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


BBC Two and BBC One panel show about quite interesting facts. 266 episodes (pilot + 18 series), 2003 - 2020. Stars Sandi Toksvig, Stephen Fry and Alan Davies.

Returns Wednesday 23rd December at 9pm. Episode Guide
Series P, Episode 1 is repeated on Dave tomorrow at 10pm.

Series I, Episode 12 - Illumination

Further details


- Each member of the panel is given a set of cards with different international symbols on them and they have to figure out what the symbols are for. The answer is revealed just before "General Ignorance".

- In the first Blackpool Illuminations in 1879 there were only 8 lamps, at a distance of 370 yards apart. Despite this it was visited by up to 100,000 from all over Britain and were so bright they were described as "artificial sunshine". The Illuminations began before the invention of Edison's filament bulb, and thus they used carbon arc lamps, which were much brighter than ordinary gas lighting. Carbon arc lamps were being used by the film industry until the 1980s. People who have turned on the Blackpool Illuminations in the past have included Jayne Mansfield, the Top Gear team, Red Rum (by the use of a special pedal) in 1977, Michael Ball in 1997 and Dale Winton in 2006. The Illuminations currently cost £50,000 in electricity bills every year, are six miles long, use 200 miles of wire and a million bulbs.

- XL Tangent: Thomas Edison once electrocuted an elephant which had killed some people on Coney Island and filmed it in an attempt to show the supposed dangerous of alternating current, as apposed to his direct current system. Alan mentions that this has been covered on QI before (Series E, Episode 2: Electricity).

- XL Tangent: The Blackpool Illuminations cost £2.3 million to stage, but brings in 3.5 million visitors and £275 million into the local economy.

- XL: The Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa had to wait for the light because he was being filmed by the Americans. He took part in a three-part war against the Mexican government and another group of revolutionaries lead by Emiliano Zapata. The American public were fascinated by the war and American film companies paid different sides the rights to film their battles. Villa took 20% of the box office takings from the Mutual Film Company, but he had to wait for all the equipment to be set up, including the lighting, before he could start the battle. Also, the company made him dress in a general's uniform despite the fact he went casual. The war was actually not that exciting so the companies would re-enact them, making them even bloodier and more dramatic. While it was reported once on QI that his last words were: "Don't let it end like this, tell them I said something," it now appears that this was highly unlikely as his car was hit by 40 bullets and he himself by 9 dum-dum bullets, so he was probably killed instantly.

- XL Tangent: Pancho Villa took his name from his grandfather Jesus Villa.

- XL Tangent: As well as being an army Villa's troops were bandits. Villa once held up a train, taking 122 silver ingots and a Wells Fargo bank employee as a hostage. He then forced Wells Fargo to help him sell the ingots with the hostage.

- XL Tangent: The first war to be filmed was the Greco-Turkey War of 1897. There was a British cameraman called Villiers who took the footage, but when he got home he discovered that the film companies had re-enacted the battles already so there was no need for his footage.

- XL Tangent: During the Spanish-American war, naval battles were re-enacted by a man who cut out pictures of battleships, pasted them to bits of wood, put them in a tank of water that was just an inch thick, lit bits of gunpowder, and had an office boy blow cigar smoke into shot. Even today, most journalists who work in war zones admit to sexing up their footage.

- XL Tangent: The earliest example of faking war photography dates back to the 1857-58 Indian uprising where a photographer scattered large numbers of bones on the ground after a massacre.

- The panel are shown a video of a man in a hooded overcoat and are asked what he is about to do. The answer is that he is going to disappear, as the coat he is wearing is a sort of "invisibility cloak", which projects what is behind him onto the other side of the coat. Such technology is being used by pilots to see through the floors of their planes. The man who developed it is Professor Susumu Tachi of Japan, and the coat is made out of retro-reflectum. Some other invisibility technologies are limited. For example there is one that only works in infrared vision, and another which works on microscopic things, so you cannot see them with the naked eye anyway.

- Tangent: The Hawaiian bobtail squid not only can camouflage itself, but it can also camouflage its own shadow, by using iridescent light. It consumes bioluminescent food and the stomach controls the oxygen to regulate how much light is shown.

- Tangent: Jim Lovell, one of the astronauts who survived Apollo 13, was a former naval pilot. On one flight, all his instruments failed, and he was out in the middle of the sea in complete darkness. However, he could just see a faint phosphorus wake of his aircraft carrier which was just over the horizon, so he just followed that and he managed to get back safely. Also, as the luminescence only happened every so often, he was hugely lucky to have found his way back as it was a total coincidence.

- Tangent: During the Indonesian Confrontation in the 1960s the British Army were amazed by the fact that the Indonesians could travel in the darkest forests but also stay together in single file. What they did was tuck a rotting leaf in the back of their hats which gave off just enough light so the person ahead could see.

- The panel are shown a picture of some warriors dressed in black and asked what they are do for a living. The answer is that they are NOT ninjas, as ninjas did not wear black. The darkest clothes they ever wore have been blue. The idea of them wearing black dates back to a tradition in Kabuki Theatre that if anything is black then you cannot see it, so stagehands could dress in black and move furniture around. Then they had the idea that the stagehand could suddenly kill someone, because they were actually playing a ninja, who were secret assassins. (Forfeit: Ninja) Correciton: Ninjas did wear black. Historical texts written by ninjas dating back to the 17th century mention wearing black. The idea the uniform dates back to Kabuki Theatre has no foundation and began as a myth in the 1960s. Ninha were also not secret assassins, just spies who used guerilla tactics.

- XL Tangent: Ninjas did not really fight as such. It was the samurai who were noble warriors, whereas the ninjas used all kinds of tricks and also acted as spies and scouts. They used distraction techniques such as throwing talcum powder or cards at people. In a way, the ninjas were the opposite to the samurai.

Correction: Ninjas did not use lots of tricks. Being seen was akin to failure. Ninjas were also not the opposite to samurai. Most were part of samurai culture.

- The quite interesting thing about the original geishas was that they were all men. This was true up to 1751, then there was even numbers of men and women 100 years later, and now there are nearly all women. They were originally akin to court jesters.

- The panel are asked to watch a video of a glass tank and are asked how many balls are in it. While it looks like five balls were dropped into a tank full of water, there are actually over 1,000, because it is not full of water, but of hydrogel beads, which appear to go invisible in a tank and look like water because lights passes through them at the same angle as water. They are used in flower arranging and the manufacturing of contact lenses. (Forfeit: Five)

- XL: The Sun is closest to the Earth in the month of January, due to the Earth's elliptical orbit. (Forfeit: July)

- XL Tangent: The first man to discover that the Tropics were hotter not because they were nearer the Sun, but because a smaller area is lit by an equal amount of light compared to other latitudes was George Best. Not the footballer, but another man who was killed two years after the discovery in a duel in 1854.

- Nobody Knows: No-one knows why blindfolded people cannot walk in a straight line. This was first discovered in amoebas by Asa Schaeffer, and he wondered if it was the same in humans, so he blindfolded a friend and asked him to walk in a straight line in a country field. His friend just walked in a clockwork spiral until he hit a tree stump. No-one gets the bonus.

- XL: The panel and the audience are asked to shut their eyes and point north-east. However, the chances are that you are pointing north-east relative to you rather than the actual geographic north-east. One of the few people who can actually point north-east is an Australian Aboriginal tribe called the Pormpuraaw, who speak the dying Kuuk Thaayorre language which has no words for left or right. Instead they refer to everything in relation to north and south. (Forfeit: Wrong way!)

- XL Tangent: While we refer to looking forward into the future, the Imara Indians of South America refer to looking back into the future.

- Colonel William Rankin got stuck for 30 minutes in something marked by a different version of one of the symbols shown at the start of the show. The thing that the symbol indicates is a cumulonimbus cloud. All of the panel's cards show symbols for different kinds of cloud. The cumulonimbus is the tallest structure on the planet. Colonel Rankin was an American pilot who ejected into one of these clouds. He was buffeted around for half-an-hour; his eyes and ears bled, and he was pelted with hail.

- A morning glory is useful to a pilot because you can glide in it for ages. It is an annual event that takes place over Burketown, Northern Queensland (population 178). It is a cloud system that can be up to 600 miles long (as long as the UK). According to pilots of gliders it is the most exciting thing you can experience.

- Tangent: An Indian Granny Cloud is where older women can use the internet and programmes like Skype to teach children in India. It started with Professor Sugata Mitra, and the first lesson was on making jam.

General Ignorance

- The largest black body in the solar system is the Sun. In cosmology a black body is one which does not reflect light, but just radiates. If a black hole were in the solar system it would destroy the entire system. (Forfeit: A black hole)

- Light from the centre of the sun takes 100,000 years to reach the Earth. However, light on the surface of the sun takes roughly eight minutes and twenty-six seconds to reach the Earth. You can fit 1.3 million Earths into the Sun. The Sun makes up 99.8% of the mass of the solar system. (Forfeit: Eight minutes)

- Not much of the alcohol goes away when you bring it to the boil. It would take three hours at least for all the alcohol to evaporate. Flambéing only gets rid of a quarter of the alcohol. If you add alcohol to a recipe and leave the dish overnight and uncovered you get rid of more alcohol than by boiling it as it evaporates naturally. (Forfeit: It boils away)

- XL Tangent: You are not allowed to drink alcohol on US Navy ships since 1914.

- XL Tangent: French riot police have protested against measures to stop them drinking during lunch.

- XL: A no-eyed, big-eyed wolf spider really does have no eyes. They evolved in caves on Kauai, Hawaii, thus living in total darkness and therefore had no need of them. All other big-eyed wolf spiders have eight eyes. (Forfeit: Eight)


- Rich Hall: 3 points
- Jack Dee: -1 point
- Chris Addison: -9 points
- Alan Davies: -45 points


For more information on the correction, see the QI Qibble Blog.

Broadcast details

Friday 25th November 2011
30 minutes

Cast & crew

Regular cast
Stephen Fry Host / Presenter
Alan Davies Regular Panellist
Guest cast
Rich Hall Guest
Jack Dee Guest
Chris Addison Guest
Writing team
John Mitchinson Question Writer
Justin Pollard Question Writer
James Harkin Question Writer
Molly Oldfield Question Writer
Andrew Hunter Murray Question Writer
Production team
Ian Lorimer Director
David Morley (as Dave Morley) Executive Producer
Ruby Kuraishe Executive Producer


How Many Balls Can You See?

Stephen Fry gives the panel bowls full of hydrogel beads to play with.

Featuring: Alan Davies, Stephen Fry, Rich Hall, Jack Dee, Chris Addison.


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