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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 J, Episode 9 repeated at 10pm on Dave
  • JustWatch Streaming rank this week: 991


Episode menu

Series I, Episode 7 - Incomprehensible

Preview clips


- The panel are played a recording of a prairie dog squeaking and are asked what it is saying. According to Prof. Con Slobodchikoff of Northern Arizona University who has studied them for 30 years, it is saying that, "there is a human approaching wearing a yellow shirt." They can tell the difference between different types of predator, humans, badgers, geometric shapes and coloured shirts that humans are wearing. They can determine different heights of humans, but not different genders.

- Tangent: The director on one of Brian's documentaries had a PhD from Oxford studying frog communication.

- XL Tangent: For a treat the panel are played a clip of another prarire dog which has been dubbed over and appears to be shouting "Alan" over and over, before correcting himself and shouting "Steve".

- When the Pope's librarian, Leo Allatius, first saw the rings on Saturn he said that it was possible that after Christ's ascension into Heaven that the rings could be Christ's foreskin. Allatius wrote about his theory in a paper called "De Praeputio Domini Nostri Jesu Christi Diatriba", which in English roughly translates as "A Discussion on the Foreskin of Our Lord Jesus Christ". Jesus was Jewish and would have been circumcised on the eighth day of his birth. There are 18 places in the world which claim to have the real foreskin of Christ. One is claimed to be used as an invisible wedding ring on the hand of St. Catherine of Siena. She was an anorexic and sort out degrading experiences, such as drinking a cup full of cancerous pus from a woman who had abused her.

- Tangent: Galileo thought that the rings around Saturn looked rather like the ears of a jug.

- Nobody Knows: Nobody knows how the rings of Saturn formed. There are two main theories. One is that they are the remains of a moon that was destroyed, but as the rings are made of ice and moons are made out of rock this seems unlikely. The other theory is that it is something to do with the formation of the planet itself and something may have spun off it in some way. The structure of the rings is held by the moons, some of which are inside the rings and are known as shepherds. Brian gets the bonus.

- Tangent: In terms of there being any life on Saturn's moons, one possible contender is Enceladus, which is about the size of Britain, but has fountains of ice rising from the surface, which may mean there could be liquid water underneath. Wherever on Earth there is water, there is life. Ross then asks Brian which moon is most likely to be the home to the Ewoks from Star Wars. Brian claims it would by Titan because it has a thicker atmosphere than the Earth so you would need to be furry.

- XL: Spacemen follow penguins around by looking at their trails of poo. This is done to keep an eye on penguin colonies. Originally scientists used bands around the wings, but there was a 44% increase in the mortality rate of penguins that had these on. Then a German scientist discovered that penguins squeeze to defecate four times harder than humans, so they leave a streak of faeces 30cm away from their bodies, which can be tracked up in space.

- The main use for the second commonest gas in the universe is for MRI scanners. The gas is helium and is used in refrigeration. However, there is so little naturally occurring helium on Earth that the planet may run out of it by 2035. MRI scanners came about due to particle physics. Helium is also used to cool the Large Hadron Collider, where it runs at 1.9 degrees above absolute zero. (Forfeit: Making your voice go funny)

- Tangent: Ross asks Brian that due to the effect of the magnets what impact the LHC has on cows wearing Swiss cowbells. Brian says that as particles are fired at 99.999999% the speed of light, meaning the particles are travelling around the 27km circumference of the LHC 11,000 times a second, the cows would weight 7,000 times more.

- According to archaeologists the present is 1st January 1950. It was decided that due to the atmosphere being messed up with due to nuclear testing no carbon dating after the point would be reliable. The abbreviation BP is used by archaeologists to mean anything "Before Present". However, according to Einstein's theories, which are our best theories at the moment, there is no present moment.

- XL Tangent: Nobel Prize winning physicist Richard Feynman had a theory which was there may only be one electron in the entire universe, and this is visible at all points in space and time, travelling backwards and forwards through time. This came about because all electrons are the same.

- Stephen performs an experiment. He takes a box containing candles and lights them. He then takes a jug and puts in it some powder and some liquid. This produces a certain gas. Stephen puts his hand over the jug to prevent it escaping, then "pours" the gas into the box. The gas "flows" in and puts the candles out. Stephen asks what is going on. What happened is that Stephen mixed sodium bicarbonate and vinegar, which produces carbon dioxide. As the carbon dioxide is poured in it pushes out the lighter air which is needed to burn, and thus puts out the flames.

- Tangent: You cannot carry liquid nitrogen in a lift because if you spill it, it produces nitrogen gas which is also heavier than air. This forces all the oxygen towards the top of lift causing you to suffocate. Stephen remembers a chemistry lesson in which his teacher put a rose in liquid nitrogen for a second then took the rose out and smashed it on a desk.

- Tangent: The surface of Titan is so cold that it has lakes of liquid methane. It behaves exactly like water on Earth, thus you have methane rain, snow, ice and lakes. One lake on Titan is as large as Earth's Lake Superior. Because of this Ross realises that you could dip an Ewok into the lake and then shatter it. Because methane is the main constituent of a fart, Ross gets even more excited by the fact you can shatter an Ewok in a "lake of fart". Unlike methane gas, the methane liquid would not be flammable because there is no oxygen on Titan.

- Nobody Knows: We do not know what variety of lettuce was served upon the Titanic. There were 7,000 heads of lettuce saved from the ship. No-one gets the bonus. (Forfeit: Iceberg)

- Tangent: The most valuable icebergs could be on Uranus or Neptune because the crushing pressure might create lakes of liquid diamond and solid diamond icebergs.

- XL: If you were on the bridge of the Titanic and see the iceberg to your right the command you should give to the helmsman to avoid it is: "Hard starboard". Until 1933 you gave to opposite command because at the time there many ways of steering the ship, the wheel being just one. For tillers, in order to go to starboard they would push towards starboard. (Forfeit: Port)

- XL Tangent: A jet-ski does not have a rudder.

- The panel are asked to fill in the gaps in the following slogans.

- County Donegal: Up here it's different.

- Northumbria Police: Total policing.

- Welcome to Northamptonshire: Let yourself grow.

- Welcome to Tower Hamlets: Let's make it happen.

- XL: The Scottish tourist board: Welcome to Scotland. The Scottish parliament and the Tourist Board of Scotland in 2007 spent £125,000 coming up with that slogan.

- XL Tangent: Stephen's favourite slogan is for Kentucky. All the American states have their own slogan, but Kentucky's references the two most famous things it is known for in America, which is horse racing (the Kentucky Derby) and bourbon whiskey: "Unbridled spirit". Stephen is also a Kentucky colonel, as appointed by the state governor. In theory he could be called up in defence of the state. When Stephen made his documentary series in which he visited all the states of America he was asked what his favourite state was and he said Kentucky. Three months later Stephen got a letter from the governor with a certificate, a baseball cap and other things, saying he had been made a colonel in the Kentucky army.

- XL Tangent: Ross has the key to the Australian city of Port Pirie. He once performed a gig in the city in which the mayor was present. Ross asked for the key to the city and the mayor agreed. Ross came down to the office where he worked, and the mayor gave him an old shed key with a bit of ribbon tied to it.

- XL Tangent: Alan was once in America and driving a car with SatNav. He wanted to drive from Atlantic City to Lexington Avenue, Manhattan, from where he hired the car. However, the SatNav instead sent him to Lexington Avenue, Staten Island, which was just an ordinary residential street.

- XL Tangent: Stephen has just done a SatNav voice. Alan is worried that Stephen did as if it was talking to him. Alan once programmed the SatNav in his own car so it had his voice on it.

- XL Tangent: During a tour of Australia Ross programmed the SatNav on his motorbike to take him down from Port Pirie along the Nullarbor Plain, the longest straight road in the road. The SatNav told him to drive straight ahead for 2 days and then turn left. He forgot to turn left.

- XL Tangent: Because of the gravitational pull of the Earth on satellites, SatNav systems would be 38,000 feet out a day if they were not regulated. Light travels almost precisely one foot in a nanosecond. When Brian went to visit the GPS Centre in Colorado the SatNav he used took him to a field.

General Ignorance

- Nobody Knows: There is no absolutely official definition of a galaxy. There are scientists trying to come up with one. Amongst them are Duncan Forbes of Swinburne University in Australia and Pavel Kroupa of Bonn University in Germany. They launched an online survey to which QI was the first organisation to be allowed to read the results so far. Based on the results there is already one new galaxy which fits their definition, which is a globular cluster, Omega Centauri. Sue gets the bonus.

- Tangent: The image displayed on the screen during the question is the Hubble Deep Field image, which contains the oldest known galaxy, which is 13.2 billion light-years away. As the Earth is 5 billion years old, the planet has not been around for most of its existence. The Big Bang began in every point in space.

- XL: Insects that spin webs include moths and web spinners. Spiders are not insects, but arachnids. Goats can also be made to webs by implanting a spider web spinning gene into them, causing the milk to contain silk. (Forfeit: Spider)


- Prof. Brian Cox: 5 points
- Alan Davies: 2 points
- Ross Noble: -6 points
- Sue Perkins: -17 points

Broadcast details

Friday 21st October 2011
30 minutes

Cast & crew

Stephen Fry Host / Presenter
Alan Davies Regular Panellist
Guest cast
Sue Perkins Guest
Ross Noble Guest
Brian Cox (as Prof Brian Cox, University of Manchester) Guest
Writing team
John Mitchinson Question Writer
Mat Coward Researcher
Justin Pollard Question Writer
James Harkin Question Writer
Molly Oldfield Question Writer
Will Bowen Researcher
Andrew Hunter Murray Question Writer
Production team
Ian Lorimer Director
David Morley (as Dave Morley) Executive Producer
Ruby Kuraishe Executive Producer
Nick King Editor
Jonathan Paul Green Production Designer
Howard Goodall Composer


Shattering Ewoks on Titan

Stephen talking about shattering roses by dipping them in liquid nitrogen leads somehow to Ross Noble shattering Ewoks in a lake of fart on Titan.

Featuring: Alan Davies, Stephen Fry, Prof Brian Cox, University of Manchester, Ross Noble & Sue Perkins.


A guide to QI. Series I, episode 7 'Incomprehensible'

Headless Males Make Great Lovers is a perfect QI book - full of fascinating facts about nature. It was here that we first saw the fact that prairie dogs have been found to have some kind of language.

James Harkin,, 24th October 2011

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