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, Romesh Ranganathan, Sandi Toksvig, Richard Osman, Rachel Parris. Copyright: TalkbackThames.

Series P, Episode 7 - Picnics

Further details


- The panel are shown what looks like a picnic basket and are asked what you would keep in it. The answer is people, because it is actually a seven-storey picnic basket-shaped building, that was formerly the HQ of the Longaberger Company, which makes picnic baskets. The idea of the building came from man who ran the company, Dave Longaberger. When an architect tried to talk him out of it, Longaberger replied: "If they can put a man on the moon, they can certainly build a building that's shaped like a basket." Sadly, Longaberger is no longer alive, the company has downsided and has since relocated.

- Tangent: The panel are shown a really long, thin building and are asked what is made in there. It is rope, as it is The Chatham Rope Company, which has been there since 1618. In the building strands are all woven together to make the products. Alan visited it when he made a Horizon documentary asking: "How long is a piece of string?" The building is about a quarter of a mile long. Rope is made by combing raw hemp fibre across boards with long iron pins, which are called "hatchels", which straightens the fibres, and then they use whale oil to lubricate the fibres, which is known as train oil. Romesh asks if there is a vegan version, then Alan suggests it would be a nice idea to tap a whale rather than kill it.

- XL Tangent: The tap that is in the side of a barrel is called a "cock". This is where the slang word for the penis comes from, because it looks like a tap, to which Sandi argues that it pretty much depends on the weather.

- Sandi gets a hamper out and gives some packed lunches out to the panel, and asks them for details about each of their dishes.

- Richard: He has ham sandwiches. In 1851, a census showed that 436,800 sandwiches were sold on the street of London, and they were all ham sandwiches. There was no other flavour. Pre-packaged sandwiches were not invented until 1980 by Marks & Spencer, when an assistant wrapped up some leftover sandwiches from the cafe and put them on sale. The most popular sandwiches M&S sell are egg mayonnaise, BLT and chicken salad.

- Tangent: Romesh suggests the top three M&S sandwiches are morally corrupt because they are not vegan.

- Romesh: He has a toast sandwich. This was a dish described created by Mrs. Beeton in her Book of Household Management. The recipe says it consists of a piece of toast seasoned with salt and pepper, and served between two slices of bread. She wrote: "This sandwich will be very tempting to the appetite of an invalid." While at first disliking the idea, when Romesh eats it and ends up liking it a lot.

- Rachel: She has a Cornish pasty. It was designed to be a portable lunch for miners. Some pasties were designed with a pasty wall down the middle, with one half being savoury and the other half pudding. Similar to that is the Bedfordshire clanger, which is shaped like a long sausage roll and is two-thirds savoury and one-third sweet. Sadly for the people of Cornwall, the oldest known recipe for a Cornish pasty comes from Devon. Devon's recipe comes from 1510, while the oldest Cornish recipe is from 1746.

- Tangent: Romesh enjoys his toast sandwich so much he suggests it might be the best thing he has ever eaten, but Sandi is not surprised by this given that Romesh is vegan. After eating it, he says he feels nervous about saying anything because he feels persecuted by the others for being vegan, to which Richard responds with: "I didn't know you were a vegan, you should mention it occasionally."

- Alan: He is given what at first looks like a sandwich that has gone mouldy. Actually he was given a sandwich in a mouldy anti-theft sandwich bag, which makes make nice sandwiches look like they've gone off to deter people from stealing them.

- XL Tangent: The mouldy sandwich bag was invented by New York engineer and designer Sherwood Forlee, who also invented a jar with lids on both the top and bottom, so you can easily get all the bits from the bottom of the jar. Alan says that if you can't get all of your pesto out of a jar, you should put some olive oil and balsamic vinegar in the jar, shake the jar up, and use it as dressing. Richard jokingly suggests using a pressure washer, while Romesh suggests just smashing the jar and sprinkle the shard-ridden pesto into the pasta.

- XL: Water tastes sour. Researchers at Caltech gave water to mice and then studied their tongues, leading them to discover that when they drink water it stimulated their sour taste sensors. They used optogenetics to trigger the same cells using blue light instead of water, and even though they were not drinking water, the mice carried on "drinking" the light because it stimulated the same cells.

- XL Tangent: In Ray's & Stark Bar, Los Angeles, there is a water sommelier. They have a 45-page water menu, featuring water from ten different countries. One water, Berg, is harvested from glaciers in western Greenland and costs $20 a bottle. They also sell Evian at $8 a bottle.

- XL Tangent: The reason that some tap waters taste different is due to total dissolved solids (TDS), which are calcium, magnesium and potassium. People argue that this also relates to Guinness, and that it has to be brewed near to where it's sold, although Alan says that after two pints they all taste much the same.

- XL Tangent: In West Virginia there is an annual water tasting competition. A press release after the 2018 event noted that: "The audience was filled with water enthusiasts coming from as far as Australia and Oklahoma." Things to look for when tasting water is that it should be clear, no smell at all, feel very light in your mouth, and most importantly it should leave you thirsty for more.

- Tangent: Romesh has been vegan for five years, and when asked why he says it is because of smugness, although Alan suggests it was because two cows kidnapped his children, but no-one would believe such a story. Sandi says that this maybe because children should be seen and not herd.

- The first ever picnic took place indoors. It was a kind of potluck supper where each guest brought some food for the meal. Some of the earliest regular picnics were held by a group of Londoners who formed The Picnic Society, who met at a place called the Pantheon. It used to be in Oxford Street in the early 1800s, and the meals were always indoors. While the Pantheon is no longer there, appropriately in its place is a branch of M&S. (Forfeit: In a garden; Outside)

- Tangent: The first outdoor picnics were in the early 19th century. British and American graveyards became very crowded, and for the first time they began building them further out of town. Graveyards were the first places people living in cities would go to in order to find some greenery, and they would bring picnics so they could eat out in the cemeteries. The first public parks were based on cemeteries. The top three attractions in the USA at the time were Niagara Falls, George Washington's house and Mount Auburn Cemetery in Massachusetts.

- The best way to keep wasps at bay when having a picnic is to trap it. Wasps send out scouts to see where the best food is. If you see the first few wasps, you should take them hostage so the scouts can't report back to the nest. You should not kill the wasp, partly because if you do they release a pheromone which alerts others wasps to you, and also because wasps are very good at killing other more troublesome pests like cockroaches and spiders. One woman on Twitter, @waspwoman, real name Dr. Seirian Sumner, estimates wasps eat 14,000,000kgs of insects per year in the UK.

- Tangent: Richard suggests the idea of a wasp gun, but Romesh says that it would add to the problem if it fired wasps. Alan says this is like the old joke about a man who finds a snail on his doorstep and throws it away. A few days later the doorbell rings, the man answers, and the snail is back on the door say: "What?!"

- XL Tangent: Sandi tells a joke about a moth who visits a physiotherapist. The physiotherapist asks how they can help and the moth says: "Oh, I'm just very depressed. I don't know what's the matter with me. I just feel so low the whole time." The physiotherapist replies: "Well, I'm a physiotherapist. You should see a shrink. Why have you come in here?" The moth says: "Oh, the light was on." Alan gets angry that Sandi's joke gets a bigger reaction than his snail gag.

- XL Tangent: One big tip regarding wasps is always to check your drink cans before taking a swig. Richard says you could use a straw, to which Rachel replies he shouldn't use plastic ones. Richard then claims that because he cares for the environment, he uses a teak straw that is inlaid with ivory and has his initials on it. However, he doesn't re-use it because he has hundreds of them.

- XL Tangent: Anecdotal evidence suggests that another way to keep wasps away is to hang a paper bag up in a tree, which wasps will think is another wasp nest.

- In Italy, the way they stop people eating their lunches as picnics is to make the ground wet. At the Basilica of Santa Croce, where many of the greatest Italians to have exist are laid to rest, including Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli and Rossini, they want people to respect the building and the people buried there, so they don't want people picnicking on the steps outside. To stop them, they cover the steps in water so you can't sit on them without getting wet.

- Tangent: At the Trevi fountain in Rome, an entire squad of volunteer retired police officers protect it, making sure people don't swim in the fountain. You can fined for sitting on the fountain, washing your feet in the water, letting your pets play in the water, or starting water fights.

- Tangent: When Alan visited Florence, he managed to see the statue of Michelangelo's David, which is rare because normally there is a massive queue. Queues are so commonplace, there is a replica of the statue outside that you can see, and given that the replica looks so much like the real thing, Alan suggests you shouldn't bother queuing.

- XL Tangent: Sandi comments on the unintentional humour of the Italian accent. She was once in Pisa and wanted to get the train to Florence. She asked someone in the station when the next train was and he said: "The next-a train to Florence is at-a 12 o'clock." Sandi told him it was now 12.10, to which the man replied: "Well, you missed it."

- XL: An example of a pointless pest is the male false spider mite. It once reproduced sexually, but then the females caught an infection that now means that they don't need males to reproduce with them anymore. A type of bacteria infects the mite's egg, and if the mite growing inside the egg was male, the bacteria change the mite so it becomes female. The bacteria can only live in female eggs, because there is no room for them to fit inside the smaller male sperm. Thus the bacteria have eradicated males to insure their own survival. The mites thus reproduce by parthenogenesis, where the egg can become an embryo without needing to be fertilised by sperm. If you were to treat the eggs of the false spider mite with antibiotics and cure it of bacteria, the mites would become male, but left to their own devices the mites would all be female. (Forfeit: Alexander Armstrong)

- XL Tangent: Richard asks if he can appeal against the klaxon he got as he only implied to Alexander Armstrong rather than saying his name. (Forfeit: No)

- XL Tangent: Parthenogenesis could never happen in humans because bits of human DNA are in the male and other bits are in the female, so they set each other up. This is known as genetic imprinting.

- XL Tangent: True spider mites sometimes court dead females rather than live ones. The difference between true and false spider mites is that the false ones do not spin webs.

- XL Tangent: Other animals that reproduce by parthenogenesis include Komodo dragons, hammerhead sharks and whiptail lizards, the latter of whom has since become an all-female species, but still has genetic diversity because they start off with twice the amount of chromosomes as you would normally find in a sexually reproducing individual. Some male fish meanwhile are being feminised in a completely different way. According to a study by the University of Exeter in 2017, a fifth of male fish in the UK are now strictly speaking intersex, developing female behaviour, becoming less aggressive, less competitive, are producing eggs and producing fewer sperm. The reason for this is because of the run-off from livestock manure going into rivers.

- Shakespeare did not suffer from hay fever because it didn't exist in his lifetime. While one-in-four people have it today, hay fever appears not to have existed until the 1800s. The first documented case was in 1819, when a doctor named John Bostock suffered from it, and he investigated it by looking for other sufferers for nine years. He only found 28 people. Reasons given for why hay fever came about is due to changes in the environment, different type of crops being grown, and an increase in farming intensity. Bostock called the condition "summer catarrh", and tried to treat himself with bleeding, cold baths, vomiting and opium with no success. Then a scientist called Charles Blackley in 1859, who also had hay fever, discovered the cause was grass pollen. One issue brought up by the condition is that they could not understand why city dwellers and sailors at sea got it. Blackley experimented by flying kites with sticky paper on them at different altitudes, and he was able to demonstrated that pollen was able to travel hundreds of miles. There is more pollen at an altitude of 1,000-2,000ft than there is at ground level.

- Tangent: Out of everyone on the panel, only Romesh has hay fever.

- XL Tangent: Sandi gives Romesh a piece of equipment used to treat hay fever, which works by sticking a lit prong up each nostril, and if you sit with it on for 10 minutes it is supposed to calm down all the inflammation down. It is normally used by people who don't want to take antihistamines.

- XL Tangent: In the late 19th century, it was thought that only those with a delicate condition suffered from hay fever, so it was wealthier people who had it. People who had it could go to specific holiday resorts to avoid it, such as to the lakes and mountains.

- While Paul McCartney and John Lennon first met at a picnic in Liverpool, but the reason you can eat out in Australia is due to a different kind of beetle entirely, namely the introduction of millions of dung beetles. In the 1960s, the Australian cattle industry took off, but the cows produced huge amounts of dung that the native dung beetles did not consume, as they were used to dry manure. The cows were producing 200,000 cowpats per minute, causing massive problems for the whole country, so the Australian dung beetle project imported 1.73 million beetles from 43 different species into the country to clean up the dung. The problem has since been solved and now you can eat out in Australia without worrying about cowpats.

- To illustrate Australians picnicking, the picture in the background is of Shothole Canyon Picnic Area, although Alan suggests the name is wrong. (Forfeit: Sh*thole Canyon)

General Ignorance

- In Italy, if you are dining alfresco you are eating inside. To Italians, eating alfresco means, "eating in the cool", as in "The Cooler", so to them in means eating in prison. In Italian, eating outside is called: "fuori", or, "al aperto". (Forfeit: Outside)

- The liquid you can take five times more of through security at Genoa Airport is pesto. It is the only liquid for which the ban has been relaxed. Passengers can now carry 500ml of proper (not supermarket-bought) pesto in their hand luggage. It is scanned by the same machine that scans breast milk. The law was changed because so much pesto was being confiscated at the airport that the ban was becoming problematic. In a similar change, London City Airport had a Marmite amnesty in July 2017, allowing people who had purchased large jars to swap it for smaller jars.

- XL Tangent: When sending the pesto through you have to by a 50p stamp which raises money for the Flying Angels Foundation, a charity that gives free flights for children from developing countries who need medical attention.

- XL Tangent: The American Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has an Instagram account, named by "Rolling Stone" as the fourth best in the world. It contains photos of things they confiscate. On average they confiscate nine firearms a day, the majority of which are loaded. They have also confiscated and photographed brass knuckles, live eels, a live grenade, a medieval mace, a dagger hidden inside a replica of the Eiffel Tower, and a Chihuahua that owner claimed had sneaked into their bag.

- Possibly the most controversial question in the history of the show: if you are making a cup of tea, should you put the milk in first or second? The answer is that there is no confirmed answer, but opinion in Britain is strongly divided. According to the British Standard Institution's 5,000 word report into making tea, the milk should go in first, you have 2g of tea per 100ml of water, it should be brewed for six minutes and served at a temperature of between 60-85 degrees. A 2003 experiment at Loughborough University found that adding milk after after the water can heat it unevenly, leading to the proteins in the milk clumping. However, Yorkshire Tea argue milk should be second, especially if you are brewing in a mug, arguing that the tea should be brewed first, otherwise the milk will drag down the temperature of the water. The debate is divided between Miffers (milk in first) and Tiffers (tea in first). (Forfeit: Second; First)

- The most successful Arsenal F.C. manager of all time is Vic Akers, who managed and founded the Arsenal Ladies Football Club. When he retired in 2009, the team had won 32 major honours under his management including 10 FA Women's Cups, in comparison to the 7 FA Men's Cups won under Arsène Wenger. (Forfeit: Arsène Wenger; George Graham; Herbert Chapman)

- Tangent: Vic Akers was Arsenal's kit man for the men's team and he always wore shorts, no matter what the weather. On Alan's podcast The Tuesday Club, devoted to Arsenal, there refer to Akers' genitals as "Little Vic and the Akers". Alan does however suggest that part of the reason the women's team won so many titles was during his time as manager there were few professional women's teams in the country.

- Tangent: In the 1920s, there were 150 women's football teams in England, and they could draw bigger crowds than the men's teams. The reason women's football declined in England was because the FA stopped women from playing it on Football Association pitches. The picture illustrating this fact is of one of the most successful women's football teams: Dick, Kerr's Ladies. They were named after the munitions factory were most of the women worked. They were the first women's team ever to play in shorts. One player, Lily Parr, was a chain-smoker, insisted that part of her wages was in Woodbine cigarettes, and she smoked while playing.

General Ignorance

- Romesh Ranganathan: 2 points
- Alan Davies: -14 points
- Rachel Parris: -15 points
- Richard Osman: -19 points
- The Audience: -20 points

Broadcast details

Monday 22nd October 2018
30 minutes


  1. Tuesday 8th December 2020 at 1:40am on Dave (70 minute version)

Cast & crew

Regular cast
Sandi Toksvig Host / Presenter
Alan Davies Regular Panellist
Guest cast
Richard Osman Guest
Romesh Ranganathan Guest
Rachel Parris Guest
Writing team
James Harkin Script Editor
Anne Miller Question Writer
Production team
Ian Lorimer Director
John Lloyd (as John Lloyd CBE) Series Producer
Piers Fletcher Producer

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