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 T, Episode 1 - Tips And Tools

QI. Sandi Toksvig
Sandi Toksvig shares her top tips and tools with Joe Lycett, Holly Walsh, Bill Bailey and Alan Davies.


- The favourite tool of a lesbian builder is a lesbian ruler. It is a device which remembers the shape of anything you measure. It is named after rulers used by Ancient Greek stonemasons out of pliable lead on the island of Lesbos. These rulers allow you to follow the contours of any moulding. Aristotle wrote about these rulers, using them as a metaphor to argue that things such as law and justice should be flexible and applied to specific circumstances. Today, the name of the lesbian rulers has been changed to flexible curve rules.

- XL Tangent: A stubby nail eater is a tool that you used for removing nails that have been hammered incorrectly.

- Tangent: Sandi gets out a large metal file used for metalwork, and asks the panel to name it. It is called a flat bastard file.

- Alan is given a tiny toolbox containing twigs and a walnut, and is asked who uses it. It is used as cutlery by cockatoos. In 2021, wild Indonesian Goffin's cockatoos were seen eating sea mangoes using sticks whittled into three distinct types of tool. They used the sticks to break open the hard stone, then eat the pulpy material inside. The sharpest twig pierces the shell, the thickest pries open the crack, and the medium twig is used as a spoon to dig out the seeds. It is the first documented case of a tool set being used by a wild non-primate.

- Tangent: Holly says you should not break down the phrase "sea mango", as you get "semen-go". Alan says that it is what you shout at an important moment.

- The panel are shown pictures of three unusual tools and are asked what they are for:

- The middle picture is of a Hirtz compass used to detect metal objects in the body, designed during World War One. Invented by French medical officer E. J. Hirtz, it was created because pinpointing bullets with 2D x-rays is very difficult, so rods are inserted directly into the wound and thus it allows you to work out how deep the projectile was and the location it was in. One surgeon general wrote in 1924: "No instrument gave as much help as did the compass by its precision and accuracy."

- Tangent: Alan guesses that the compass inserted into the urethra. Bill mentions there is a fish, the candiru, in the Amazon that swims into the urethra, lodges inside the penis and prevents you from urinating. Bill adds that sometimes you have to have your penis removed because of it, although Alan says that surely it only happens once.

- The right-hand picture is a dodecahedron, from the Roman Empire, made between the second and fourth centuries. However, there is no known mention of them anywhere in Latin literature. The first to be discovered was found in 1739, and since then 115 have been found. They were normally made out of bronze, but some are stone, and are about the size of a golf ball.

- XL Tangent: By observing how sunlight falls through the holes of the dodecahedron, it is possible to work out what day of the year it is.

- The left-hand picture, consisting of two long pointed metal sticks, are Perkins tractors. Invented by 18th century American physician Elisha Perkins, it was an example of quackery involving electromagnetism. George Washington is said to have owned a pair, and they supposedly treated anything. At first they would seem to work, as there would be some interaction between the skin and metal that allegedly cured the patient. However, English physician John Haygarth showed that fake wooden tractors did it as well. It is possible therefore that this could be an early example of the placebo effect.

- NASA uses trampolines to make their astronauts stronger. The trampolines make the leg muscles stronger without putting too much strain on the joints Trampolines are 68% more effective than treadmills at strengthening muscles, particularly when you have returned from space. The modern trampoline was invented by American gymnast George Nissen, who made a prototype out of an old bed frame. He did a publicity shot in Central Park of him bouncing on his trampoline with a red kangaroo called Victoria, which repeatedly kicked Nissen throughout the photoshoot. Nissen started the first trampoline manufacturing firm in 1942, then met a man called Scott Carpenter, who became one of the original Mercury Seven astronauts, and they introduced trampolines into NASA's training programme. One of elements of the programme is a game called spaceball, in which one player on one half of a trampoline has to push a ball through a hole, and the other has to try and push it back through again. Spaceball is reportedly the best conditioning exercise for space travel that there is.

- XL: The thing that is driven into a sexual frenzy by listening to the French nationalist song "Ca Ira" ("It'll Be Fine") is elephants. During the French Revolution, scientists tried to make elephants mate by playing them this song. Two Sri Lankan elephants called Hans and Marguerite where tested to see if they would react to music, and what kind of music would turn them on. On 29th May 1798, a small orchestra of 11 players of oboes, flutes, violins, and singers got together and played for the elephants. "Ca Ira" was the song that excited Hans and Marguerite the most. A museum librarian wrote that: "That piece sent the female elephant into a frenzy. Marguerite approached Hans with flapping ears and insistent caresses to the sensitive parts of his body, soon followed by kicking, falling to the ground, rising on her hind legs and pressing against the bars. Her ardour became quickly dampened by the realisation they were being observed by an audience, and in the end, Hans and Marguerite were too shy to mate in public."

- XL Tangent: In his later years, Charles Darwin wrote a book about worms, and whether they can hear, like and react to music. He played a trumpet to some worms, and they did not react.

- XL Tangent: Goldfish can tell the difference between composers. Researchers at a university in Tokyo trained fish to bite a red bead when played one piece of music, and not to bite the bead when another was played. The fish could distinguish between Bach's "Toccatta and Fugue in D minor" and Stravinsky's "The Rite of Spring" 75% of the time, but they showed no preference.

- XL Tangent: Bill has two cockatoos, one of which prefers upbeat music, and other more languid, sort of cello music.

- XL Tangent: American alligators have a favourite note, being aroused by B-flat played two octaves below middle-C on the French horn. Meanwhile, an experiment at Northern Arizona University revealed that if you played heavy metal (specifically Guns N' Roses) in an area that is very infested with beetles, it disrupts their mating. The music distressed them so much they sometimes ate each other.

- Good ways to earn bigger tips if you are waiting tables is to wear something unusual. For example, waitresses with floral hairpins earned 17% more than those wearing plain hairpins. Other things that help include wearing funny badges; French researchers gave waiting staff joke cards, and 42% of those telling jokes got tipped compared to 25% who didn't. There is also something postural congruence, where you will get bigger tips if you squat at the table and get your face closer to the customer, as well as casually touching customers. The best time to do these touches is when you are putting the check on the table, so you distract the customer from the amount on the bill. The best people to serve if you want a good tip is men consuming alcohol with their meal during a weekend, ideally when they are conducting a business discussion or dining after a sporting event.

- Tangent: Holly once worked as a caterer. Sandi asked what she did when she was a caterer, to which Holly replies: "Catering". Bill once worked in a job delivering cakes, but in one job he discovered that the recipient of the cakes had moved on from the time that they were being delivered, meaning that he ended up in a flat full of cakes.

- Tangent: Between Denmark and South Sudan, the place where you are most likely to get a good tip is South Sudan. This is because the best tippers occur in the most corrupt countries, with Denmark being the least corrupt country in the world, and South Sudan the most corrupt. Also, tipping is very uncommon in Denmark. Bill then starts speaking Danish to Sandi. Bill claims the language sounds like people speaking English while a little bit drunk. For example: "Thanks for the coffee", in Danish is: "Tak for kaffe".

- XL: The simplest way to improve your Dutch is to say it while having some "Dutch courage". Drinking alcohol can improve your spoken Dutch. A group of German speakers learning Dutch were test with some given wine and others a non-alcoholic placebo, and the people who had the wine spoke better Dutch. However, there is a tipping point in the study, because if you have too much to drink you cannot be understood by anyone.

- [colour=#000080]XL Tangent: Some years ago, Sandi was very unwell in Copenhagen on a Saturday night. She went to the central hospital and A&E was completely deserted. Sandi asked a nurse where all the drunks where, and the nurse replied: "If you are drunk, you should go home." Sandi like the visit to the hospital, mainly because she was given morphine, which she liked a lot. Holly had a similar experience with OxyContin, which she was given when she had a colonoscopy. The staff apologised to her saying that she would have to come back every year for this treatment, but she liked the OxyContin so much she said she would be have to make two appointments every year. Bill had a colonoscopy given to him by someone who was a fan of his, but Bill was sedated, so he was off his face throughout the entire thing.

- XL Tangent: When Sandi's children get a bit too drunk, they tell her that they had a bad sausage. Joe replies: "If I said: 'I had a bad sausage...'"

- XL Tangent: The expression "Dutch courage" comes from the Anglo-Dutch Wars of the 17th and 18th centuries. The English were implying that the Dutch were both heavy drinkers and cowards at the same time. Other phrases dating to around this time include: "Dutch treat", "going Dutch", "Dutch uncle", and "Dutch wife", which was a bolster. Holly adds "Dutch oven" for a fart trapped under a duvet. The mishearing of the word "Dutch" came from the USA, because Americans mistook people from the Netherlands are Germans.

- These days a dozen puffins will get you rough 800 live mackerel. Up until the 1970s, western zoos and aquariums legally bought and sold animals. Zoos gave explorers shopping lists of rare animals to find. This resulted in a huge amount of poaching. In JFK Airport, in one go they found 1,867 illegal cheetah pelts, representing one tenth of the world's population at the time. In 1973, the US brought in the Endangered Species Act, meaning you now have to have permits if you are buying and selling animals. There is however a loophole: barter. Thus, all zoos and aquariums went cashless. For example, in Boston's New England Aquarium, they basic unit of trade is a jellyfish. If you want a fish from another aquarium, but the other aquarium does not want jellyfish, then you have to make multiple jellyfish exchanges to get what the other aquarium wants and then exchange that fish for the one you wanted in the first place. Thus there is a kind of animal exchanged used by zoos around the world.

- Tangent: Bill runs the smallest zoo in Britain. The zoo started off as a rescue centre for animals, and it snowballed from there. The barter system also works for Bill's zoo, with him once swapping two giant rabbits for some tortoises. The rarest thing in Bill's zoo is some frogs. Bill also has some Malay fighting cocks that are so aggressive that he cannot go into his garden because of them. The person Bill got them said that the cocks were bred for fighting in the 1840s, but the aggression has been bred out of them - but not the one Bill has. Reportedly if they fixate on you, they go bad. Bill once has some builders working on his house, who at first mocked him for his fear of the cock, but then the cock turned on one of the builders, who had to rush across Bill's garden to avoid him. Holly suggests that Bill is being henpecked.

- XL Tangent: American prisons deal in mackerel. It used to be that cigarettes were the currency for trading, but mackerel held their value and thus were easier to trade. However, they don't trade mackerel in tins as the tins could be used as a weapon. Other items traded include instant ramen; two soups can get you a sweatshirt while one soup gets you a spring-cleaned prison bunk. Two ex-methamphetamine addicts in a prison in New Zealand started a yoghurt Mafia, inspired by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's River Cottage, by taking standard issue yoghurt and using heat from pipes in their cells to cultivate more, and began selling it all the way through the prison system.

- XL: The best way to eat a burger is to hold the burger lightly, with three fingers at the top, then your little fingers and thumbs at the bottom, and to hold the burger upside down. In 2014, Japanese scientists including a fluid dynamics expert, a dentist and an engineer spent four months working out the best way to hold a burger. TGI Friday however recommends simply holding the burger upside down, because the top bun is domed and is thus usually thicker. This reduced the mess and the likelihood of disintegration. The question is illustrated by QI Elf James Harkin eating a burger using both methods.

General Ignorance

- The people who first discovered America were the Siberians. A recent study of Native Americans' DNA by a Brazilian university found that the first people of any kind to set foot in America were about 250 Siberians who migrated there around 15,000 years ago, back when there was a land bridge known as Beringia connected Siberia to Alaska. People lived in this region for about 8,000 years. Almost all Native Americans are descended from these people, and spread as far down as Argentina. (Forfeit: The Vikings; Christopher Columbus; Jeremy Clarkson)

- XL Tangent: There are some populations in the Amazon who are more closely related to indigenous peoples of Australia, New Guinea and the Andaman Islands than of those in South America.

- Venus fly traps mainly eat ants, spiders and beetles. Flies make up about 5% of their diet. One man fed his plant the crust flakes of his own diseased skin from a very bad case of athlete's foot, and the plant ate it. The leaves are lined with teeth that lock together, forming an airtight seal. It takes the plants about a week to digest a meal, and they can live for about 20 years. There is only one place on Earth where Venue fly traps grow in the wild, which is 75 miles of Wilmington, North Carolina. (Forfeit: Jeremy Clarkson; Flies)

- Tangent: Bill has a carnivorous plant named after him: a pitcher plant called Nepenthes Bill Bailey, which eats little worms.

- XL Tangent: The original world population of Venus fly traps was estimated at 5 million, but it is now down to 35,000.


- Holly Walsh: 2 points
- Alan Davies: -3 points
- Bill Bailey: -12 points
- Joe Lycett: -27 points

Broadcast details

Friday 11th November 2022
30 minutes


  1. Thursday 7th March 2024 at 9:00pm on Dave (60 minute version)

Show past repeats

Date Time Channel
Sunday 19th March 2023 10:00pm
45 minute version
Monday 25th September 2023 9:00pm
60 minute version
Monday 30th October 2023 9:00pm
60 minute version
Sunday 24th December 2023 1:00am
60 minute version

Cast & crew

Sandi Toksvig Host / Presenter
Alan Davies Regular Panellist
Guest cast
Bill Bailey Guest
Holly Walsh Guest
Joe Lycett Guest
Writing team
James Harkin Script Editor
Anna Ptaszynski Script Editor
Sandi Toksvig Script Editor
Mat Coward Researcher
Will Bowen Researcher
Anne Miller 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
Lydia Mizon Researcher
Miranda Brennan Researcher
Tara Dorrell Researcher
Henry Eliot Researcher
Leying Lee Researcher
Manu Henriot Question Writer
Production team
Ben Hardy Director
Piers Fletcher Producer
John Lloyd Executive Producer
Nick King Editor
Jonathan Paul Green Production Designer
Ian Penny Lighting Designer
Howard Goodall Composer
Helen Ringer Graphics
Robin Ellis Graphics
Sarah Clay Commissioning Editor


Bill Bailey gets a QI Award

Bill is given an award by QI's creator John Lloyd for making the joint-most appearances on the show.

Featuring: Bill Bailey & Sandi Toksvig.

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