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 P, Episode 5 is repeated on Dave today at 9pm.

QI. Image shows from L to R: Alan Davies, David Mitchell, Sandi Toksvig, Nish Kumar, Aisling Bea.

Series Q, Episode 16 - Quads And Quins

Further details


- An example of a quadruped that can't swim is a giraffe. They have never been observed swimming, and two academics, Darren Naish and Don Henderson, used computer modelling to test if giraffes can swim. They concluded that giraffes could float, but not swim, and if they did swim they would be bad at it. Giraffes have heavy, bony heads, so if all four legs of the giraffe left the bottom of a river, the hips would float higher than the shoulders and thus they would float downwards, meaning the head would be underwater. The giraffe would have to then crick its neck in order to breather. The model thus revealed that giraffes would be very poor swimmers, and thus it would be assumed they would avoid swimming if at all possible. (Forfeit: Elephant; Blue whale)

- Tangent: Elephants have evolved to be able to swim, with their trunks acting as a kind of snorkel.

- Tangent: Apes are also known to be poor swimmers, which was discovered by scientists dropping them in water. William Hornaday, the founder of the Bronx Zoo, had a pet orang-utan called Old Man which he dropped into the water. Hornaday wrote: "I watched him sink and go stiff." American animal behaviourist Robert Yerkes also submerged young chimpanzees and said: "Without exception, they struggled excitedly and quickly sank." Today, ape enclosures in zoos have moats to stop the apes from escaping.

- Tangent: The Kharai, an Indian breed of camel, can also swim. It is nicknamed, "the swimming camel of Gujarat."

- Tangent: Hippos bounce rather than swim. They bounce off the riverbed and can stay underwater for about five minutes. They also kill lots of people. Aisling says this because hippos are "Hungry, Hungry".

- XL Tangent: Alan went to a zoo in India which had two white tigers on display. The enclosure had a moat around the tigers and a fence around the moat, so it looked safe. However, the tigers swam across the moat and got right up to the fence. All domestic cats can swim, but most don't want to. Alan used to lie in the bath for a long time, and his bath was against the wall so on his right was a very slim ledge, and while one of the cats could walk across it, the other couldn't. One day the second cat tried to walk the ledge, fell straight into the bath, and clawed up Alan's legs to get out. When Alan went to see if the cat was alright, the cat's fur has gone down so he looked like a tiny skeleton with wet fur and massive eyes, so Alan put the cat in a towel and put him on top of a radiator.

- Tangent: Babies do not have an innate ability to swim. This myth was popularised by the front cover of Nirvana's album Nevermind which features a naked baby body swimming towards a banknote. Babies do naturally hold their breath, but they can't swim.

- Elephants appear to be good at drawing, but only in some circumstances. In Thailand, there is an art gallery which has a permanent display of paintings by elephants. However, there is another sense in which they draw, which is pulling people along in chariots. Part of a Roman general's triumph was to ride a quadriga, a chariot pulled by four creatures, normally horses, and the triumph involved being drawn through a triumphal gate or arch. In 79 BC, Pompey the Great decided that after his first triumph to be greater than any other, and to have his quadriga pulled by four elephants, has his victory was in Africa. However, the gate was not wide enough for the elephants to get through, so Pompey had to go through the embarrassment of swapping his elephants for horses.

- Tangent: The quadriga today is mostly remembered for appearing in the film Ben Hur. In Roman times quadriga racing was incredibly popular. The closest thing to a chariot race today is the Palio horse race, which takes place twice a year in Siena. The race is around the city's central square. In the race it is encouraged for the riders to hinder each other and to bribe opponents. The whips used by the jockeys are made from dried distended bulls' penises, and are used on both the horses and jockeys. The winner is the first horse over the line, regardless of whether the jockey is still on it. The jockeys also do not sit on saddles when riding.

- XL Tangent: 'Ben Hur' has some of the most outstanding anachronisms in movie history. It includes modern books despite the fact that binding was about 1,000 years in the future. There is a short of the Sistine Chapel ceiling about 1,500 years before it was painted. Nish also states the error that was committed by many films of the time, which was that Jesus is depicted as white.

- XL Tangent: Nike, the winged goddess of victory is normally depicted riding a quadriga. The quadriga was important for women, because while women were not allowed to attend the ancient Olympics, they could take part in the capacity of horse owners and trainers. The first ever female Olympic winner was the Spartan princess Cynisca, who won the quadriga races in 396 and 392 BC. Women could not participate or even watch, but as a trainer she was the winner, although she probably never saw the race. Aisling's mother is a retired jockey. Sandi asks if Aisling's mother is tiny, and Aisling says she is taller than Sandi. Her mother said that if she won people would say it was because the horse was very fast and if she lost people would say that they shouldn't put women on horses in the first place.

- XL Tangent: Statues of quadriga appear on modern day monuments, such as the Wellington Arch, the Arc de Triomphe and the Brandenburg Gate. The only statue of a quadriga from antiquity is inside St. Mark's Basilica in Venice. When Venice attacked Constantinople in a supposed crusade to go an attack the Holy Land, Venice attacked Constantinople instead and took lots of stuff from that city back to Venice, including some things from the city's Circus Maximus. These stadiums had 150,000 seat capacity, in comparison to Wembley Stadium which has 90,000 seats.

- In Britain the only people who race around a square are students on foot, like in Chariots of Fire, which the students run around a court. In Cambridge University, all the quadrangles are called courts, apart from the Court of Downing College, which is a quad. The race depicted in Chariots of Fire takes place annually at Trinity College, however it was actually filmed at Eton. Even more confusingly, a quadrangle at Eton is called a yard. The Trinity College race is against the clock. It is a 370-metre course and they have to get round in the time it takes the clock to strike twelve. However, depending on when the clock was last wound the length of time could be either 43 or 44 seconds. (Forfeit: Quad)

- Tangent: There is also a tradition of MPs and House of Commons staff attempting to run across Westminster Bridge at noon during the time it took Big Ben to strike twelve. This involved running 353 metres in less than 46 seconds. The first person to do it was a Commons tea room worker named Florence Ilott, who on 14th April 1934 did so at the age of 20. She had to run at 17mph, whereas modern championship sprints are about 28mph, but she made it within the tenth chime. Ilott's son Greg Pack and grandson Scott Pack are in the audience to talk about the race. Ilott was not far off the world record at the time, and was an amateur runner in her spare time. Ilott met her future husband while running. On a different topic, Scott has also worked with Sandi before, as a question setter on Fifteen to One.

- XL: When the quadripunctate gribble went to the seaside, it ate Yarmouth Pier. A quadripunctate is a wood-boring creature which has four holes, or punctures, in its thorax. It is a creature well-known to coleopterists (beetle experts). There is also a creature called a tripunctate, and they are easily confused with the quadripunctate because the former sometimes has a rogue fourth hole, but that latter never has only three holes. In 2007, quadripunctates cost the Isle of Wight over £400,000 because they ate the pier. The creatures were brought to Britain via ships from other countries.

- XL: The panel are show a list of obscure quad and quin words and are asked to define them.

- Quinzhee: A form of temporary accommodation made by hollowing out snow, akin to an igloo. Igloos are the only domed structures in the world which is built without a structure to support it during its construction. The word is an indigenous one from North Western Canada.

- Quincunx: The layout of the five on dice. It is also often a pattern for planting trees in orchards.

- Quidnunc: An 18th century word for an unnecessarily inquisitive person or a gossip. It is Latin for, "what now".

- Quinotaur: A five-horned aquatic monster, supposedly the father of Merovech, the founder of the Frankish Merovingian dynasty. However, the creature is only mentioned once in all of history. A man named Fregar wrote a history of the Franks in the 7th century AD, but otherwise this particular character is lost to history.

- With a choice of being quartered with your grandparents or impaled with your other half, the better choice depends on what you want on your coat of arms. "Quartering" is when arms inherited from different ancestral lines are combined into a single coat of arms. While the world implies it is divided into four, there is actually no theoretical limit to the number of quarters that you can display. If you have "armigerous forebears", you could have all of the elements of your family put into one shield. In the 18th century, the Marquess of Buckingham had achieved 719 quarters on a single shield. The arms contained in each quarter are called "quarterings". "Impalement" on the other hand is when a married couple's coat of arms are displayed side-by-side on a single shield. By convention the husband's side is the dexter side, which is the right-hand side from the point of view of the knight holding the shield. You can have shield where the left-hand side is split into two, if you are someone who has married twice, with the first wife going on top. The College of Arms have updated these designs into include same-sex marriages.

- Tangent: Sandi talks to Patric Dickinson, the Clarenceux King of Arms. The reason for these coats of arms was to allow knights to see who someone was, because they could not be seen while wearing a suit of armour. There are currently four Kings of Arms, three in England and one in Scotland, and they are not supported by public funds at all. They get salaries from the Crown, which were last increased in 1620. Dickinson is paid £20.25 by the Queen, and that is the level it has been since it was reduced in the 1830s by William IV. Dickinson designs coats of arms and traces family trees as part of his work. The strangest thing he has put on a coat of arms was a urinal, in the sense of a doctor's flask. Dickinson also put a football in Elton John's coat of arms.

- The best way to avoid paying income tax in Hungary, other than not working in Hungary, is to have quadruplets. In February 2019, Prime Minister Viktor Orban announced that woman who has four or more children will be permanently exempted from income tax. The main reason for this policy is to produce more Hungarians, as Hungary currently has a very harsh anti-immigration policy.

- XL Tangent: In humans, the odds against having twins in a natural birth are 89-1, for triplets 7,921-1 (89 squared), and for quadruplets 704,969-1 (89 cubed). This is a rule-of-thumb called Hellin's law. However, the likelihood of multiple births increases through things like IVF.

- XL Tangent: The panel are shown an old advert featuring a woman who has just given birth o quads and a man lying back smoking a cigar.

- Tangent: The Toronto Stork Derby was a multi-birth contest in Ontario in 1936, described by the province's premier Mitchell Hepburn as: "The most revolting and disgusting exhibition ever put on in a civilised country". Chares Millar, an eccentric lawyer and financier who had no-one to leave his money to, stated in his will that whoever could have the most babies in ten years could have his money. His $100,000 estate turned into a $750,000 fortune by the end of the race so the cash was worth winning. By the end of the race, five women had 56 babies between them. The pot ended up being split four ways, with two consolation prizes for women who had been disqualified for having illegitimate children. Millar also had pranks in his will, leaving brewery shares to a prohibitionist campaigning group on condition that they actually ran the business; racecourse shares to anti-gambling clerics; and a holiday home in Jamaica to three men who hated each other, on condition they all lived in it together indefinitely.

General Ignorance

- Your normal body temperature varies. The body temperature for women is higher than of men. In 1868, German doctor Carl Reinhold August Wunderlich used a foot-long thermometer which he put under people's armpits and took 20 minutes to actually assess the temperature. His thermometer has recently been re-tested and it turns out it had been calibrated wrong, running about three degress higher in Fahrenheit than a modern thermometer. Also, temperatures under the arm are lower and less reliable than oral measurements. The average actually comes out as 97.7 degrees Fahrenheit. (Forfeit: 98.6)

- Tangent: Temperatures in offices are set to male averages rather than female averages. Aisling then tells Sandi, while impersonating Sandi, that Christine Lagarde, President of the European Central bank and former chair of the International Monetary Fund, would go into business meetings wearing lots of layers and turning down the heating so to make everyone else in the meeting do deal quicker because they were too cold, or wear small dress and turn the heating up so as to make dealer quicker by making everyone else too hot.

- Tangent: Alan actually says that normal body temperature is 97.6, but still the klaxon with a message of 98.6. (Forfeit: Sorry)

- XL Tangent: The panel all of different devices for measuring temperature and try to figure out which is the most reliable. Nish has a thermometer that you place over a child's forehead, but this is not ideal as it measures the temperature of your skin rather than your body. Aisling has a thermometer designed to go under the tongue, which has lots of blood vessels, and for temperature is almost as accurate as your rectal area. David has an ear thermometer. Alan has a garden thermometer. Rectal thermometers are no longer used because they are made of glass and there is the danger of them breaking and leaking mercury.

- Sandi asks what seems to be the easiest question ever: the panel are shown a map which has an arrow pointing at London and are asked what city they are looking at. The city in question is the City of Westminster. London has two cities in it, the other being the City of London which is the financial district. Greater London is a ceremonial county rather than a city. The conurbation known as "London" contains two cities, but is not itself officially a city.

- The difference between a city and a town is just the title. The title of "city" is an honorific granted by the Sovereign by Letters Patent, and it has nothing to do with having a cathedral. There are 18 cities without a cathedral and 16 towns with cathedrals but are not cities. (Forfeit: A city has a cathedral)

- The panel are shown a picture of a quadrilateral with four equal sides and four right angles. There are asked with of these descriptions fits it best:

a) A square, a rectangle, and an oblong.

b) A square and a rectangle but not an oblong.

c) An oblong and a square but not a rectangle.

d) A triangle.

- The correct answer is b). A rectangle is defined as a quadrilateral with four right angles, and a square complies with that definition, thus a square is a rectangle. However, an oblong is defined as a rectangle which is specifically not square.


- David Mitchell: -4 points
- Alan Davies: -5 points
- Aisling Bea: -7 points
- The Audience: -8 points
- Nish Kumar: -18 points

Broadcast details

Friday 14th February 2020
30 minutes

Cast & crew

Regular cast
Sandi Toksvig Host / Presenter
Alan Davies Regular Panellist
Guest cast
David Mitchell Guest
Aisling Bea Guest
Nish Kumar Guest
Patric Dickinson Self
Greg Pack Self
Scott Pack Self
Writing team
James Harkin Script Editor
Anna Ptaszynski Script Editor
Sandi Toksvig Script Editor
Production team
Diccon Ramsay Director
John Lloyd (as John Lloyd CBE) Series Producer
Piers Fletcher Producer

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