Series Q, Episode 5 - Questions & Qualifications
- A school bell rings and the panel all open up some exam papers made for them. They include one page saying: "This page has been left intentionally blank." The next page says: "This one was an accident." Equipment required for Alan's paper includes a Walther PPK with a silencer, for Sandi disposable gloves and a schematic of Dungeness B Power Station, for Nish a kilogram of self-rising flour and a map of Sheffield town centre, and for Holly, "bring your own booze".
- XL Tangent: Holly once did a big questionnaire set by her career advisors. The first question was: "In a perfect world, what would your job be?" The boy next to her wrote: "War correspondent."
- The hardest exam in the world is for becoming commander of a Royal Navy submarine. Known as the, "Commanding Officers Qualifying Course", but also nicknamed, "The Perisher", it is so tough that officers from other nations think it is the thing to take. The failure rate varies from year-to-year, but it's normally about 30-45%. If you fail the exam, you cannot serve on a submarine in any capacity. The exam consists of three months theoretical work, simulations and exercises at sea, the students are kept sleep-deprived and stressed, are made drunk and see how they operate with a hangover, and the students can still fail on the final day. If they do fail, the student is called into the captain's cabin, given a glass of whisky, is then escorted to land and is never allowed to serve on a submarine again.
- Tangent: Nish originally guesses that doctors have the hardest exam, but Holly claims it is really for vets given the number of different animals they have to know about. However, the Elves correct her, as a vet's training takes just four years. Holly spent over £1,000 on her cat over the past two years. Sandi asks what is wrong with it, apart from the fact it is a cat (Sandi likes dogs more), to which Holly tells her that the cat ate some elastic which tied up its digestive organs and died - because Holly wasn't going to pay a grand.
- Tangent: Other hard exams include a 150-question exam in the USA to become a certified cheese professional. You also need 4,000 hours working with cheese and there is a reading list of at least 32 books. Meanwhile, to get a Master Sommelier Diploma, the student has to identify wine by grape, region and year. Since 1940, only 200 people have passed the exam. Ade asks if it is true that it is all about having a good nose when it comes to wine, to which Nish comments that a friend of his said it was a really big waste of his large nose that Nish has never done cocaine.
- The question in the least successful poll of all time was: "Should Germany declare war on Britain?" back in 1939. Scientist Geoffrey Pyke tried to avert World War II using an opinion poll. He wanted some kind of plebiscite and tired to find out what the public wanted, with Hitler frequently using plebiscites to gauge opinions. In 1933, the Oxford Union held a debate in which the student audience declared they would not fight for king and country, and the press reported that Hitler had taken a close personal interest in this poll. In 1939, Pyke sent ten specially trained volunteers to Germany to question the populace on how they felt about going to war, and then he planned to present Hitler with his detailed findings in the hope it would put Hitler off from going to war. Pyke did not want his volunteers to openly say why they were doing this poll, so he disguised the volunteers as golfers, and each one interviewed ten Germans a day, asking whether Germany could win a war with the UK. Pyke then wanted to meet up with his volunteers, disguised as a canary expert, complete with a caged canary. Pyke also had code names, writing to his volunteers as "Aunt Marjorie". According to his study, most Germans did not want to go to war and were ambivalent about the Nazis. However, his study was late, as Pyke went into Germany in August 1939, with war breaking out a few weeks later. (Forfeit: Should the UK stay in the EU?)
- XL: Charles Darwin's son George sent questionnaires to lunatic asylums to find out if interbreeding could lead to madness. Charles married his own cousin, and there was a theory that cousin marriage might correlate with blindness, deafness and other medical conditions. George thus lobbed to have a question in the census asking people whether they had married their cousins, but the question was refused. George thus studied Burke's Landed Gentry and the Pall Mall Gazette newspaper, sent out questionnaires to asylums, and he concluded that there were no unusual rates of inbreeding at asylums, but George did learn that the nobility are twice as likely to marry their cousins as commoners in order to keep their money. It is estimated that if you marry your cousin and have a child, 4-7% of the children will have birth defects, compared to 3-4% of children whose parents are not closely related, so there is not much difference. The real problem comes with multiple generations of interbreeding.
- XL Tangent: When the original census was proposed in 1753, Parliament refused it because: "It would molest and perplex every single family in the kingdom." A man named John Rickman wrote an article suggesting that people should count the population, because some people said the population of the country was expanding too fast while others said it was declining. In around 1800 Rickman wrote; "I think the Government should count the people." Because of this, Rickman had to run the census for the next 40 years. In the 1911 census, one man lists his lodger as Peter Tabby, "who is Persian and employed as a mouser." When reading this, an official just crossed it out and wrote, "This is a cat." Lots of people claimed in the 1911 census they worked in billiard halls, but actually they were professional footballers who were worried about not being amateur and harming the game. The 1911 census also featured lots of people who claimed they worked as slaves, but these were actually suffragettes. The census also asked you where you had slept that night on answering the census, and one suffragette, Emily Wilding Davidson, hid in a cupboard in Parliament so she could answer the question with: "Houses of Parliament". This cupboard won has a plaque put up honouring Davidson, erected by Tony Benn.
- If some people are introverts and some are extroverts, you are most likely to be ambivert, somewhere in the middle between both extremes. The idea of the "verts" was invented by Carl Jung, who said that it relates to motivation. If your motivation comes from within yourself you are an introvert, and if it comes from your surroundings and relationships you are an extrovert, but according to Jung these people are the minority, with most people displaying both signs and are thus ambiverts. (Forfeit: Pervert)
- XL Tangent: Ade says he sees himself as a very chilled-out person, but when he is playing wheelchair basketball people think he is an extrovert because he is so rude towards the opposition, calling them rude names and getting players in headlocks.
- Tangent: The concept of ambiverts is bad for the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, a personality test invented by Katharine Briggs, and worked on with her daughter Isabel Myers. They had no expertise in this area, and developed the test because Briggs met her future son-in-law, thought that he won't fit into the family and wanted to find out why. The test divides people into categories of extroverts vs. introverts, sensing vs. intuitive, thinking vs. feeling and judging vs. perceiving. The test is nonsense, but despite this it is used by HR departments around the world. Two million people take the test every year in 26 different countries, and in the USA alone 200 federal agencies use it. Nish's father was forced to take this test at work, with Nish believing that he failed it and his father saying: "The guy said I was basically a sociopath", to which everyone in the house took what his father claimed was a bit, "too long to respond". Problems with this test include is that it is too binary and self-reporting - i.e., if you think you are an extrovert, then the test result will be that you are an extrovert. Also, half the people who take the test a second time get a completely different result.
- Tangent: Another personality test is the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, which was first written in 1943 and has been updated a few times, but it is just a list of true or false questions. Sandi gets the audience to answer some questions from the test, which include: "At times, I have a strong urge to do something harmful or shocking", "I have never indulged in any unusual sex practices", "I would like to hunt lions in Africa", "I am fascinated by fire", and, "I am a special agent of God". The test is to see if someone is suitable for a job as a clerk.
- XL Tangent: When you enter the USA, you have to sign a form which says: "I am not intending to commit moral turpitude", this word meaning, "naughtiness".
- The panel do some role-play. Nish plays a man being interrogated by the police, with Ade being good cop, Holly bad cop, and Alan a normal cop. The panel try to make Nish confess to a secret. While "Good Cop, Bad Cop" is a very good way of getting a confession out of someone, it is not a good way of actually discovering the truth.
- XL Tangent: In the USA, they did a test on jaywalkers. If someone was seen jaywalking they blew a loud whistle so they thought the police were right behind them. When the jaywalker turned around, they saw it was a civilian and they then continued on their way. The jaywalker was then interrupted by a charity mugger who asked for money without giving a single reason. The jaywalkers who had felt frightened and then relieved were much more likely to simply hand over money for no reason whatsoever.
- XL: The world's most dangerous snack was corsned. This was consecrated piece of bread and cheese that was used in a trial during Anglo-Saxon times. A priest would write the Lord's Prayer onto the bread, the accused swallowed the bread and cheese while another prayer is being read out over your head, and if you swallowed the morsel without any difficulty you would be fine. If you are guilty, it was believed that the cursed morsel would turn you pale, you would convulse and choke. The accused could request this form of trial, and people did die doing this. Another form of trial was to swallow a piece of food with a feather in it, and you were found guilty if you choked on the feather.
- XL Tangent: Alan doesn't like Turkish delight, saying he tried to flush some down the toilet once and it wouldn't go.
- XL Tangent: Ranavalona, a 19th century queen of Madagascar whose full name was Rabodoandrianampoinimerina, was possibly the most murderous woman in history. She had organised trials by ordeal invoking a highly poisonous nut called "tangena". The accused swallowed it with three pieces of chicken skin, vomited this mixture up, and if they vomited up all three pieces of skin they were considered innocent. If they failed to do so, they were hacked to death. Ranavalona reduced her population from 5 million to 2.5 million between 1833-39. When she started killing Christians, people got angry and in 1845 she repelled an Anglo-French invasion. She had the heads of the invaders' corpses placed on poles and erected along the beach to bid farewell to the retreating British and French ships.
- The interesting thing about why do English paintings have so many squirrels in them is the question itself. The actual answer to the question was that in the 18th century, it was common to keep squirrels as pets and they were often walked around with their owners. However, the reason why this question is interesting is because it is a question asked to the New York Public Library, as before the internet people went to libraries to answer unusual questions. The New York Public Library has a collection of questions asked since the 1940s which are available to access, and this squirrel question is one of them. There was a follow-up question to it, which was; "How did they tame them so they wouldn't bite the painter?" Other questions asked to the library include: "Where can I rent a guillotine?" In 1967, one questioner asked: "What is the natural enemy of a duck?", and when asked what they meant the questioner replied; "Well, a whole flight of them landed in my pool and I have waved a broom at them, but all they do is look at me and quack. I thought I could introduce the natural enemy into the pool area." The Library continues this service, receiving about 30,000 calls a year, and they can even outfox the experts. They were once asked: "Could you tell me the thickness of a US postage stamp with the glue on it?" The library replied: "Sorry, we couldn't tell you that quickly. Why don't you try the post office?" The reply they got was: "This is the post office." In 1967 a woman asked the Library: "When you meet a fellow, and you know he's worth $27million, and you know his nationality, how do you find out his name?"
- XL Tangent: Questions that people have asked Ade include: "Are you you?" One time he answered with. "I think you mean, am I that guy off TV", to which the answers is "Yes", but someone else then said, "No, it's not him!" A woman once asked Holly: "Where do I know you from?" Holly said that she sometimes does TV, but the women replied: "No, you're in my Pilates class!" Holly was indeed in her class. Nish claims that the question he is most commonly asked is: "Are you sure you're not Romesh?" Alan says he is asked: "Are you that geezer?" He says he is, to which they reply: "No, you ain't."
- XL: The question which was asked immediately after Waterloo was: "What do we call the battle?" The battle didn't have a name during the time it was actually fought. The British wanted to call it "Waterloo", despite the fact it did not take place there. Waterloo was actually where Wellington had his HQ. The French wanted to call it "Mont-Saint-Jean", which is the ridge where Wellington drew up his forces. The Prussians wanted to name it "La Belle Alliane", the pub where Wellington and Blucher met up near the end of the battle. This is common with many battles. Agincourt was originally called the "Battle in Picardy", Bosworth didn't get its name for 25 years, and some battles have different names given by different sides. In the American Civil War, the First Battle of Bull Run and the First Battle of Manassas are exactly the same battle.
- XL Tangent: In the wake of World War I, about 1,600 babies were named after battles or theatres of action. There were children called "Belgium" and "Calais", while girls had names like "Sommeria", "Verdunia" and "Dardanella". Richard Burton's brother was called "Verdun". After the war there were children named "Peace" and "Armistice".
- The best thing to give to an exhausted bee is nectar. The RSPB say that feeding it honey is a short-term solution. Honey contains spores of bacteria and it is possible the bee might pick up the bacteria and infect the entire hive. Sugar meanwhile can block up the bee's proboscis. Normally you should either leave the bee to rest, or leave it alone so it will be encouraged to go and pollinate. Otherwise, the bee might just be dying. The best thing to do is to have more bee-friendly flowers in your garden. (Forfeit: Honey; Sugar)
- Tangent: Bees have furry tongues and furry eyes. Alan jokes that there is also a sort of bee that makes milk: boo-bees. Bees can also drink a lot of alcohol. Scientists have fed them pure ethanol, and they can drink the human equivalent of ten litres of wine in a single sitting.
- Bears do not spend all their time hibernating in winter. A few species go into a deep sleep, known as a torpor, but this is not hibernation. An animal that hibernates will not wake up despite loud noises or being touched. Bears in torpor will wake really easily. Also, the body temperature of hibernating animals drops a lot, while in bears it only goes down a little bit in torpor. The only British mammals which truly hibernate are things like hedgehogs, dormice and bats. Also, bears do not defecate during winter, because they make faecal plug called a tappen which stops them from needing to excrete. (Forfeit: Sh*t in the woods; Hibernate)
- XL Tangent: When in torpor bears suck their paws because they have calloused foot pads and they are trying to encourage new foot pads.
- The panel are shown a sequence of numbers and are asked what is wrong with it. The sequence is: "1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 31..." The answer is that there is not enough information to give a single unique solution. This is because while the sequence is wrong if the answer was that each number is being doubled every time, the sequence is correct if the answer is the number of regions in a circle being divided by the lines connecting a number of points. In other words, if you draw one point in a circle, there is only one region - the entire circle. If you draw two points and then a line between those two, there are two regions of the circle because split it between the points. If you draw three points, the circle is split into four regions (one triangle-shaped region and three smaller segments) and so on. (Forfeit: Should be thirty-two)
- XL Tangent: Alan says the fact we think the numbers should double is because of darts, as double-16 is normally the double players go for, as it divides the most should you miss it i.e., if you land in the single-16 you can go to double-8, and then double-4, 2 and 1. Holly went to the darts in Ally Pally at Christmas saying it was the best night of her life. People have to go in fancy dress, half the people were British and the other half were Dutch, no-one speaks each others' language, but you end up being friends with everyone.
- When you hold your breath underwater, the thing that makes you want to come up for air is having too much carbon dioxide. You can last more than twice as long as the CO2 reflex makes you think. There is a practice called "static apnea", where you lay face-down in the water holding your breath, where people have learned to ignore this reflex and can stay underwater until their oxygen has genuinely run out. Serbian Branko Petrovic holds the current records in static apnea, at 11 minutes 54 seconds. If you breathe pure oxygen first, it forces CO2 out of your body, so you can last longer, which some consider cheating, but Spain's Aleix Segura holds the record using this method at 24 minutes 3 seconds. (Forfeit: Lack of oxygen)
- Friday 4th October 2019
- BBC Two
- 30 minutes
Cast & crew
|Sandi Toksvig||Host / Presenter|
|Alan Davies||Regular Panellist|
|James Harkin||Script Editor|
|Anna Ptaszynski||Script Editor|
|Sandi Toksvig||Script Editor|
|Andrew Hunter Murray||Question Writer|
|John Lloyd (as John Lloyd CBE)||Series Producer|