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


  • TV panel show
  • BBC Two / BBC One / BBC Four
  • 2003 - 2022
  • 279 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 R, Episode 4 - Restaurants

QI. Image shows from L to R: Alan Davies, Sara Pascoe, Sandi Toksvig, Phill Jupitus, Mark Watson
Sandi Toksvig hosts the high-brow quiz, serving up a selection of questions on the subject of restaurants. Trying to come up with the answers are Alan Davies, Phill Jupitus, Sara Pascoe and Mark Watson.

Further details


- You would want to eat in a restaurant with a heavy fork and nothing fresh on the menu if you were willing to pay more for your meal. Computer scientist Dan Jurafsky looked at the description of dishes on 6,500 menus, and he found that higher-end restaurants tend not to describe food as "fresh", "tasty" or "ripe", because customers in those restaurants expect it to be those things. Posh restaurants often use sexy terminology, using words like, "sensuous" or "silky". Another thing discovered is that people enjoy their food more if they use heavy cutlery. Charles Michel, chef in residence at Oxford University's Crossmodal Research Laboratory, which researches how our different senses modulate any appreciation of flavour, gave people the exact same meals. He found that people who use heavy cutlery were willing to pay 15% more for their food.

- Tangent: Another way restaurants trick people into making them spend more money is by removing the pound sign from menus. A study at Cornell University showed that if menus only show the numbers, people don't associate them with money. There are also restaurants with "ladies' menus", which are menus which have no prices listed in them because men are expected to pay for the meal.

- XL: The worst trouble you can get into with bread is you lowered the quality of it, if you were a baker. Human has probably been eating bread for about 30,000 years, and if people cannot get it riots and revolutions occur, such as the French Revolution which was started by women in the market complaining about the price of bread. One way to control bread is to form guilds. One of the earliest was the Collegium Pistorum, formed in Rome in about 168 BC. This guild gave special privileges to bakers and their families. However, Roman law forbade bakers from associating with gladiators or comedians. In the 13th century England, the first time a baker was caught adulterating bread they would be dragged on a hurdle through the streets with the bad loaf hanging around your neck, the second time the baker had their hands and head locked in a wooden pillory and were again dragged through the streets, and the third time the baker would be dragged through the streets, have their oven dismantled, and the baker was forced to swear that they would never take up the trade of baking again. In France, bakers were punished by having to wear a sandwich board that listed their crimes.

- XL Tangent: Mark worries about taking bread from baskets at restaurants as he is worried that the bread might be someone else's. Sandi teaches him a trick, which is to form a small letter "b" with his left hand and a smaller letter "d" with his right, and the "b" for bread reminds you that the bread that is yours should come from the left-hand side. However, when Sandi does the sign she shakes her hands, leading to Sara thinking she was making a rude gesture. Alan says Sandi is multifaceted, but that gesture is the one skill she has never developed.

- XL Tangent: A baker's dozen of 13 loaves comes from medieval law. Bakers were forced to sell bread by the weight rather than the price of each loaf, and if you undersold you got into trouble. Thus a 13th loaf was made to make sure that the total weight was not too low.

- XL Tangent: Modern France still has laws enshrining the quality of bread. In 1919, the French made a law banning anybody from baking bread between 10pm and 4am, in order to stop mass-produced bakeries and support artisan bakeries. However, this meant that bakers could not work overnight to create the bread for your breakfast. This resulted in baguettes becoming the bread of choice. Until 2015, it was the law that Parisian bakers were split, with some having to take their holiday in July and some in August, in order to make sure that Paris always had sufficient bread.

- XL Tangent: Sandi says you have to have a baguette fresh. Alan says that if your bread has gone hard, you should just put in a skin full of water and then put it in the oven. Alan learned this from a book by Nigel Slater, as this is what Slater did for his first job. Alan says that taste difference is not noticeable because it still comes to the table a bit warm.

- Bread and potatoes were rationed during the 1940s because of bad weather in the latter half of the decade. They, along with all other vegetables, were never rationed during World War II. There were even subsidies from the government to make sure all of these foods were kept on the table. But in 1946-47, there were very heavy rains and very bad frosts which resulted in bread and potatoes being rationed. This was followed by a bumper crop in 1948, which resulted in the restrictions being removed. (Forfeit: The war)

- Tangent: Before the war, Britain imported about half its meat, more than half its cheese, and about a third of its eggs. In 1939, they did a test to see if Britain could deal without all of this protein. Eight human guinea pigs were sent for three months to live in the Lake District on a special diet, consisting of as much wholemeal bread and potatoes as they liked. They also spent their time walking, cycling and mountaineering. The end result was a huge increase in flatulence, and a lot of time eating because it takes a lot longer to get your calories from potatoes than in meat. One report said: "Thanks to all the extra fibre, there was also 250% more voluminous faecal matter amongst the participants."

- XL Tangent: During World War II, children were given blackcurrant syrup for free to prevent them from getting scurvy. Trade routes for citrus fruits were completely blocked, so blackcurrants were grown domestically. This is totally unknown about in the USA because the American logging industry had a campaign against the Ribes plant because it has a disease that can threaten white pine, so blackcurrant plants were banned in the USA, with the federal ban not being relaxed until 2003. It is still illegal to grow blackcurrants in some US states.

- XL Tangent: Rationing helped the health of the population, with infant mortality rates halving between 1935 and 1950, and the age at which people died of natural causes increased.

- XL Tangent: Rationing still occurred when Elizabeth II, then Princes Elizabeth, got married in 1947. She had to use clothing rationing coupons in order to pay for her dress. However, when they brought in clothing coupons, they weren't ready, so they repurposed margarine coupons. Elizabeth and Philip's wedding cake was named the 10,000 Mile Cake, because the ingredients were donated from Australia and South Africa. The ingredients were 60lb of butter, 55lb of sugar, 75lb of flour, 660 eggs, 80 oranges and lemons, 300lb of dried nuts and fruit, 3.5 gallons of navy rum, 150lb of marzipan and 110lb of icing sugar.

- XL Tangent: Rationing was minimal during World War I, not starting until 1918 due to a blockade caused by German submarines. British countermeasures included banning the feeding of pigeons and limiting the meal at restaurants, reducing it to two courses for lunch and three courses for dinner.

- XL Tangent: During World War II, people were encouraged to eat out because it was a more efficient use of resources.

- Your cellar would be riddled with Frenchmen because they would be busy rotating all your wine bottles. Riddlers are people who rotate bottles of wine to stop the sediment building up, and are key to champagne as well as other wines. Champagne requires a secondary fermentation, so the yeast is left in the bottle as the wine matures. This is was makes the bubbles appear. The sediment thus has to be slowly removed. The yeast has to be sent to the neck of the bottle, so the riddler rotates each bottle 90 degrees, then pushes it slightly further into its cradle and tips it slightly. Professional riddlers can rotate between 40,000-70,000 bottles a day (three or four per second). Riddlers however are now being replaced by robots. It is a deeply skilled job and before them making champagne was a very explosive process. In 1792, the canon of Reims Cathedral reported that 345 out of 594 bottles had exploded in their cellars. The pressure in the bottle of champagne is five times greater than that of a lorry tyre and the cork can fly out at 55mph. The wire cage covering the cork is called the "muselet", which comes from the French for "muzzle", but in the first stage of fermentation they have caps in the bottles instead.

- Tangent: Sandi introduces a man called Julian the Magnificent, who demonstrates how to open a bottle of champagne using a sword. Julian is the ambassador emeritus of La Confrérie du Sabre d'Or, and can with a single strike of a sabre cut off the glass annulus and cork from the bottle, rather than just remove the cork. You obviously cannot touch the neck of the bottle because it is sharp glass, but you can drink it perfectly because the force of the champagne is so great that any small pieces of glass are fired away from the bottle and drink. Sandi then cuts off the top of a bottle herself, which she does by taking the bottle in her left hand (she is right-handed) with her thumb up the punt. She holds the sabre in her right hand, and she performs a shaving motion, never taking the sabre off the glass, and she moves up bottle and following through. Julian then "knights" her with his sabre, and presents her with a velvet bar to put the cork in. Sandi says afterwards: "I'm not exaggerating, that is one of the most exciting things that's ever happened."

- Sandi starts to ask a question about using rice, but as she does Phill's mobile phone goes off. Sandi takes it and dumps it in a jug of water. If you want to dry it out, it is a bad idea to put it in a box of rice. If you put a phone in a closed container with rice, less water is lost than if you just left it out in an open room. Also, you can little bits of rice stuck up the sockets. (Forfeit: Yes)

- XL Tangent: The only redeeming feature of the rice cure is that you normally turn off your phone before doing it, which helps because the heat of the phone can cause the water to warp the wet compartments. It is also a bad idea to dry the phone out with a hairdryer. If you are using material to dry it out, the best option is cat litter.

- XL Tangent: Rice is grown in flooded fields because the plants don't mind it. Rice does not need to be grown in flooded fields, but the flooding does prevent some weeds from growing. Some farmers also use ducks and fish to swim around the fields and eat pests.

- The panel are shown a picture of a clown in a fast food restaurant and are asked what he eats. The clown is the original Ronald McDonald, but he never ate a McDonald's meal. The company were keen to ensure that he was just their mascot for their particular charity, and avoided showing him eating their food to avoid children from getting obese. The very first person to play Ronald was a man named Willard Scott, who was eventually fired for being too fat. Scott was famous in the USA, working as a weather forecaster, and he later did adverts for Burger King. (Forfeit: Children)

- Tangent: Sara's first job was at McDonald's. McDonald's staff tend to do every job in the restaurants, including cooking, cleaning and serving food. There are also less drive-thrus because the staff serving there are inhaling all the car fumes.

- Tangent: Probably the most dangerous restaurant in the world is the Heart Attack Grill in Las Vegas. Customers can eat there for free if they weigh over 350lbs (25 stone), which is about three-quarters the weight of a blue whale's heart. Your weight is verified by being weighed at a cattle weighing station, and if you are over the target weight you are led to your table by your personal nurse (a waiter/waitress). Their signature dish is the quadruple bypass burger, which is just under 10,000 calories. It is made out of four half-pound beef patties, 20 strips of bacon, eight slices of American cheese, a whole tomato, half an onion, and is served in a bun coated with lard. If you finish it, your nurse will deliver you to your car in a wheelchair, and if you fail to finish it the nurse will spank you in front of the other diners. In 2013, the Heart Attack Grill's unofficial spokesman died of a heart attack aged 52. Three other people have died on site. There is only one vegan option at the grill: cigarettes.

General Ignorance

- You do gain calories by eating celery. A medium stalk contains six calories, but a University of Alabama study on a type of lizard called a bearded dragon, which have similar diets and digestive systems to humans, found there is a net gain when eating celery. This is because chewing and digesting are very low energy pursuits. (Forfeit: Negative calories)

- XL Tangent: The closest to a foodstuff with negative calories is sugar-free gum. If you chew 100 times a minute for approximately 11 minutes the gum would be negatively calorific.

- XL: To prevent bacteria, your chopping board should be made out of wood. 99.9% of the bacteria that is added to a wooden chopping board has disappeared within three minutes of application, while on plastic board the bacteria is all still there. The only positive about plastic chopping boards is that they can go in the dishwasher, so they are heated up to kill bacteria. The most important thing is to wash and eventually replace them over time.

- XL: The hottest part of a chilli is the pith. Chillies, which as a kind of fruit because they contain seeds, contain the hot compound capsaicin, but this is not in the seeds. It is just that the seeds are in contact with the pith. (Forfeit: The seeds)

- XL Tangent: The world's hottest chilli is called Pepper X. Grown the appropriately named Ed Currie of the USA, Pepper X measures over three million on the Scoville scale, making it a thousand times spicier than a jalapeno. Eating it would kill you, as it would cause blisters in your body, causing the body's defences to go into overdrive, sending you into anaphylactic shock and closing your airways.

- The panel play a game of "Beer Hunter", where Sandi shakes one of four cans of beer up, shuffles them around and then hands one out to each panellist. Whoever gets the shaken-up one loses. Sara, Alan and Mark all survive, so when Phill opens his can he covers the hole up with his mouth. All of the cans had the same amount of pressure, about three atmospheres, no matter how much you shake them. An unshaken can has a small amount of gas in it which kind of floats on the top of the liquid, but when you shake it, it all gets mixed together. When you open the can, the bubbles rush to the surface.

- XL Tangent: After working at McDonald's, Sara worked in bars. She learned at barbecues that to stop a drinking from fizzing too much i to put your finger in it, which you cannot do when you work at a bar.

- Tangent: The idea of tapping the top and bottom of the can to stop it exploding is false. Instead, you should tap the sides of the can, as this dislodges the bubbles and makes then rise to the top.

- XL Tangent: You can change the pressure in the can by heating it up, reducing the volume by crushing it, or increasing the amount of fluid in the can.


- Alan Davies: 3 points (Alan's 37th victory)
- Sara Pascoe: -4 points
- Mark Watson and Phill Jupitus: -18 points

Broadcast details

Thursday 18th June 2020
30 minutes


Show past repeats

Date Time Channel
Saturday 26th September 2020 9:00pm
45 minute version
Thursday 8th April 2021 9:00pm
60 minute version
Friday 9th April 2021 2:00am
65 minute version
Friday 23rd July 2021 10:00pm
60 minute version
Saturday 24th July 2021 2:00am
65 minute version
Friday 5th November 2021 6:00pm
60 minute version
Monday 2nd May 2022 9:00pm
60 minute version
Tuesday 3rd May 2022 2:50am
70 minute version

Cast & crew

Sandi Toksvig Host / Presenter
Alan Davies Regular Panellist
Guest cast
Sara Pascoe Guest
Mark Watson Guest
Phill Jupitus (as Phil Jupitus) Guest
Julian White (as Julian the Magnificent) Self
Writing team
James Harkin Script Editor
Anna Ptaszynski Script Editor
Sandi Toksvig Script Editor
Jack Chambers Question Writer
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
Aran Kharpal Graphics
Mat Coward Researcher
Will Bowen Researcher
Andrew Hunter Murray Researcher
Ed Brooke-Hitching Researcher
Mandy Fenton Researcher
Mike Turner Researcher
Jack Chambers Researcher
Emily Jupitus Researcher
James Rawson Researcher
Ethan Ruparelia Researcher
Sarah Clay Commissioning Editor

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