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.

  • Due to return for Series V
  • Series R, Episode 1 repeated tomorrow at 10:35pm on Dave
  • JustWatch Streaming rank this week: 814

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Series U, Episode 7 - Ufology

QI. Image shows left to right: Alan Davies, Nish Kumar, Sandi Toksvig, Tom Ward, Cally Beaton
Sandi Toksvig dusts off her tinfoil hat for a look at ufology with Cally Beaton, Nish Kumar, Tom Ward, and Alan Davies.


- The least-watched broadcast in the history of the universe is a three-minute-long radio message in binary. It was the very first intentional broadcast by human beings into outer space, made in 1974 and going out from the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico. When decoded, it shows a message depicting human beings, the planets, and the structure of DNA. The message was designed by a team of researchers at Cornell University led by astrophysicist Dr. Frank Drake, with the help of Carl Sagan. The problem with sending messages into space is that we do not know how much alien life there is, with Drake calculating the number of planets in the universe which might have alien life as being between 20 and 50 million. Other issues are that the signal is being broadcast to places that are pretty well known not to support life, and even if aliens did come across and set of immediately, it would take them 25,000 years to get to Earth. (Forfeit: Piers Morgan's show)

- Tangent: The first artwork to be broadcast into space was in 1986, and consisted of the vaginal contractions of Boston Ballet ballerinas. Called "Poetica Vaginal", it was made by Harvard scientist and artist Joe Davis. He made a special machine to record the contraction, and transmitted them as radio waves from MIT's Millstone Radar, aiming the signals at four sun-like systems about ten light years away, in a 20-minute long message. Davis was worried that NASA had set no images of human genitalia or reproduction. As he tried broadcasting it, the American Air Force officials shut it down after just a few minutes. In 1999, another official message was beamed out from Crimea, called the "Cosmic Call". It was 220 times longer than the Arecibo message and contained information about Earth's geography and basic geometry. Digitised versions of the human figures depicted on the plagues aboard the Pioneer 10 and 11 spacecraft which went up in 1972-73 are currently on their way to Sagittarius and Taurus.

- Tangent: Regarding the least-watched TV broadcast, we do not know what it is or if anybody has actually seen it. When Cally was a TV executive, they used to tell themselves that if a show got no views that people did watch it, they just didn't have the box turned on. It is hard to predict a hit, as evidenced that she first turned down South Park, and when it did become a hit she spent the next year trying to get it back.

- The kind of cigars that are banned in Chateauneuf-du-Pape are flying cigars, the original name for flying saucers. In 1954, the French region of Chateauneuf-du-Pape banned all UFOs after a man in the north of France claimed to have seen two figures that looked like deep-sea divers, who had emerged from a cigar-shaped spacecraft. In response, Mayor Lucien Jeune said that any aircraft known as a flying saucer or flying cigar was banned.

- Tangent: Sandi once had five minutes backstage alone with Bill Clinton, who she had never met him before, and after five minutes she thought to herself: "No, I probably would." She say he was mesmerising. Tom them impersonates Clinton.

- Tangent: Sandi says she should read the Mayor's words in French, but she just does English in a French accent. When Sandi's daughter was studying French GCSE, Sandi told her the question will certainly be about shopping. She got an A. When Alan was doing French O-level, the only words he knew in French were for "dog", "window" and "river", so he wrote a story about a man who went out the window to save a dog that was in the river. Cally asks if this became a Danish book, leading Sandi to ask if everyone thinks she knows everything about Denmark. Just before recording this episode, Sandi got a text from Jason Manford saying he was in Copenhagen and where was the best place to go for dinner, leading her to ask if she was TripAdvisor.

- Tangent: The UFO craze first began after the Second World War, in particular the 1950s, with many pilots reporting that they spotted bright orange lights and fireballs near the wings of their planes. These became known as "foo fighters", from the French "feu", meaning "fire". The band Foo Fighters get their name from this, although frontman Dave Grohl doesn't like the name. He just stumbled on it while reading about UFOs, and the name stuck. Cally met Grohl when she worked at MTV, and she says he was more alluring than a Clinton. The term "UFO" was coined to counter the idea that all UFOs were a particular shape, and today they now use the term UAP, meaning "Unidentified Aerial Phenomena". In the USA in 2022, there were 366 new UAP sightings, of which 171 could not be explained. The Pentagon has refused to rule out alien life, while the MoD has refused to report on the matter because they believe there is no military threat.

- XL: The holiest confectionery are flying saucers. In 1920, a Belgian company called Belgica began manufacturing Communion wafers for churches. Then in 1945, it was decreed that wafer production could only happen on consecrated ground, so they had to move to another source of income. Another of their products at the time was rice paper pill casings, and from this they created flying saucer sweets. (Forfeit: Curly Wurly)

- XL Tangent: Communion bread has to be unleavened, made purely of wheat, and ideally has to be crumb-free.

- XL Tangent: Waffles are also thought to have originated from communion wafers. 13th century Europeans were granted the right to make their own wafers by the church, and then secular people turned it into the waffle we now know. Waffles get the name form the Dutch word for weaving, "wafel", and early waffles were stamped with pictures of Jesus or the cross. The word "waffling" as in "waffling on" has a different origin, coming from "waff" as in barking like a dog. In Dutch word for barking is "waf".

- Nobody is interested in probing Uranus because of all the jokes about it sounding like "your anus". We know that Uranus has 500mph winds, smells of farts and surrounded by a big red ring. However, the jokes about the planet's name are jeopardising funding into research. The original Greek name would make the name "Ouranos", but the fact the name sounds funny means people would rather look at Neptune to avoid all the trouble. Jokes about Uranus can be found as far back as 1859, when Punch wrote: "If you put your head between your legs, what planet do you see? Uranus."

- Tangent: Cally asks if anyone else has had a colonoscopy, because she says it is not a bad day out. You get laxatives, so you get a very flat stomach. You also get loads of drugs and a day off work.

- XL: The thing that needs to stick their bottom in the air to live is the diving bell spider. It spends its entire life underwater, but needs air to breath. It breaths by spinning a waterproof web which is anchored to nearby plants, that acts as an air-filled underwater base. About once a day, it pokes its hairy legs and its backside out of the water, and it traps tiny air bubbles. Then it travels down to the sink diving bell and tops up its air supply. It can do this while hunting pray such as sticklebacks at the same time. The web also works better than human diving bells because the outer membrane allows gases to be exchanged, so oxygen in the water passes into the bell, and carbon dioxide is pushed out. The bells can also be connected to each other for mating. The males build a silk tunnel from theirs to the females, with the reproduction normally taking place in the female's bell because it will be tidier. The spiders also use their silk to traverse underwater just like some spiders use it to travel by air, to balloon themselves into distance places. Charles Darwin observed on HMS Beagle, which was invested with thousands of tiny red spiders, and yet they were 60 miles away from the shore. For years, people thought the spiders made a sail out of their web, but they were actually kept up by electricity in the sky.

- XL: Weightlifting is easier in Uganda because it is on the equator. The Earth is an oblate spheroid, flattened at the top and bulging out in the middle. If you are in Uganda, you are about 21km further away from the centre of the Earth, compared to the North and South Poles, and the further you are from the centre, the weaker the gravity is. Also, the Earth spins on its axis fastest at the equator, so centrifugal force also pushes you out. If you weighed 100kg at the North Pole, you would weigh 99kg in Uganda.

- XL Tangent: Another thing that effects your weight is travelling around the world. The Eotvos effect, named after Hungarian physicist Lorand Eotvos, discovered that if you travel from west to east (the same direction the Earth spins), you are rotating in space very slightly faster than anybody standing still on the Earth. This adds to the centrifugal force, so reduces your weight. The problem however is that if you travel in the opposite way, you go slower and weigh more. The effect is minuscule on people, but it is enough to effect scientific instruments, meaning that such instruments at sea or in the air have to be recalibrated to take the Eotvos effect into account. For example, NASA's base in Cape Canaveral, Florida, is on the right-hand side of the country, and it as close to the equator as you can get on the US mainland. Because rockets are launched west-to-east (firing over the sea for safety reasons), they get part of the Eotvos effect, becoming faster and lighter. One other problem flying in this direction is that you do become more jet-lagged.

- XL: The biggest dead weight in America is the Million Pounds-Force Deadweight Machine. It was built in 1965 and is to do with the US government's National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). It is responsible for standardising units of measurement across the country, and weighs exactly a million pounds. It is made up of 19 x 50,000lb stainless steel discs, in a set-up about ten-storeys tall, and it took QI's lawyer to say: "Can I just say that 19 times 50,000 doesn't make a million?" which no-one else had spotted. It also contains some structure that takes up to a million pounds. The main purpose is to calibrate the scales used in measuring extremely strong forces, such as rocket thrust and jet engine propulsion. To know if it is exactly the right weight, they used a replica of an international prototype kilogram in Paris, and multiplied it 453,592.37 times. Other standards at the NIST include a standard cigarette, to test the flammability of certain items; and standard peanut butter, to test the contents of a given jar. (Forfeit: Donald Trump)

- XL Tangent: No-one can decide when World Standards Day is. They set is at the 14th October, but in 2023 the USA was doing on 12th October. It is always on a different day in different parts of the world.

- The panel are asked which they prefer out of a big freeze, a big crunch, a big rip, a big bounce and a big slurp. These are all theories as to how to universe will end. The Big Slurp is where a random quantum fluctuation could cause a tiny bubble of emptiness to form somewhere in the universe, which would immediately start expanding at the speed of light, slurping everything in its path. One good thing about this end is that it would be so fast you wouldn't notice it happening to you. The Big Freeze is the heat death of the universe, where as the universe keeps getting bigger, everything gets extremely spread out, meaning everything gets too cold to sustain life. The Big Crunch is when the universe gets bigger in volume until it reaches the point it finally slows down, at which point gravity has an opportunity to pull everything back together, so the universe ends up shrinking into an incredibly hot point. The Big Bounce could be a cycle of Big Bangs and Big Crunches, but this is unlikely because the universe shows no sign at all of slowing down. The Big Rip sees the expansion of the universe accelerating until it overcomes the forces of gravity, meaning nothing holds everything together and the universe rips into pieces.

- Tangent: The universe is about 100 years old, or rather that is how long we have known for it to exist. On the night of 5th-6th October 1923, Edwin Hubble discovered that a star called V1 was too far away to belong to the Milky Way. V1 is the single most important object in the history of cosmology.

General Ignorance

- If you were on the way to the Moon but were ejected into space without a spacesuit, your body temperature would go up slightly. The only way heat could escape the body is through radiation, but as long as you are close to the sun, then the sun's radiation will warm you up faster than your body cools down, so you would bake. You would get sunburn in a few minutes, then second-degree burns in half an hour, and eventually you would burn to death. (Forfeit: You would freeze; Nothing)

- If you were in the above situation, your blood would not boil. The blood in your body is a closed system, so the pressure would not affect it. (Forfeit: Yes, I'd be furious)

- The first dogs sent into space were Dezik and Tsygan. They reached the edge of space in 1951, six years before Laika. The Karman line is usually considered to be the place where the Earth stops and space begins, defined as being 100km above sea level. Dezik and Tsygan reached 110km. (Forfeit: Laika)

- Tangent: In 1989, the Discovery Shuttle ran a middle-school students project to hatch 32 fertilised chicken embryos in microgravity. The project was called "Chicks In Space". Hens keep turning eggs once they lay them because gravity pulls the yolk to the bottom of the shell, so the hen turns the egg over so the chick doesn't get stuck to the shell membrane. Chicks In Space was sponsored by KFC, they had their own official NASA patch, and the first chick watched was called Kentucky. Kentucky lived out his life in the Louisville Zoo.


- Cally Beaton: -8 points
- Nish Kumar: -16 points
- Alan Davies and Tom Ward: -17 points


The XL version of the episode debuted first.

Broadcast details

Tuesday 13th February 2024
45 minutes


Show past repeats

Date Time Channel
Sunday 18th February 2024 10:30pm BBC2

Cast & crew

Sandi Toksvig Host / Presenter
Alan Davies Regular Panellist
Guest cast
Nish Kumar Guest
Cally Beaton Guest
Tom Ward Guest
Writing team
James Harkin Script Editor
Anna Ptaszynski Script Editor
Sandi Toksvig Script Editor
Will Bowen Researcher
Andrew Hunter Murray Researcher
Mike Turner Researcher
Jack Chambers Researcher
Emily Jupitus Researcher
James Rawson Researcher
Lydia Mizon Researcher
Miranda Brennan Researcher
Tara Dorrell Researcher
Henry Eliot Researcher
Leying Lee Researcher
Manu Henriot Researcher
Joe Mayo Researcher
Ethan Ruparelia Question Writer
Production team
Diccon Ramsay Director
Piers Fletcher Producer
John Lloyd Executive Producer
Nick King Editor
Jonathan Paul Green Production Designer
Gemma O'Sullivan Lighting Designer
Howard Goodall Composer
Aran Kharpal Graphics
Helen Ringer Graphics
Sarah Clay Commissioning Editor

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