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


BBC Two and BBC One panel show about quite interesting facts. 269 episodes (pilot + 18 series), 2003 - 2021. Stars Sandi Toksvig, Stephen Fry and Alan Davies.

Series S commissioned.
Series I, Episode 7 is repeated on Dave today at 8:40pm.
Recording at Zoom (Virtual). Tickets

QI. Image shows from L to R: Alan Davies, Holly Walsh, Sandi Toksvig, Josh Widdicombe, Cariad Lloyd. Copyright: TalkbackThames.

Series Q, Episode 2 - Quintessential

Enjoy some quintessential QI with Cariad Lloyd, Holly Walsh and Josh Widdicombe.

Further details


- This is a "General" show in Series Q, covering a wide range of different topics beginning with "Q".

- The buzzers all contain parts of the QI theme tune, except Alan's which contain a range of quintessential noises from the show, including the klaxon. (Forfeit: Wrong)


- The panel are shown a portrait from the 18th century Qing dynasty of 60-year-old Prince Xun, uncle of the then-emperor, and his 14-year-old wife Lady Jiun Tse, and are asked why Jiun Tse is so made up. The reason is that it was traditional for the wives and concubines of the Emperor and his family to be hidden from public view, which meant that painters were unable to show what the women actually looked like, so the pictures were often based on sketchbooks, and we have no idea what Jiun Tse really looked like.

- Tangent: Holly's mother paid her to go for a makeover at Army & Navy in Guildford when Holly was about 17, and Holly claims she looked like a woman in her late 80s.

- Tangent: The idea behind Qing dynasty concubines was to make sure that the emperor had multiple offspring. In the 1670s, a government branch was set up called The Office of Respectful Service. Someone who check how many times particular women had been to have sex with the emperor, and the more often a woman visited the higher up in the concubine standings they would go.

- Tangent: One chief consort, Empress Cixi, started as a concubine aged 16 in the lowliest position and got herself to the highest position over 40 years later, but she did kill people to get to the top. The night before she died, she is thought to have poisoned her own nephew so he could not take power. Holly wishes the Queen to do something similar, to which Josh adds it would be a brilliant ending to The Crown.

- XL Tangent: Empress Cixi ruled during a period of great technological progress in China, as it was around the time trains and cars entered the country. However, she could not travel by car because all protocol dictated that whenever she was travelling everyone had to be at a lower level than her. She could not have a chauffeur for example. The British then gave her a steam train in 1865, which only had 500 metres of track, but it was considered too shocked and it disturbed the feng shui of the areas. The first successful train the Chinese had came later from Germany, about 20 years later. It had 3km of track and Cixi took it every day to go to lunch, but she didn't like the sound of the engine, so the carriages were pulled by eunuchs tied to long yellow silks.

- Bacteria talk about other bacteria who are not in the room. "Quorum sensing" occurs when bacteria emit and detect each other's chemical signals. In other words, it is a head count to see how many bacteria there are, and their activity is based on how many bacteria there are around them. Bacteria that cause cholera, pneumonia and staph infections use quorum sensing, by waiting harmlessly inside the body, and only once they know there is enough of them they then all attack. It is akin to social media where one person posts a message out, then it gets repeated a lot and goes viral. It was first observed in the 1970s in the bacteria Vibrio fischeri, which lives in the bodies of the Hawaiian bobtail squid. The squid gives the bacteria accommodation, sugar and amino acid for food, and the bacteria in return work together to make the squid glow blue as a defence mechanism by tricking predators below that they are really looking at the moon. This is known as "counter-illumination", and the squid can also dim the lights by using it's ink.

- XL Tangent: Hawaiian bobtail squids can also disguise themselves by burying themselves completely in the sand.

- While a rollercoaster might make you feel queasy, it might also cure your kidney stones. Kidney stones are said to be even more painful than childbirth. In 2018, an Ig Nobel Prize was given to two urologists, who discovered that a quick way to quash kidney stones was going on a rollercoaster. Having heard from several patients that going on such a ride helped them, they made a silicon cast of a kidney, filled it with urine, added three artificial kidney stones and took it on Disney World's Big Thunder Mountain. They learned that riding at the back was most effective, with a passage rate of 64%, compared to 17% at the front.

- Tangent: Josh once got stuck on a rollercoaster at Alton Towers. He was stuck in the "Black Hole", a rollercoaster in the dark where you straddle someone else when you ride. The ride just ran out of momentum, was stuck for five minutes, and Josh was terrified by the sound of the other carts coming down. Eventually when he got off he was offered free tickets to go again, to which he declined.

- XL Tangent: In the 1920s, doctors prescribed scary plane flights to cure deafness. There was a theory that some forms of deafness had psychological origins, which could be overcome by being scared. Patients were told that it was the altitude that would cure them, and they did not expect the pilots to do stunts. Charles Lindbergh advertised deaf flights on his business card. There is no evidence that these flights worked at all.

- Philip the Missionary's position appears to move very quickly. According to the Bible, in Acts, Philip the Missionary, aka Philip the Evangelist, toured the Middle East performing miracles. He once baptised a eunuch, and when the eunuch lifted his head, Philip had disappeared. The eunuch never saw him again, but went away rejoicing, while Philip found himself further north at the town of Azotus. This is the only example of teleportation in the Bible.

- Tangent: Sandi asks if any of the panel have had a religious upbringing, to which Josh replies that he can sing: "Lord of the Dance", which he and Cariad do. Sandi also asks the panel if they think humans will ever teleport. Holly says we will, because 10 years ago we didn't have Uber, and now we have.

- XL Tangent: Humans have developed teleportation technology, although not on a scale big enough to transport people. In 2017, China teleported information from a photon into outer space using a process called "quantum entanglement". Sandi explains this process using a banana. The banana represents a single energised photon. You can fire photons from a laser, into a crystal, and effectively turn it into two not-quite-so-charged photons - Sandi demonstrates this by cutting the banana in two, but they are effectively still the same banana / photon. Sandi gives one half the banana / photon to Cariad, who represents a Chinese spacecraft 500km away from the Earth. Sandi writes "Alan" on her remaining banana / photon, and Cariad reveals there half also has the same writing on it. This is because whatever you did to the photon that is left on Earth, exactly the same thing will happen to the photon that has gone out into space, and we don't know why. Don't worry however about not knowing why. Even Albert Einstein didn't understand quantum physics, describing it as: "Spooky action at a distance." What is even stranger is that Sandi's banana / photon could be paired with another fruit / photon like an orange for example, and if Sandi did something to the orange, that too would appear on Cariad's banana / photon. Sandi says that we don't know how it all works, but Holly claims she knows and describes it in two words: fax machine.

- XL Tangent: Alan once did a documentary about quantum physics for "Horizon". Alan learned a lot, but when all the experts left the room he felt that he couldn't retain or use the knowledge he had learned. Experts showed Alan a laser beam splitting into two at the National Physics Laboratory, and the experts told him that this was impossible, but they still showed that it worked.

- XL Tangent: Teleportation took place in "Star Trek" for budgetary reasons. It was cheaper to teleport the crew to the planet than it was to film the Starship Enterprise landing and taking off again.

- XL: The place to go for a six-week quickie is Nevada. This was because Nevada was the best place in the USA to get a quick divorce at the turn of the 20th century. The state reduced the residency requirement for seeking divorce from six months to six week, and made divorce very easy. There were nine grounds why you could get a divorce which were applied very broadly. One man got a divorce on the grounds of extreme cruelty, in the form of his wife having too many cats. This carried on until the 1970s, and people claim Nevada survived the Great Depression using this system, because no other state allowed divorce on such lax grounds. Nevada had divorce hotels that people could stay for the full six-week period, and "dude ranches" targeted women wanting a divorce, offering cocktails and attractive male staff. It was marketed as "Reno-vation", named after the town of Reno. Women would often arrive with a male "cousin" who they married as soon as the divorce went through. Nevada also held an annual wedding derby to see who had officiated at the most marriages in a year. In 1947, Judge William McKnight won, having officiated at 5,888 weddings, which is around 16 a day.

- The panel are all given bowls of Quavers, and are asked how they can squeeze the maximum number of Quavers into the smallest possible space. The word "quaver" comes from Middle English to mean: "shaken". It then came to mean singing in a tremulous voice, and then the name of a musical note, namely an eighth of a note. After this you get semiquavers which are one 16th of a note, demisemiquavers which are one 32nd, hemidemisemiquavers which are one 64th, and quasihemidemisemiquavers which are one 128th. These last notes are very rare because they are so fast. In 4/4 time with a tempo of 100 beats per minute, a quasihemidemisemiquaver would last just 0.02 seconds, which is too short for the human ear to distinguish, but these notes appear in the works of Beethoven and Mozart. The shortest note in any published work is a 1024th note, which should be called a quasihemidemisemihemidemisemiquaver. This appears in Anthony Philip Heinrich's Toccata Grande Cromatica from around 1820. However, in the very first manuscript an extra bar was wrongly added to this note, making it a 2048th note, which would be a demisemihemidemisemihemidemisemiquaver.

- Tangent: Sandi likes Twiglets, and once met a man in Sainsbury's dressed as a Twiglet. She says she would have happily have done the job herself.

- Tangent: The panel take out toy keyboards (except Alan, who has a triangle), and try to play the same note as many times as they can in five seconds. Josh does the most with 37. The most piano key presses in one minute is 824 (68.5 every five seconds). This was done by Portuguese-American pianist Antonio Domingoes, pressing the same note with two fingers, whose work can be seen on YouTube at "extremepianochannel". The record for most claps in a minute is 1,080 (180 per 10 seconds), a record set by nine-year-old Seven Wade.

- The sort of business for which you would use a queer plunger for is for faking rescuing people. "Queer plungers" were con men who took advantage of the rules of the Society for the Recovery of Persons Apparently Drowned. This body was set up in 1774 by two London doctors who were worried that too many victims were being wrongly pronounced dead and sometimes people were buried alive. These doctors developed new resuscitation techniques and offered a reward of four guineas (over £500 in today's money) to anyone who successfully brought a drowned man back to life. As a result of this, swindlers paired up, so one would throw themselves into a river and pretend to drown and other would "save" them. These swindlers became known as queer plungers.

- Tangent: Josh once had a New Year's Eve party, and the next day the toilet was blocked. He tried using a plunger, which he had never used before, and when he used it all that came up was the stick at the end of the plunger. That meant he had to put his hand into the toilet to get everything out.

- Tangent: One of WC Fields' first ever jobs was to drown several times a day. In Atlantic City, he would pretend to swim out and drown, someone would rescue him, a crowd would gather, and the crowd would buy beer and hot dogs to celebrate - it was these sellers who paid Fields to pretend to drown.

- Tangent: The Netherlands was the first country to have a society for resuscitation, in 1767, because so many people fell into the canals. Their rules included taking the victim inside, taking off their wet clothes, rubbing the victim with woollen materials to warm them up, and blowing tobacco smoke up the victim's rectum - a fact previously mentioned in Series H of QI. You also had to bleed the arms and neck, pour liquor down the victim's throat, and then place them in a preheated bed with a naked person next to them.

- Tangent: Josh's sister once fell in a canal in Birmingham, to which his father's reaction was to shout: "Get the camera!" When she found her feet in the shallow water, Josh's brother threw a ring to help her, but it hit her on the head and knocked her out.

General Ignorance

- The tallest building in Europe is the Lakhta Centre in St. Petersburg, at 463 metres. The four tallest buildings in Europe are all in Russia. The Shard is fifth, but it is the tallest building in the EU at the time of recording. (Forfeit: The Shard)

- Tangent: The tallest building in the world is the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. It is nearly a kilometre high, and at the top of it the sun takes an extra three minutes to set than it does at ground level. During Ramadam, clerics have pointed out that people in the higher floors have to fast longer. One cleric believes that people living above the 80th floor should fast for an extra two minutes, and those on the 150th floor and above for an extra three minutes. Josh did a gig in Dubai with Jack Dee, and both of them went to the top of the Burj Khalifa, to which Josh remarks: "You've never seen someone less excited."

- XL: There is nothing in particular you should not to a sleepwalker, aside from the obviously like killing them. Waking up a sleepwalker is safer than letting them walk around unconscious, because they injure themselves walking into things. However, recent studies show that you don't feel any pain when you sleepwalk. Of the 47 sleepwalkers in this study who had an injury while asleep, only ten woke up. (Forfeit: Wake them up)

- XL Tangent: Sleepwalkers tend to act out their dreams, which tends to happen in the deepest stage of sleep. One discover, REM behaviour disorder (RBD), where people often crawl or run in their sleep.

- XL: 300 or 400 years ago, women tended to get married at around the age of 25-26. For men it was 30. This average was older than the average marrying age in the 1970s. The idea that people often marriage at a very young age in the past tends to come from the royal houses that did it. The picture illustrating the question shows a painting of Richard II and Anne of Bohemia, who were 15 and 16 respectively when they married, but even in medieval times most women tended not to marry until their 20s. Today, the average age to marry is 31 for women and 33 for men. (Forfeit: Fourteen)

- XL Tangent: In "Pride and Prejudice", the vicar Mr. Collins is normally played on screen by middle-aged men, around 45. However, in the book he is actually about 28.

- XL Tangent: According to Prof. Tom Griffiths of Princeton University, the best age to marry is at is 26. He proposed that this is the best age because you are 37% through completing a task within a set timeframe, and at this point you have reached the perfect point in which to decide. If you choose too early you will miss out on better options later on, and if you choose too late better options will already be off the table. Similarly, you can sue the same maths to pick the best toilet to use at a music festival. If there is a row of 100, check the first 37, decide which is the cleanest of those, and then as soon as you find a cleaner one, use that one. Josh however has his own system - look at people coming out of the toilet, and if they can look you in the eye, then the toilet is clean.

- The activity that causes carpal tunnel syndrome is long-term working with vibrating hand tools. The syndrome is when the tendons in the canal that connects the arm and the hand swell up and they press on the nerves inside the channel. The syndrome is idiopathic - an unknown cause - but the chances of getting it rise when you are obese, pregnant, smoke, have arthritis or diabetes. (Forfeit: Not that [when Alan says "masturbation", and when Sandi implies when talking about vibrating hand tools]; Typing)

- Tangent: In 2018, Kim Kardashian revealed that her doctor warned her to stop taking selfies because she had injured her wrist by taking so many, so when she filmed an advert she hired one of her production assistants to take selfies for her. In tribute to this, one of the Elves, Anna Ptaszynski, takes a selfie of the panel, but is not allowed to appear in the image herself. As they take the photo the scores appear on Sandi's monitor, where the entire panel can see the results before the audience learn of the outcome.


- Holly Walsh: 2 points
- Cariad Lloyd: 1 point
- Josh Widdicombe: -5 points
- Alan Davies: -27 points

Broadcast details

Friday 13th September 2019
30 minutes

Cast & crew

Regular cast
Sandi Toksvig Host / Presenter
Alan Davies Regular Panellist
Guest cast
Josh Widdicombe Guest
Cariad Lloyd Guest
Holly Walsh Guest
Anna Ptaszynski Self
Writing team
James Harkin Script Editor
Sandi Toksvig Script Editor
Anna Ptaszynski Question Writer
Production team
Diccon Ramsay Director
John Lloyd (as John Lloyd CBE) Series Producer
Piers Fletcher Producer

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