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.

Series R returning soon
Series Q, Episode 7 is repeated on Dave today at 9pm.

QI. Image shows from L to R: Alan Davies, Stephen K Amos, Sandi Toksvig, Sara Pascoe, Jason Manford. Copyright: TalkbackThames.

Series P, Episode 8 - Plants

Further details


- You can make a potato really petrifying by throwing it at a submarine crew. During World War II, in 1943 the American destroyer the USS O'Bannon came alongside a Japanese submarine in the Pacific. The ship was too close to lower its guns, so the crew threw potatoes at the submarine. In the dim light of dawn, the Japanese didn't realise they were potatoes and mistakenly thought they were grenades. Thus the Japanese either threw the potatoes away or ran for cover. During this time the Americans were able to position themselves to point their guns accurately and sink the submarine.

- Tangent: In the 1600s, when the potato first came to Europe, people were afraid to eat them. Reasons for this included that potatoes were not mentioned in the Bible; people believed they could spread diseases like scrophula, syphilis and leprosy (because they resembled the gnarled hands of lepers); others believed they were a dangerous aphrodisiac, causing you to go mad and murderous with lust.

- Tangent: Alan's family used to take a hold-all to the greengrocers, specifically for the potatoes, in order to get lots of them. He normally had them mashed because they were boiled for so long. Sandi was once with a friend when the friend's mother came round, and after sitting around for an hour the mother said: "Well, must go, I put the vegetables on just before I left."

- XL Tangent: King Frederick the Great of Prussia wanted people to eat potatoes, so he sent sacks of them to starving peasants. The potatoes were returned with a note saying: "These are not fit for the dogs." Eventually Frederick had to force the peasants to plant the potatoes by threatening to cut their noses and ears off. Frederick is so famous for his love of potatoes that to this day people leave potatoes on his grave. Frederick was also infatuated with his Italian greyhounds, and only visited his wife annually on her birthday.

- XL Tangent: Jason claims he read somewhere that McDonald's fries can cure baldness. There was an actual experiment in Japan on bald mice, but they since discovered that it only works on mice, not humans.

- XL Tangent: Between 1748-72, potatoes were banned in France, because they thought they caused leprosy. Then a man named Antoine-Augustin Parmentier, after whom Parmentier potatoes are named, helped to make them popular. He was imprisoned for several years in the Seven Years' War and was fed nothing but potatoes, so he knew they were not dangerous. To promote them he sent potato flower blossoms to Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, and then planted potatoes in a field which he had under armed guard, knowing that peasants would want to steal whatever was in the field because they would think it would be valuable.

- XL Tangent: In 1988, researchers found that potato tubers contain benzodiazepine, meaning potatoes contain diazepam, also known as Valium.

- XL Tangent: When Alan visited his aunt as a child, he has mash and roast potatoes together. He said that one of his dream meals was baked potato, mash and chips.

- The former Top Gear presenter who failed a drugs test last year was Angela Ripon, and she got away with it because it was for a consumer programme. She was the very first Top Gear presenter back in 1977 (followed by Noel Edmonds). Now presenting the consumer show Rip-Off Britain, someone had written to her saying they had been fired from their job for failing a drugs test, because they had eaten poppy-seed toast for breakfast. To experiment, she ate her way through a poppy-seed loaf, and she herself tested positive for drugs. If you ate two or three poppy-seed bagels, morphine would show up in your urine, and it can remain in the urine for two days. It is hard to predict as it can vary be a factor of 600, so some seeds may contain 600 times more morphine as other seeds. (Forfeit: The Stig; Jeremy Clarkson; James May; Richard Hammond; Chris Evans; Matt LeBlanc)

- Tangent: Alan wishes Angela Ripon had an "E" at the end of her name so she would be "Angela Rip-One".

- XL Tangent: American prisoners have to sign a form promising that they will not eat poppy seeds before they are allowed out on probation. Poppy seeds are the only food the Ministry of Justice has entirely and specifically banned from UK prisons.

- XL Tangent: In 2014, the Queen's racehorse, Estimate, tested positive for morphine. The company that provided the feed said it had contaminated by poppy seeds, but the Queen was still punished. Estimate finished second in a race and won £81,000, but she had to return the money.

- XL Tangent: There are parrots in parts of India that are addicted to opium. In some parts of India, opium is legally farmed for medicine. To avoid being captured, the parrots have learned not to squawk. Farmers have tried to get rid of them by beating drums and exploding fireworks, but they have not worked. The opium makes the parrots feel woozy, and fall into such a deep sleep they fall off their perches and die. The parrots that don't die get withdrawal symptoms when the poppy-growing season is over.

- The reason why there are a pair of pants buried in the garden is so you known when it is the best time to plant your crops. If you want to find out how fertile your soil is, one idea advised to farmers is to bury a pair of cotton underpants, dig them up a couple of months later, and see what is left. If there is nothing left except the elastic, then the soil is fertile because the pants have biodegraded. This advice is recommended by the California Farmers Guild and Quality Meat Scotland. In 2017, both groups launched "Soil My Undies" campaigns to encourage this. In healthy soil, life forms like worms and microbes also thrive. A tablespoon of soil contains 50 times more organisms than there are humans on Earth (380 billion organisms in comparison to 7.5 billion humans).

- Tangent: A test to see if it is warm enough to put your plants outside is to sit down with your bare bottom in a ploughed field. If it is comfortable enough to sit on the field, then it is warm enough to plant your crops.

- XL: The panel are each given a wine-glass full of soil as part of a soil-tasting event (with Alan's glass having fake worms in), and are asked how they would taste the soil. The thing you don't do is actually put the soil in your mouth - which is something that Alan does. Fortunately, Sandi guessed this might happen, so his glass actually contains chocolate cake. You actually smell the soil and check the colour. You could use your tongue to test the soil's texture. (Forfeit: No, Alan! Don't eat the soil!)

- XL Tangent: There are people who do eat soil. In Sub-Saharan Africa, 30-80% of pregnant women eat clay. There are also people with "pica", a condition that makes people eat strange things. One woman, Adele Edwards of Florida, is addicted to eating sofas. However, she only really likes the foam cushions. She has eaten seven sofas over a period of 21 years. If she goes out driving, she takes bits of sofa with her to eat.

- You would season your socks to warm up your feet. In the 1600s, chilli peppers were first brought to Japan by the Portuguese, and people put the peppers in their socks to keep their feet warm in winter. The peppers contain capsaicin, which is the active component, which gives the illusion of heat by creating a burning sensation. The peppers don't actually give you heat, instead they numb you.

- Tangent: The colour of bell peppers relates to ripeness and sweetness. Green peppers are unripe, yellow are sweeter and the red are sweetest of all. The green peppers are full of chlorophyll, which decomposes over time, which makes it go through the colour changes.

- XL Tangent: The word "pepper" is slightly misleading. It dates back to Colombus, who brought spicy peppers back to the New World in the 1490s. The pepper be brought is unrelated to the pepper you find in a pepper pot, but the word "pepper" was a catch-all term for foods that were hot and pungent.

- XL Tangent: Pepper roulette is a game where people are given lots of peppers, one of which is really hot and the loser is the one who gets the hot one. One pepper, the shishito, is a Japanese pepper where one-in-ten is unbelievably hot and is thus used in this game. Alan was once in an airport lounge in India and there was a jar of long green peppers there. He picked one up, and as he did he noticed a couple of women working in the airport came to watch him. Alan bit the smallest nip off the end of the pepper, and he describes the sensation as if, "I was like the dragons in 'Ivor the Engine.'" The women "pissed themselves laughing" as they had just put the peppers there to see if anyone would fall for them. Jason's brothers meanwhile went through a phase of ordering peppers online and tricking each other into eating them. It eventually got to the point where neither of them trusted the other when it came to anything. One of Jason's brothers got his five-year-old son to say to the other brother that they had made some brownies. The second brother still refused to believe him, but their mother did eat one. She was blinded for 45 minutes.

- XL Tangent: Alan says the only thing to take away the sensation of pepper is hold a teaspoon of sugar in your mouth for a minute. Some people also try milk, leading Jason to suggest that you can test how vegan someone was by getting them to eat peppers and then offering them a pint of milk.

- Tangent: Birds can't taste chilli, but squirrels can, so in 2008 the RSPB recommended sprinkling bird food with chilli to keep squirrels away. However, it turned out this only worked on some squirrels. Other squirrels really liked the taste and came back to eat even more.

- You might put chilli in a condom to keep elephants away. Elephants have the most acute sense of smell of any mammal, and they hate the smell of chilli, so farmers in Tanzania use it to keep elephants away from their cattle. After other plans failed, like putting bells around the elephants necks which elephants then packed with their own dung to stop them from ringing, the farmers put chilli in condoms, attached them to fireworks, and threw them at elephants. The condom explodes, causing a spicy powder cloud, which makes the elephant go away, while also not harming the elephant.

- XL Tangent: Alan recalls a school prank where people put Deep Heat in boys' jockstraps. He remembered in a scrum on the rugby pitch, where one boy in the middle of the scrum was a victim of the prank, and other boys around him wouldn't let him out.

- Pythagoras hated fava beans, which resulted in his death. Multiple sources, including the ancient Greek biographer Diogenes Laertius, reported that Pythagoras died when a mob of his enemies torched the building that he was in and they chased him out of the building. Pythagoras got a very good lead on his attackers, but he came to a field of fava beans, and he preferred to die rather than to cross over the field. Thus he stopped, and the enemies slit Pythagoras's throat. The reason why he was killed was because his enemies wanted democracy and Pythagoras believed in being rule just by scholars and the elite. Although no-one knows for sure why he hated them, Diogenes claimed the reason was that they caused flatulence, and that represented a disturbance of the soul, so Pythagoras believed that you lost a bit of your soul every time you farted. Aristotle however claimed that Pythagoras hated the beans because they were shaped like testicles or that they resemble the gates of hell, for they alone have no hinges. (Forfeit: Squares; Rectangles)

- Tangent: Stephen says he finds mathematicians to be geniuses, because he was so bad at maths at school. When he failed his maths O-level terribly, his mum said: "Oh, Lord, Jesus! How can we look our friends in the eyes when we tell them our son Stephen is not just a simpleton, but he has a certificate to prove it?"

- Tangent: Among the things the follows of Pythagoras believed were that Pythagoras had a thigh made of gold, which was evidence that he was a son of Apollo; he was able to literally be in two places at once; he physically glowed like the sun itself; and a river once called out, "Greetings, Pythagoras," as he passed by.

- Tangent: Jason claims that Pythagoras was one of just three things I remember from school, the others being the formation of an Oxbow lake, and photosynthesis. He says it's like it's all gone in as osmosis, which is actually the fourth thing he remembers from school. Stephen admits that he doesn't know how Oxbow lakes are formed, so everyone else goes into great detail, explaining the process. Stephen suggests that white kids had different classes, to which Sara jokingly says that after the Oxbow lake lesson they were told: "Don't tell the black children!"

- A passenger could hold up a train with a cheese and tomato sandwich by flushing the toilet while stopped in a station. Tomato seeds have a casing that allows them to survive digestion, so when they are defecated and flushed out onto the track, the seeds can then germinate, causing tomato plants to grow on the track. In Norwich station this is a problem, because the glass roof makes the station act like a greenhouse. Because one in ten British trains still dump their waste directly onto the track, the seeds land on track in the station and grow quickly, due to the combination of the greenhouse roof and human faeces acting as fertiliser. However, there are claims that by 2019, all trains will stop the direct dumping.

- Tangent: Due to the strong suction of train toilets, once every few years someone gets their arm stuck down a train toilet, normally trying to retrieve a mobile phone they dropped into the bowl. In France, in 2011, it took fire crews two hours to rescue a man who had got his arm caught in the toilet. He had to be stretchered off with the toilet bowl still attached.

General Ignorance

- An example of a root vegetable beginning with "P" is the parsnip. Potatoes are not roots, but the stem. Sweet poatoes are however roots, but not related to normal potatoes, being in the same family as morning glory. (Forfeit: Parrot)

- Tangent: In Aylesbury, in 2014, Don Dover called news crews to his garden because his parsnip plant had grown had grown enormous leaves above the ground, measuring 7ft high. He thus dug up the parsnip with the cameras watching, only for the parsnip to end measuring 4 inches long. The longest parsnip was grown by Peter Glazebrook and it was 18½ft long.

- The panel are told to buzz in as soon as they know the answer to these questions. They are given a list of words and a nationality, and have to rearrange the words to make a dish from that place:

- France: "À canard l'orange" - Canard à l'orange.

- England: "In the hold toad" - Toad in the hole.

- Mexico: "Con carne chilli" - Carne con chilli. Chilli con carne is Texan, and is the official state dish. In 1959, a Mexican dictionary defined chilli con carne as: "Detestable food passing itself off as Mexican, sold in the US from Texas to New York." (Forfeit: Chilli con carne)

- You use your palate to keep your mouth and nasal passages separate. While foetuses and newborn babies have tastes buds in their palate, these disappear after a few months, so most people cannot taste with their palate. Humans do however have taste receptors in their testicles, stomachs, intestines, pancreases, lungs and anuses. (Forfeit: Tasting)


- Stephen K Amos: -1 point
- Jason Manford: -2 points
- Sara Pascoe: -3 points
- Alan Davies: -97 points

Broadcast details

Monday 29th October 2018
30 minutes

Cast & crew

Regular cast
Sandi Toksvig Host / Presenter
Alan Davies Regular Panellist
Guest cast
Jason Manford Guest
Sara Pascoe Guest
Stephen K Amos Guest
Writing team
James Harkin Script Editor
Anna Ptaszynski Question Writer
Production team
Ian Lorimer Director
John Lloyd (as John Lloyd CBE) Series Producer
Piers Fletcher Producer

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