QI: Quite Interesting has been one of the UK’s favourite panel shows for nearly two decades now. Aside from the absurd comedy and ever-present wit present on the programme, one of the show’s trademarks is dispensing some of the most intriguing and bizarre trivial tidbits from any and every aspect of knowledge. Yet as you may expect for a show with such a lengthy history, much of the information is now factually outdated.
Indeed, QI themselves have covered this, with a 2013 episode revealing within a year 7% of facts would be outdated in a year and that 60% of the content from series A, aired about 10 years prior, were now false. So with this in mind, let us look at those QI “facts” which have since been debunked. Please note: this list contains only nuggets of trivia that has in more recent times seen new discoveries, rendering old facts incorrect – not just incorrect QI research.
To The Moon(s) And Back
One of the recurring features of the ‘General Ignorance’ section of the programme over the years has been the question of how many moons Earth has.
First cited in the second-ever episode titled ‘Astronomy’, quiz host Stephen Fry explained to a bewildered panel that there was a second moon: Cruithne. This is a 3-miles across a horseshoe-shaped object which orbits the Earth every 770 years. Even Fry got wrong its pronunciation (pronounced ‘cru-ee-nya’, not ‘crew-ith-knee’) and discovery year (1997, not 1994) so briefly corrected himself. The panel, including Jeremy Hardy and Rich Hall, mocked this and their derision was not alone as many felt it should not be counted as a moon as it does not orbit Earth but rather orbits the sun alongside our planet.
QI: Quite Interesting | In the B series, the Beavers episode revised last year’s claim, not stating 3 more had been discovered: 2000PH5, 2000WN10 and 2002AA29.
In the ‘K’ series, the episode Knowledge accepted QI statements now false (we’ll get to that later), with a further revision using the newest NASA-based information to discern there were about 18,000 mini-moons. As satellites that are not man-made, these temporarily-captured objects, were discovered through computer simulations. They list RH120 as an example of one of these, which orbited Earth 4 times in 2006/2007.
QI: Quite Interesting | In the ‘L’ series, the question was brought up for the final time thus far. This time, Stephen explained there perhaps was no moon at all, rather the moon is actually a planet, working with the Earth in a binary planet system. In 2006, the International Astronomical Union set out the following 3 moon principles: a planet has to orbit the sun, it has to be massive enough for its own gravity to make it round, and it has to have cleared its neighbourhood of smaller objects. Fry explains: “The Moon comfortably fulfils the first two of these. On the third it makes more sense to say that the Earth and the Moon together have cleared its neighbourhood”.
A common dispute against the multi-moon argument is that it’s called ‘THE moon’ and arguably stating there is only 1 is probably the most simplistic yet accepted answer to this conundrum.
QI: Quite Interesting | The ‘B’ series saw QI state that Flower Pot Men, Bill and Ben, speak the language of ‘Flobbadob’. They also claimed this name originated from author Hilda Brabban’s younger brother’s farts in the bathtub, which – during their childhood – they christened the ‘Flobbadob’ language due to the similar onomatopoeic sound. However, in the ‘D’ series episode Descendents, Fry was forced to correct this.
Son of original voice-over artist Peter Hawkins wrote-in to correct this misconception, he wrote: “The fart-in-the-bath story was trotted out last year in an episode of Stephen Fry’s otherwise admirable quiz show QI. It (the story) first appeared some twenty years ago in a newspaper article, to which my father immediately wrote a rebuttal. This was obviously ferreted out by some BBC researcher. It may be quite interesting, but in this case, it just isn’t true”.
Instead, it was referenced that the actual language used by the Flower Pot Men is called ‘Oddle Poddle’. In fact, ‘Floppadob’ means ‘flowerpot’ in ‘Oddle Poddle’, which is a sentence you will likely never hear in any other context.
Like Taking Booze From A Baby
QI: Quite Interesting | In the ‘A’ series, Fry would shock the panel when announcing the legal drinking age to consume alcohol in a pub beer garden was 5. It was only an illegal purchase if under 18 and in a pub but as young as 5 – as long as given parental consent – you could drink as much mullet wine and double brandies (the examples used by Fry) as you wish.
Since the programme aired, a new legislature has been introduced to heighten the age to 16 and that can only be purchased by someone over 18 and be alongside a meal. This is not to say that the laws advocated, allowed and did not dissuade the drinking of children in the single-digits, just that there were untied legal rulings.
Tony Blair was a vocal public opposer of young-aged drinking so would pass legal proceedings to enforce more rigid laws surrounding alcohol age consumption.
In Their Prime
QI: Quite Interesting | The episode Numbers, broadcast in January 2017, claimed that 274,207,281 – 1 was the largest prime number. This contained 228,388,618 digits. As for broadcasting, this discovery was about a year old but has changed twice since.
As of writing in February 2022, the latest known prime number was discovered in December 2018 by the Great Internet Mersenne Prime Search (GIMPS – yes, really). This is 282,589,988 − 1, which in itself holds 24,862,048 – nearing 25 million – digits.
This 51st known Mersenne Prime (a prime number 1 less than a power of 2), was discovered in the USA by 35-year-old Floridan Patrick Laroche. This will always change over time and QI’s reporting was just unfortunate that another one was found so quickly. With technological advances, the amount of prime numbers found has increased drastically with 10 discoveries in the 21st century whilst, for example, there were no new finds between 1876 and 1951 (with that 1951 discovery the largest to be done without the use of a computer).
The Longest Animal
Similar to the aforementioned “How many moons does the Earth have?” question, the longest animal was another bit of ‘General Ignorance’ that came up more than once after changing their stance on the answer.
QI: Quite Interesting | In the 3rd episode of the ‘A’ series, Davies’s famous recurring ‘Blue Whale’ gag started when asked what was the longest animal in the world. As opposed to a blue whale, it was revealed to be the lion’s male jellyfish – whose tentacles could reach up to 120 feet long. The longest ever blue whale was 108 feet long, 12 feet shorter than the lion’s main jellyfish.
In Cleve Crudgington, it was stated the Lineus Longissimus – better known as a bootlace worm – was the longest animal. It could get to 60 metres to a lion mane’s 40-metre length and thus twice the length of a blue whale. They are also the simplest organism to have a separate mouth and anus. The largest bootlace washed up in Fife in Great Britain in 1864, which was about 180 feet. Yet even now, there is scepticism and controversy as to if this is the longest animal as the bodies of nemerteans such as the bootlace worm are flexible enough to stretch far beyond their real body several times beyond their natural length.
Triple Point Fallacy
This is one not explicitly stated by QI but rather a guest but it was nonetheless praised and rewarded by Stephen. In the Biscuits episode, Dara O’Briain claims that 0° is the triple point of water – in which water can exist in all 3 states (as water vapour gas, liquid water and solid ice). Dara states he was told it in class at 16 and wondered where he could ever use it. The quiz host gave him points and condoned applause for the fact.
QI: Quite Interesting | Yet in the episode Combustion, it was announced the 2 earned points were revoked as well as a loss of –10 in that episode for repeating it. Fans had written into the show to air their grievances at the praise of this misconception. It is, in fact, 0.01°. As a child, it would have been true but in 1990, the International Temperature scale adopted a new definition of the triple point.
According to the Physics Stack Exchange – who likely know what they are talking about – it is 0.01°, as they document: “The temperature at which the transition from solid to liquid happens falls very gradually as pressure increases above that of the triple point. As a result, at one atmosphere of pressure ice will melt at a slightly lower temperature than that of the triple point. The difference is about 0.01 C. So, in defining 0 C, one can pick either the temperature of the triple point, or the temperature at which ice melts at one atmosphere, but you can’t pick both”.
Ain’t No Mountain High Enough
This one is especially unfortunate as a correction of the fact took place less than a week before the episode’s transmission. QI: Quite Interesting | In the ‘O’ series’s Operations episode, Sandi explained that the UK’s tallest mountain is not Ben Nevis nor Snowdon nor Scafell Pike but Anton Dohrn. 100 miles off the northwest coast of Scotland, this underwater mountain was discovered in 1958 by a German fishing vessel. Whilst Ben Nevis is approximately 1,350 metres, Anton Dohrn is 350 metres taller at about 1,700 metres.
Yet on December 11th 2017, it was reported that Mount Hope was the newest tallest mountain in the UK. Located in Palmer Land in a part of Antarctica co-owned by the UK, it was discovered in the 1930s. Yet a recent remeasuring saw its height acknowledged as much larger than previously thought at 3,239 metres (10,627 feet). It was taller than the previous titleholder of the tallest mountain, Mount Jackson, by about 50 metres.
There is controversy as to if this is in the UK as it is an overseas territory owned by Britain, not physically within the nation. Yet everyone from The Independent to The Evening Standard to BBC News recorded Mount Hope as the UK’s highest peak.
Another famously debunked myth, this one still causes some debate within various circles but is largely excepted as a fake fact.
QI: Quite Interesting | The Espionage episode saw Fry explain that pineapples can be used to dissolve fingerprints. This was purportedly due to the enzyme bromelain breaking down protein DNA to dissolve the top layer of skin on the fingers and therefore erase fingerprints. It was even a plot point on a Hawaii 5-0 episode. Yet it just is not as true as that – or at least in as simplistic form as that.
The most commonly cited evidence against this stems from a YouTube video from Tom Scott. In the video, Scott regularly puts his fingers in pineapples but to little effect as he describes you need to get 1 millimetre thick into the fingers before permanent removal takes place.
Admittedly this is a small sample size. Yet further analysis shows that the fingerprints may disappear for a period but will always re-emerge. Plus the amount of exposure needed would have to be occupational, handling the fruit for likely hours for years, which very few people would – at least more frequent pineapple handling than is implied in the QI explanation.
Deflating The Facts
In this one, QI actually corrects themselves post-recording in an edit – revising a fact that was shortly after recording then broken. Described as “the world’s biggest gasbag”, Fry tells us Felix Baumgartner broke the records for highest balloon ascent, biggest freefall jump and was the first man to break the sound barrier unaided. The balloon was over 100 metres, higher than the Statue Of Liberty whilst the balloon had a capacity of nearly 85,000 cubic metres.
Yet shortly after filming, the Austrian’s record was taken away as Alan Eustace had broken his record after a freefall jump from the stratosphere of nearly 136,000 feet, about 2 miles higher than Baumgartner’s previous record.
On-screen subtitles read: “This bit isn’t true anymore. Felix Baumgartner’s record was broken by Alan Eustace in October 2014 – after this show was recorded. Don’t you just hate it when that happens?”.
Correcting The Corrections
As alluded to earlier, QI had a whole segment talking about long-corrected facts in the episode Knowledge.
QI: Quite Interesting | The half-life of facts is discussed. 7% of facts in the episode will be false within a year whilst a graph shows more than half (60%) of facts from the ‘A’ series are now wrong. In compensation, panellists deprived of points are re-gifted them, this includes 23.24 for the audience, 43.58 for Jimmy Carr, 84.73 for Jo Brand and 737.66 for Alan Davies. Examples of facts that have since been proved incorrect were given. These include:
- An ‘I’ series claim that lobsters ages cannot be determined. Canadian scientists have since worked out they can be aged when their eye stalks are dissected and rings counted.
- In the ‘G’ series, it was claimed giraffes had evolved their long necks for fighting under the belief held by zoologists, this hypothesis is no longer believed however.
- In the ‘A’ series, the millipede with the most legs had 710 legs but shortly after, one with 750 was discovered. Even in 2021, an Australian milipeded called the eumillipes persephone which has up to 1,306 legs – reflecting how easily these facts change over time.
These are just some of the QI facts told in good faith and mostly true at the time that has since been corrected. Do not get it wrong, most facts are correct, hence why there is no list of correct facts – as there would be thousands. So, with respect to the QI elves, this just shows how no matter how thorough the verification is, it can and likely will all change after transmission.