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


  • TV panel show
  • BBC Two / BBC One / BBC Four
  • 2003 - 2021
  • 283 episodes (19 series)

Panel game that contains lots of difficult questions and a large amount of quite interesting facts. Stars Sandi Toksvig, Stephen Fry and Alan Davies.

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Series Q - Quizmas

QI. Image shows from L to R: Alan Davies, Josh Widdicombe, Sandi Toksvig, Johnny Vegas, Sara Pascoe

Preview clips

Further details


- A question especially for Alan. 60% of the world's Christmas decorations are made in a single town in China, and China gets its name from the Qin dynasty, which invented candles in about 200BC. Thus Alan is asked what the Qin made their candles out of. The answer is, for once, the blue whale, which Alan correctly says and gets a special "Blue Whale Bonus" and a festive cheer from the audience. To be precise many kinds of whale were used, but blue whales were probably among them.

- Tangent: Sandi asks the panellists if they ever had a bad quizzing experience. About four years ago Sara's mum got jealous of her twin sister winning games of Trivial Pursuit, so her mum requested to ask the next question and told her twin sister: "Why have you done nothing with your life?" Josh's family claimed that they are descendents of Sabine Baring-Gould, who wrote the lyrics to Abide With Me, then this information came up in a pub quiz where Josh learned that he did not write these lyrics, and Josh now believes that he is not related to him and he thinks that Sabine Baring-Gould is a made-up name. However, the Elves do some research and tell Josh that actually Baring-Gould wrote the lyrics to Onward, Christian Soldiers. Johnny used to host a pub quiz in the days before the internet, so he went the library and looked in children's books for questions. In one quiz, he wrongly claimed that on the human body you find the clavicle in the knee rather than the shoulder, annoying among other teams one consisting of ambulance drivers. However, the Christmas quiz came up three months later with outside teams taking part in the quiz, and Johnny would say questions like: "According to the Vegas Medical Dictionary, where on the body would you find the clavicle?" meaning Johnny got to enjoy the site of the locals whispering to each other: "It's the knee!"

- XL Tangent: Alan once did a pub quiz, and the other team were late. One of the teammates said: "I feel like Marco Polo coming all the way up here", to which Alan jokingly replied: "Who's he?" No-one else thought that was funny and Alan's team lost, with Alan not answering a single question. He complains that when they did sports questions, they covered sports like lacrosse.

- XL Tangent: Sandi once did a quiz on BBC Radio 2 with Ed Stewpot, and he said; "Can you name three people from the world of entertainment who came originally from Denmark?" Sandi said Victor Borge, then Hans Christian Andersen, but she could not think of a third. Ed said the third one was Sandi herself.

- XL Tangent: Johnny had another bad quizzing experience. He did the celebrity version of "Family Fortunes", and when asked to, "Name something you'd bite and not swallow", Johnny's father said: "A towel".

- QI asked their Twitter followers to send them examples of petty quarrels at pub quizzes. Here are some of the questions that Sandi asks the panel.

- Sent in by Scott Daugherty: "What is the act of eating outside called?" - Lots of teams answered "al fresco", but the quizmaster stated that the answer was "a picnic", and there was uproar for at least ten minutes. (Forfeit: Al fresco)

- Sent in by Barker and Jones: "What is the connection between the word 'murder' and the horse Red Rum?" The answer the quizmaster had was, "Murder is red rum backwards", but Barker and Jones's answer was that the two were anagrams of each other, which is also correct, but the quizmaster refused to accept it.

- Sent in by SeaSpaniel: "Who can spell Fahrenheit?" SeaSpaniel once had an argument about this question, and he is in the audience. He settled the pointed by contacting Leiden University and asking them to get hold of an original copy of Fahrenheit's signature.

- XL Tangent: The idea that the word "quiz" was invented by someone trying to make a word popular is a myth. No-one truly knows where it comes from. In the late-18th century the word meant an odd or eccentric person. There was also something called a "quizzing glass", a magnifying glass worn on a chain around the neck. In the mid-18th century, "quizzing" meant to mock someone examining them closely with a quizzing glass. The most famous user of the quizzing glass was Beau Brummell, who was said could destroy a person's social standing altogether just by using his quizzing glass. In his heyday, Brummell took five hours to get dressed, he polished his boots with champagne, and had three different hairdressers for different parts of his head. Brummell once caught a chill and blamed his valet for forcing him to enter a room containing a damp stranger.

- The panel are asked a question that Alan previously asked in Series D: "If you went up into space with a mouse and an elephant, would they both become weightless at the same time?" The answer is yes, because gravity would stop working for both of them at the same moment.

- XL Tangent: If you were in a place with no gravity and somebody hurls a weightless mouse at you, and an equally weightless elephant, they would feel different when they hit you because of the difference in mass and momentum.

- There are three species of elephant in the world today; the Asian, the African forest and the African savannah. (Forfeit: Two)

- XL: When Dumbo came into land, his ears would not pop. Human ears pop because of the air in the ear canal. When the outside pressure changes there is an imbalance, and the popping equalises the pressure due to the Eustachian tube, which releases air down into the throat. In elephants, all the different chambers in the skull are connected to broad, open channels, so there should never be any difference in pressure. (Forfeit: They would pop)

- Tangent: Dumbo's ears would need to be 20ft if they were rigid, or 60ft from tip-to-tip if they were floppy. Sandi demonstrates with a scale model of a toy elephant.

- The panel are asked some questions that are all based on song lyrics.

- The panel are played How much is that doggie in the window? They are then asked how much a puppy under six months old cost from a pet shop in the UK? The answer should be nothing, because since 2019 it is illegal to sell puppies under this age in UK pet shops. You can only get them from breeders or authorised re-homing centres. (Forfeit: £400; £450)

- The panel are now played and asked Why do birds suddenly appear? It is to do with feeding. Birds can detect subtle changes in air pressure, may be able to tell a storm is coming and they want to feed as quickly as possible before the weather changes.

- XL Tangent: Sara's father lives in Adelaide, and he had grapes outside his house, which a flock of birds ate in about two minutes.

- Tangent: People tend not to see baby pigeons because they mature quicker than most species, and they tend to stay in the nest until they are fully fledged. Also, we don't tend to see most baby birds anyway. To tell the difference between baby and adult pigeons, the adults have red-orange eyes while the baby's eyes are still dark.

- XL: The panel are played the lyric: "How many roads must a man walk down", from Bob Dylan's Blowin' in the Wind, and are asked how much road should a five-year-old boy walk down before he becomes a man. On average, a boy ought to walk 15,000 steps per day. That totals to 35,500 miles between their 5th and 18th birthdays. There are just under 250,000 miles of road in the UK, so in the UK the boy should aim to walk down one seventh of all British roads by the time you are 18.

- XL Tangent: Sandi asks how many roads must a man walk down before he admits he is lost. Only 6% of men surveyed said they would ask for directions or consult a map after realising they're lost. The average man drives an extra 900 miles while lost during their lifetime, which is slightly longer than the distance between Land's End to John o' Groats (874 miles).

- Another question Alan has previously asked on the show, back in Series I: "What is the aquatic equivalent of a sheepdog?" The answer is a dolphin. From about 1840 to 1930, off the coast of Eden, New South Wales, a pod of orcas were recorded herding whales towards fishermen. The orcas were rewarded with the tongues and lips of the whales, and this became known as the, "Law of the Tongue". The indigenous Yuin people are believed to have used this technique for possibly thousands of years, but it ended when the lead orca Old Tom died. Meanwhile, in Laguna, Southern Brazil, bottlenose dolphins have been collaborating with local fishermen to herd fish since at least 1847. The dolphins drive shoals of mullet towards the fishermen in shallow water, and the dolphins used specialised movements to show where the fishermen should throw their nets. The catch is shared between the dolphins and the fishermen. There are about 200 fishermen who are entirely dependent on the dolphins, and they never fish without them.

- Tangent: Portuguese water dogs have been used to hunt fish for centuries.

- In Britain, the song that people sang before the national anthem was invented was Britons, Strike Home! Written by Henry Purcell in 1695, it is fifty years older than God Save the King which was first publically performed in 1745. Britons, Strike Home! was written for a play about Boudicca, and in the play the song is sung by a Druid to whip up resistance against the Romans. It was so popular that in 1797 the entire House of Commons sang it spontaneously when Pitt declared war on France. It was also played onboard ship during the Battle of Trafalgar. It was last used as a patriotic rallying cry in December 1914. A performance of it by the Academy of Ancient Music is played and everyone in the studio then sings along to it. The lyrics are:

"Britons, strike home!
Revenge, revenge your Country's wrong's
Fight! Fight and record. Fight!
Fight and record yourselves in Druid's Songs."

- XL Tangent: "Rule Britannia" was performed in the same year as "God Save the King", 1745, by the band at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, where it was played nightly in defiant response to the Jacobite victory at the Battle of Prestonpans.

- XL: Sandi asks the panellists if any of them have had the quobbles and don't spare her the details. It is a word possibly of Wiltshire dialect for the wrinkles that form on your fingers when they are wet. No-one knows for sure why this happens, but it is possibly an evolutionary adaptation to improve your grip when your hands are wet, because the wrinkles help drain the water away. The wrinkles are very useful for doctors, especially when a patient is unconscious, as it can be used to detect problems with the autonomic nervous system, such as breathing, digestion and the heartbeat.

- XL Tangent: The skin of elephants is permanently quobbled to help them stay cool. This skin helps them retain five-to-ten times much water.

General Ignorance

- XL: It snows every month of the year in Britain. All rain in the UK begins as snow, when it starts to fall from very high up in the atmosphere. Unless it is a very cold day, the snow melts as soon as it hits the warm air, then falls to the ground as rain. Most British rain is caused by the Bergeron-Findeisen process, where the tops of the clouds are made from a mixture of ice crystals and super-cooled water droplets. Liquid water clumps around the ice crystals and forms snowflakes, which grow until they are heavy enough to fall out of the cloud. In Britain and other temperate climates, nearly all of the rain which we get starts as snow.

- Icy is slippery because of loose molecules. It does not melt when you step on it because there is not enough pressure. According to researchers from the University of Amsterdam, ice has a very regular crystal structure, but while most of the molecules are attached to three neighbouring molecules, the molecules at the top only have two connections, making them move around more as they don't really stick together. (Forfeit: It melts when you step on it.)

- The panel are asked to name an animal they should leave a carrot out for. One animal that it should not be left out for is reindeer, because they find it hard to eat carrots due to them not having incisor teeth on the upper jaw. Thus reindeer have not evolved to eat carrots because it is not a foodstuff they would find in the wild at all. (Forfeit: Reindeer)

- Tangent: Alan talks about the "carrot swindle", where people are going to self-service tills at check-outs and are deliberately claiming that more expensive items are carrots and thus pay less for them. Supermarkets only discovered this when they noticed that their tills were recording massive sales of carrots while so many other items were being stolen. Theft from self-service tills has doubled in the past four years.

- XL Tangent: You should also not give carrots to rabbits because it is not good for them. Wild rabbits do not eat root vegetables. They also do not eat fruit, because it has too much sugar and causes tooth decay. For pet rabbits, the best diet is hay supplemented with dark vegetables. (Forfeit: Rabbit)

- XL Tangent: The world's largest rabbit is Darius, owned by Annette Edwards. Darius 4'4" from nose to tail and eats over £2,000 worth of food per year.

- The panellists are given glasses of wine and are asked how far in advance you should open the wine for your Christmas dinner to make sure it is properly aerated. The answer is not to decant it at all, or indeed aerate it at all. If you insist on aerating it, it is best to put the wine in a blender, or pour out a bit of the wine, put the cork a shake and it back in and the bottle. Many experts think aerating good wine makes it worse. Emile Peynaud, forefather of oenology, said it should be avoided at all costs.

- The panel have a cup stacking contest. Each of them have three columns of cups stacked, with three, six, then three cups in each column respectively. They have to stack these cups into three triangles and then back into columns as fast as they can in the same way. Josh wins, and then is entered into a competition with a member of the audience, who is later revealed to be the UK's champion cup stacker Lee Norton. Lee wins 2-1. Cup stacking is recognised as a sport in the American Amateur Athletics Union, Junior Olympics.


- Alan Davies: Comes first, but only once a year. (Alan's 35th victory)
- Johnny Vegas, Josh Widdicombe and Sara Pascoe: No scores given.

Broadcast details

Tuesday 24th December 2019
30 minutes
  • Wednesday 20th March 2019, 19:15 at BBC Television Centre (Sara Pascoe, Johnny Vegas, Josh Widdicombe)


Show past repeats

Date Time Channel
Friday 27th December 2019 11:15pm
45 minute version
Monday 26th October 2020 9:00pm
60 minute version
Tuesday 27th October 2020 2:40am
50 minute version
Friday 25th December 2020 2:00am
60 minute version
Friday 25th December 2020 9:00pm
60 minute version
Wednesday 20th October 2021 9:00pm
60 minute version
Thursday 21st October 2021 6:00pm
60 minute version

Cast & crew

Sandi Toksvig Host / Presenter
Alan Davies Regular Panellist
Guest cast
Johnny Vegas Guest
Sara Pascoe Guest
Josh Widdicombe Guest
Lee Norton Self
Jeremy Simmonds 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
Justin Pollard Associate Producer
Nick King Editor
Jonathan Paul Green Production Designer
Nick Collier Lighting Designer
Howard Goodall Composer
Mat Coward Researcher
Will Bowen Researcher
Andrew Hunter Murray Researcher
Ed Brooke-Hitching Researcher
Mike Turner Researcher
Jack Chambers Researcher
Emily Jupitus Researcher
James Rawson Researcher
Sarah Clay Commissioning Editor


Dumbo's ears

Sandi Toksvig asks the QI panel how big Dumbo's ears would have to be to enable him to fly, and then shows this to scale on a toy elephant.

Featuring: Sandi Toksvig & Alan Davies.

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