and partly as a form of self-protection. The ancient Chinese believed giving rice wine to puppies stunted the dog's growth. The dogs were also squeezed as newborns and were fitted with wire mesh waistcoats. Dogs should not be given alcohol as their kidneys are not adapted to process it. The practice was banned by Empress Dowager Cixi, who died in 1908.

- Tangent: There is a tribe in Borneo that cooks meat by passing it through the digestive system of a dog. You feed the dog, and then squeeze the dog so the meat is cooked by the stomach acid but is not in the body long enough to be digested, and comes out of their buttocks.

- XL Tangent: According to myth, the Pekingese dogs came about when a lion fell in love with a butterfly, who knew they couldn't make love because of their difference in size, so they went to Buddha, and allowed their size to meet in the middle. Pekingese are also known as "temple dogs", because they were small enough to get all the demons in every corner of the temple. The dogs were revered, and commoners had to bow to the dogs.

- Tangent: The Pekingese breed is one of the oldest dog breeds. Remains of what look like them have been found in the Middle East and Europe dating back 12,000 years ago. They are one of the least genetically diverged dogs from the wolf.

- XL Tangent: The first Pekingese dogs that came to Britain did so during the Second Opium War. In 1860, dogs were taken from the Summer Palace. The British slaughtered most of the dogs during the storming of the palace, but five survived and one was given to Queen Victoria. Victoria named her Pekingese "Looty".

- Tangent: In New York City, the subway prohibits dogs unless they are carried in something like a bag.

General Ignorance

- The pastime that begins with "P" that was illegal in New York for 30 years was playing pinball machines. The first pinball machine was patented in 1871, the first commercial one being released in 1931, and then in the early 1940s they began to be seen as a game of chance. Thus they were considered a form of gambling and they were banned in 1942. Machines were smashed and burned by the authorities, who then dumped all of them in the River Hudson. Pinball machines could be found in the back rooms of some seedy establishments. The ban was overturned in 1976, after the Music And Amusement Association hired a 26-year-old called Roger Sharpe to prove that pinball was a game of skill. Pinball prohibition lasted twice as long as alcohol prohibition.

- The country that is the home of golf is China. Called "Chuiwan", which literally means, "hitting ball", this form of the game was played about 1,000 years ago. It is described in the Dongxuan Records, written between 1050-1100 AD, where a Chinese magistrate tells his daughter to dig goals in the ground so he could drive a ball into them with a purposely crafted stick. The Scottish however, were responsible for bringing all the aspects of golf together. The first mention of the modern game was in 1457, when the Scottish banned golf because they considered it a distraction from practising battle skills.

- XL Tangent: During the Second World War golf was still played, but there some rule changes. Richmond Golf Club rule: "A player whose stroke is affected by the simultaneous explosion of a bomb, or shell, or by machine-gun fire, may play another ball from the same place. Penalty - one stroke."

- The country that is the home to piñatas is China. They were believed to have been brought into Europe from China by Marco Polo. Polo wrote that the Chinese made an ox or cow-shaped papier mache structure, covered it in coloured paper and filled with seeds. It was hit until it broke, and it was believed it brought good luck for the harvest.

- Tangent: One story Marco Polo recorded was that the unmarried niece of Kublai Khan, Princess Khutulun. She promised her father that she would marry the first man to beat her at wrestling, but any man who lost to her had to give her 100 horses. She died unmarried with 10,000 horses.

- The country that is the home of Chinese checkers is Germany. The game was originally called "Stern-Halma" which was based on an earlier American game called "Halma", but an American company that made it renamed it to make the game sound more exotic. (Forfeit: Mexico)


- Ellie Taylor and Alan Davies: 1 point (Alan's 34th victory)
- Phil Wang: -4 points
- Joe Lycett: -18 points

Broadcast details

Friday 15th February 2019
30 minutes

Cast & crew

Regular cast
Sandi Toksvig Host / Presenter
Alan Davies Regular Panellist
Guest cast
Joe Lycett Guest
Phil Wang Guest
Ellie Taylor Guest
Writing team
James Harkin Script Editor
Ed Brooke-Hitching Question Writer
Production team
Ian Lorimer Director
John Lloyd (as John Lloyd CBE) Series Producer
Piers Fletcher Producer
Nick King Editor
Jonathan Paul Green Production Designer
Howard Goodall Composer

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