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


  • TV panel show
  • BBC Two / BBC One / BBC Four
  • 2003 - 2024
  • 312 episodes (21 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 S, Episode 1 - Sick

QI. Jo Brand
Sandi Toksvig returns with a "well sick" edition, joined by regular panellist Alan Davies, along with Maisie Adam, Jo Brand and Lee Mack.


- The weirdo genius who left a plague zone to test his eyesight was Sir Isaac Newton. During the Great Plague of 1665, Newton fled Cambridge and shut himself up in the family farm at Woolsthorpe. There he did studies of optics and wanted to figure out how eyes worked, so experimented by taking a bodkin, a kind of hatpin, and put it between his eyeball and the socket to see what effect it would have on his vision. He discovered that it affected the colours he saw and he could see spots before his eyes. He also studied the plague, and his cure was lozenges made out of toad vomit, which unsurprisingly didn't work. However, his handwritten recipe was sold at Bonhams in 2020 for £60,000. (Forfeit: Dominic Cummings)

- XL Tangent: A week before the recording, Lee has a tear duct flushed out. It involves a very large, bendy needle. Lee knew it was going to be painful because a lady came in and without asking held his hand. Lee says it was the most painful thing imaginable.

- Tangent: There are many similarities between the 2020 Coronavirus epidemic and the Great Plague of 1665. Charles II shut down pubs and universities, as well as banning most public gatherings; death tolls were publicly posted; mourning was limited; and plague doctors wore something akin to PPE. The doctor wore the classic long-beaked masks, which worked a bit like face masks today, but they wrongly thought that sweet-smelling perfume in the mask was what kept them safe. They also wore long sleeves and long gloves which protected them from fleas.

- The people that has shooting stars coming out of their bottom are the astronauts on the International Space Station. The ISS lavatory was recently upgraded at a cost of $23million. Known as the Universal Waste Management System, it has the ability to sort out faecal matter from the rest of the waste to allow the liquid to be recycled as drinking water. For women, this toilet is an improvement on Earth toilets as it has a ridged funnel to help position themselves. However, there is no truly unisex lavatory that works for everybody. Early space lavatories had to use germ-killing liquid in the bags containing faeces, and then the bag was kneaded for a few minutes, so it was stabilised and stored away for re-entry. These bags were then jettisoned, and then burn up in Earth's atmosphere, becoming shooting stars.

- The best way to survive in the Sahara is to drink if you are thirsty, because the water is better inside you than it is in the bottle. You should also use large gulps, because if you take small sips the body does not recognised it has been rehydrated and thus you remain thirsty. You should not drink your urine because it is too salty and thus further dehydrates you. Urine is 2% salt, with sea water being 3.5% salt. One of the best things to do is save sweat, so try to reduce the amount the water you sweat by finding shade. Also, avoid eating too much because you waste water digesting your food, and keep out of the wind because air can speed up sweat evaporation. If you plan to drink water from a cactus in the Sahara, don't bother because there is only one cactus outside of America, the mistletoe cactus, which grows in forests. Surprisingly, one of things that kills people more than dehydration in the desert is drowning in flash floods in wadi places, where walls of water between 10-30ft high are created suddenly and violently.

- Tangent: One way to get water in the desert is get a bit of plastic, pin each corner down so the plastic dips in the middle, put a cup underneath the plastic, and water will condense on the underside of the plastic. This water drops into the cup for you to drink.

- XL Tangent: Sandi was once filming at a wadi in Sudan, in the form of a dry riverbed, and then suddenly water came rushing down which she and the crew never saw coming. Sandi says it was absolutely terrifying. They only just managed to climb up the river bank, and by the time she was standing on it, there was a full river flowing below.

- The Olympic sport you can do in an empty swimming pool is skateboarding, which developed in empty swimming pools during a drought in late 1970s California. From this bowl skating was developed.

- XL Tangent: Between 1978-1989, skateboarding was banned in Norway as it was considered too dangerous. However, skateboarding has benefits, with cities with skate parks having lower crime and antisocial behaviour rates.

- Tangent: The following are all skateboarding terms.

- Stiffy: To jump off the top of the ramp, keep both your feet on the board, then straighten your legs and hold the board with your hand.

- Hippy jump: To jump off your board, so over an obstacle, the board keeps rolling, and then you land back on the board.

- Salad grind: The back wheel slide across the top of a ramp while the front is raised upwards. Named after its inventor, Ed "Salad" Dressen.

- Willy grind: The opposite of a salad grind, where the front slides on the ramp and the back is depressed. Named after its inventor Willy Santos of the Philippines.

- Sack tap: The skater jumps off the top of the ramp, grabs the board with both hands, then taps their scrotum with the board, and then puts the board back under the feet.

- XL: Christ air: The skater grabs the board in one hand while in the air and then stretch out to look like Jesus on the cross.

- The thing that is so solid about the siksik squirrel is its body entirely freezes during hibernation. Also called the Arctic ground squirrel and called "siksik" after the noise it makes, it hibernates for eight months of the year, during which time their entire body freezes. It can supercool its blood to minus three degrees centigrade, colder than any other mammal. Liquid needs something for its molecules to grab on to before it can form ice crystals, and to avoid this all imperfections are removed from a siksik's blood. We do not know how this is done. It you picked a siksik up and shook it, it would freeze and die. Their heartbeat slows down to twice a minute, the same pace as a blue whale. The siksik comes out of hibernation every three weeks so it can sleep, because even though it has been frozen, the brain still needs sleep.

- XL Tangent: As a child, Lee had a tortoise called Brutus, and just before he went to school the morning after a violent snowstorm, he found his mum in the garden digging with a shovel in her nightie, because Brutus had been out all night. She found him, with his head and legs out of the shell, completely solid. Lee assumed Brutus was dead, but his mum put Brutus under the warm tap, then put him in front of a three-bar fire, and even tried to teaspoon brandy into his mouth. It all worked, and he lived on for several years.

- XL Tangent: The siksik suffers from a form of amnesia, and their brain resembles those of human dementia patients. Scientists are now studying these brains to see if they can help find a cure for dementia. Before hibernating, siksik gorge on magic mushrooms, and no-one knows if it is just for nutrients or if it is for some psychedelic benefit.

- XL: The worst result of excess arse kissing is execution. In 37 AD, Roman Emperor Caligula fell sick, and everyone wanted to show how upset they were. One especially sycophantic plebeian, Publius Afranius Potitus, publicly announced that he was willing to give up his own life if it meant Caligula got better. Caligula did get better and forced Potitus to keep his word, and when Potitus refused to kill himself, Caligula had him executed.

- XL Tangent: Nero hired professional sycophants. He would enter singing competitions and pay people to applaud him so it would like he won. He would have groups of 5,000 soldiers called Augustals, who would cheer him while he was singing. 16th century French poet and playwright Jean Daurat learned about the Augustals, so he bought tickets to a performance of one of his plays, and gave the tickets to people who promised to applaud and cheer. These people became known as "claqueurs", from which we get the word "claque".

- XL Tangent: The insult "kiss my arse" comes from Teutonic mercenary Gotz von Berlichingen, who was known as one of Germany's bravest soldiers. He used the insult in response to the Swabian army when they besieged his home town in 1516, an act immortalised in a play by Goethe, where it was written as "lick me in the arse". It is now nicknamed the "Swabian Salute". Berlichingen is also famous in the history of prosthetics. A decade before coining his famous phrase, he lost his arm to cannon fire and had an iron prosthetic made, which included finger joints so he could still brandish a sword. He carried on being a mercenary until he was 60. The arm is now on display in Heilbronn.

- XL Tangent: The band the Pogues got their name from the Irish phrase; "pogue mahone", meaning, "kiss my arse".

- XL: Laxatives were used to help the lovesick. Lovesickness is a real thing, leading to loss of appetite, depression, inability to sleep, and historically also supposedly leading to excess blinking. You can literally die of a broken heart. Severe emotional stress can weaken the left ventricle leading to takotsubo cardiomyopathy. Over 90% of the cases are reported are in women between 58 and 75, and most recover. Today, lovesickness is blame on a hormone imblanace, but back when people believed in the four humours - blood, phlegm, black bile and yellow bile - lovesickness was believed to be caused by an excess of black bile. Thus laxatives were thought to be the best cure, right up until Victorian times. If laxatives did not work, then they used purgatives to make you vomit or leeches to drain the blood.

- XL Tangent: In the fifth century, a Roman collection of biographies called the "Historia Augusta", which said that Marcus Aurelius's wife Faustina had terrible lovesickness for a gladiator. The lovesickness was cured by killing the gladiator, and when Marcus and Faustina having sex in a pool of the gladiator's blood. Sandi says that all of history is full of stories trying to undermine powerful women with fanciful sexual stories, so she says it should taken, "with a handul of salt."

- If you engage in too much spelunking, you might suffer from various health problems as spelunking is the hobby of exploring caves. In 1989, 27-year-old Italian interior designer Stefania Follini took part in an experiment revolving around circadian rhythm where she lived on her own in a cave in New Mexico. She lost weight, got little vitamin D, her period stopped, her body clock changed completely resulting in her staying awake for 20 hours and them sleeping for 10, and when she came out of the cave after 130 days she guessed she was only in the cave for 60 days. It was so bright when she came out that she needed to wear dark glasses. Spelunking can also cause claustrophobia, but there is one cave, the Sarawak Chamber in Borneo, which is so vast that people inside it get agoraphobia or megalophobia, as the chamber is so large you can fit 10 Wembley stadiums/stadia inside it.

- XL Tangent: If you were in a plain room with no stimulation whatsoever, you could only last for a few days. The CIA once researched supposed Chinese brainwashing techniques in the 1950s. Canadian psychologist Donald O. Hebb performed an experiment on participants who got $20 a day to sit in a cell with everything that might stimulate them removed. They wore cotton gloves, had cardboard cuffs, and soft goggle to prevent the eyes from rusting. Nobody could last a week, and everyone reported hallucinations. These hallucinations started with seeing dots and geometric patterns, but one reported seeing a parade of squirrels with backpacks marching along a snowy field, and another saw a bathtub being steered by an old man in a metal helmet.

General Ignorance

- Out of normal soap, antibacterial soap and a beauty bar, the normal soap will clean you the best. There is no evidence to show that antibacterial soap is better at killing germs, and it might even be worse. Soap works by dissolving fats which help dislodge the dirt. Many beauty bars are technically not soap at all, but instead are synthetic detergents. (Forfeit: Antibacterial soap)

- Tangent: When Lee rings the klaxon by saying "antibacterial soap", he asks if the Elves have got it wrong again. (Forfeit: No)

- You can't tell your toe is not broken just by wiggling it. (Forfeit: You can move it)

- XL Tangent: Manchester City goalkeeper Bert Trautmann once broke his neck during the 1956 FA Cup final and continued playing. The injury occurred when he collided with Birmingham City forward Peter Murphy. Terry Butcher also broke his neck during a game and continued playing. Alan learned this when he interviewed Butcher on a radio show.

- XL Tangent: There is truth to the idea that broken bones, once healed, are stronger, because some extra-tough bone will form around a fracture to protect the healing parts, but it is only temporary. Lee broke his leg as a child, and when he got older he trained for a marathon. However, he only got halfway through training because one leg was much shorter than the other because of his old injury. Lee wants to know if the healing makes it longer or shorter because he can't remember which leg broke, to Sandi says that if it worked she would break both of her legs.

- Eating food helps you get less drunk because alcohol enters the bloodstream via either the stomach or small intestine. The intestine absorbs alcohol quicker as it has a greater surface area. If you are full, the sphincter between your stomach and small intestine is closed, and more of the work will be done by the stomach, so a fatty meal can reduce your peak alcohol concentration by 50%. Thus, you want to eat something that keeps your stomach busy. Thus low-sugar mixers like slimline tonics get you drunk faster. (Forfeit: Lines the stomach)

- XL Tangent: When you drink, the brain creates a substance called galanin which has a role in addictions. If you inject it into mice, the mice will want to eat fatty food and drink alcohol, and more fatty food and alcohol they have, the more galanin they produce, and thus a cycle is created.

- Helen of Troy had a face that launched 1,186 ships, according to Homer's Iliad. The idea of her launching 1,000 ships dates back to Christopher Marlowe's 1592 play Doctor Faustus, which rounds down the figure. (Forfeit: 1,000)

- Tangent: The Iliad makes no mention of the wooden horse, but instead appears in a flashback in The Odyssey, and Helen of Troy originally came from Sparta.


- Lee Mack: 0 points
- Alan Davies: -3 points
- Jo Brand: -15 points
- Maisie Adam: -27 points

Broadcast details

Thursday 9th September 2021
30 minutes


Show past repeats

Date Time Channel
Friday 18th February 2022 9:00pm
45 minute version
Friday 18th February 2022 11:05pm
45 minute version
BBC2 Wales
Monday 2nd January 2023 8:20pm Dave
Tuesday 3rd January 2023 1:20am Dave
Thursday 23rd March 2023 12:40am Dave
Sunday 14th May 2023 11:40pm Dave
Monday 5th June 2023 10:00pm BBC2
Saturday 19th August 2023 11:40pm Dave
Thursday 28th December 2023 10:20pm Dave

Cast & crew

Sandi Toksvig Host / Presenter
Alan Davies Regular Panellist
Guest cast
Jo Brand Guest
Lee Mack Guest
Maisie Adam Guest
Writing team
James Harkin Script Editor
Anna Ptaszynski Script Editor
Sandi Toksvig Script Editor
Mat Coward Researcher
Will Bowen Researcher
Andrew Hunter Murray Researcher
Ed Brooke-Hitching Researcher
Mandy Fenton Researcher
Mike Turner Researcher
Emily Jupitus Researcher
James Rawson Researcher
Ethan Ruparelia Researcher
Lydia Mizon Researcher
Jack Chambers Question Writer
Production team
Ben Hardy 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
Helen Ringer Graphics
Robin Ellis Graphics
Sarah Clay Commissioning Editor

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