Sandi Toksvig looks at nonsense with Holly Walsh, Nish Kumar, Phill Jupitus and Alan Davies.
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Welcome to QI, where tonight's show is frankly a lot of nonsense.
Not helped by stultiloquent poppycock from Holly Walsh.
Nagmentory codswallop from Nish Kumar.
Fribbling gibberish from Philll Jupitus.
And the Alan Davies from Essex.
And their buzzers sound like nonsense too. Holly goes...
'The trouble with kittens is that...'
'While they're sat on the mat, they get fat...'
And Phill goes...
'They grow and they grow, and the next thing you know...'
And Alan goes...
'Your kitten's a boring old cat.'
So, your first task tonight is to say something
completely nonsensical, that sounds profound.
That's what I would like.
Nish, have you got any thoughts?
I always find that when people say, "I make my own luck,"
-I think that is the biggest load of nonsense.
-Because, if you make it, that's not luck.
-That's not how luck works.
Phill, have you got a profound sentiment for me?
It's the centenary this year of the establishment of the Dada art group,
set up at Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich.
Richard Huelsenbeck was a Dada artist
and he wrote a long poem called Fantastic Prayers.
And a couple of sections from it are...
"The ox runs down the circulum
"Voila, here are the engineers with their assignment
"Light minds to throw in a still-crude state.
-Is it part poem, part weather report?
Whenever you say anything nonsense like that, I always think...
-..falling slightly at the end of it.
It just becomes shipping forecast to me.
What about you, Alan?
Well, I like things that sound like proverbs.
And the important thing about them is that they are always reversible.
So I've come up with a couple.
You can change your mind, but you can't change your brain.
-That's so crazy.
The alternative is, you can't change your brain,
but you can change your mind.
Wow, that's the sort of thing a teacher would say to you
-and nod as if it meant something.
-It means bugger all.
Another one is, you can't jump without landing.
Equally, you can't land without jumping.
I just need time to think about that.
This is the sort of thing we should definitely be smoking weed
and listening to.
Like, you would be a weed guru with this stuff.
There's a geezer with a sticker factory in Kettering now
who is writing all these down.
"This is gold!"
Have you got any profound thoughts for me?
Well, I just like, when you're standing on a train platform
and they go, "Any unattended items will be destroyed without warning."
And I'm always like...
-that IS a warning.
-It makes no sense to me.
-Does that include a child?
Is a child an item?
I bet you'd sell a lot of children's t-shirts if it just said,
"I am not an unattended item."
"Do not destroy."
There's a fantastic website called the New Age Bullshit Generator.
What it does, it takes buzzwords from New Age tweets
and it combines them to create syntactically correct,
profound-sounding nonsense, such as,
"Hidden meaning transforms unparalleled abstract beauty."
That's a Coldplay B-side, isn't it?
"The infinite is calling to us via superpositions of possibilities."
These all just sound like Morrissey lyrics.
# The infinite is calling to us. #
I really like them.
"Perceptual reality transcends subtle truth."
I think we've all felt like that at some point.
"Consciousness is the growth of coherence, and of us."
So, here's the thing - Canadian researchers asked subjects
to rate the various sentences I have been reading out
on a scale of one to five, OK?
The statements received an average score of 2.6 - "somewhat profound."
And the researchers concluded,
"These results indicate that our participants largely failed
"to detect the statements are bullshit."
Many people can't tell profound truth from complete nonsense,
but then again, as a wise man once said,
no leg's too short to reach the ground.
Talking of legs of different lengths, why's netball nonsense?
-It's just the worst sport ever.
-Oh, my goodness, yes.
I think you and I could do an hour on this.
It should be banned, because it's not fair, it's a load of crap,
it favours tall people, who already do better at school discos,
getting off with boys anyway, and the whole thing is not fair.
-It's just not fair!
-Wow, Holly, we've really opened some old wounds.
They have a thing in netball called a chest pass, right?
And I used to get them in the face.
Did you used to have one of those bibs with SG on it?
For "short girl"?
But they put you against somebody, some girl, six foot tall,
who's going to mark you, and she just stands there for the
-whole time like this.
-Just doing that.
This is what she does, she does this. For, like, 40 minutes.
That. And that's it, that's all you can do. It's so galling.
One of the great puzzles of netball,
apart from why anybody would want to play it,
is that it has tremendous restriction on movement.
So, why would you want to restrict players
to certain areas of the court?
Isn't it just to avoid contact?
No, cos it's a very small court.
No, it's due to a misunderstanding.
So, what happened, the men's game, basketball,
invented by a man called James Naismith in 1891,
and there was a PE teacher called Clara Bear of New Orleans,
and she asked if he would send a copy of the rules.
So, he sent the rules and it contained a drawing of the court
with lines pencilled across it showing the area the various players
could best patrol, and she misinterpreted this to mean
that players couldn't leave those areas.
She then wrote that into her version.
Then it got worse. In 1983, a gym teacher in Massachusetts
called Senda Berenson modified it further,
because she thought it was unseemly for young women.
So, she banned tackling and she instituted
the three-second time limit for holding the ball
and basically didn't think people should run backwards and forwards
because the girls' hearts would become what she called
hypertrophic if they ran too far.
Rounders was always the best of all sports.
Yeah, I liked rounders.
I was dreadful at all sports.
I was the first kid in my school to be put into remedial rugby.
They gave me a round ball, because they were like,
"This kid's going to have his eye out on the points."
At school we had three divisions for swimming.
We had A, B and C, and I was in F.
-Do you like kabaddi?
-Do I like kabaddi?
I don't like it, I LOVE kabaddi.
Kabaddi is an Indian sport. If you don't know what it is,
it's like somebody looked at the game of rugby and thought,
you know what the problem with this is? The ball.
We just get rid of that. And it's also the only game where the
players stand there and just go,
"Kabaddi, kabaddi, kabaddi, kabaddi, kabaddi, kabaddi."
Is that it? Is that the whole thing?
What you have to do, one man will be sent out by one team
and he's got to try to touch the end zone. And the other team,
they're usually linking up and they've got to try to touch him,
but if he touches them, that's basically it.
-Is it British bulldog?
It's sort of like British bulldog and tag.
It's very much kabaddi, OK.
I won't have this imperialist conquest of our sports.
It's the only sport where, during the sport,
you just say the name of the sport.
It would be like a footballer kicking the ball
and just going, "Football".
Now, from nonsense to neuroscience.
What's the worst noise in the world?
'Do you know...?'
-I believe I've mentioned it before tonight.
That would be Coldplay B-sides.
LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE
Not everyone applauding. Quite a lot of people going,
"I LIKE Coldplay B-sides."
So, we have some props. You can make some noises.
-Let's have a look.
So, let's start with Nish and Alan.
That's very irritating, isn't it?
-All right, stop it.
Do you remember what that is, Nish?
-This is a vuvuzela.
-It is a vuvuzela, yes.
Which ruined the 2010 World Cup.
It's a hideous noise, isn't it?
Luckily I have grade seven in vuvuzela, so we're fine.
SHRILL SCRATCHING Oh, Alan, Alan.
Fingers on a chalkboard!
That is awful.
A RECORDER IS PLAYED TUNELESSLY
We've got a band going, don't stop!
I've got a mirror and this cube of white stuff...
Is the most annoying sound in the world me on drugs?
I think...this is polystyrene.
The Journal of Neuroscience did the top-10 most annoying sounds.
Apparently the most annoying is a knife on a bottle,
but we haven't been able to work out why that is.
This one we can do. This is number two.
I got the power.
-FORK SCRAPING ON PLATE
-Ugh, stop, stop, stop.
That's very unpleasant, isn't it?
This is the old... Yes, yes.
What is worse than this, is when it just goes...
And four minutes later goes...
And you can't work out which one it is. It's somewhere in the house.
The thing I love about any sort of smoke alarm is that
we've advanced so far technologically,
and yet we still haven't got beyond the only way to solve a
smoke alarm is to have a tea towel and just do this underneath it.
I was in a hotel once, and I was...a bit pissed,
and I fell asleep on the bed in my clothes.
And then I was woken up by this terrible noise in the room
and I thought, "What is that?" This, "Whee-whee-whee!"
And there was this thing on the ceiling
and I started hitting it with my shoe, as hard as I could,
and then it fell off the ceiling and it was dangling by a wire.
And then I rang reception and said,
"There's a thing in my room making a terrible noise."
And they said, "That's the fire alarm, sir, will you please evacuate."
And I said, "Oh, just so you know, when it went off,
"it kind of fell from the ceiling."
And then I went out on the street
and I was the only person in clothes.
So I can possibly top all the noises that we have had so far.
Has anybody ever seen these being played?
Yes, it's an extraordinary noise, but here's the thing,
1761, Benjamin Franklin was visiting in Cambridge, in England,
and he saw the glasses being played and he thought,
"I can improve on this."
And he developed something called a glass armonica.
It's 37 bowls and they are mounted horizontally on an iron spindle,
and they're turned by means of a foot pedal
and the sound is then produced by touching the rims.
There it is. It is the most extraordinary noise.
They're painted different colours, according to the pitch of the notes.
Franklin used to play this at dinner parties,
and it really took off, and thousands were built.
There was a factory employing over 100 people making glass armonicas.
Lots of the performers were women.
There was a woman, Marianne Davies, and she toured all over Europe.
She taught Marie Antoinette to play the glass armonica.
-There she is.
-"Here we see Marie Antoinette pleasuring an armadillo."
That's one of the worst sounds in the world,
Marie Antoinette pleasuring an armadillo.
"I'll get you a tune out of this armadillo, you just watch me."
I have important things to tell you about the glass armonica.
Crack on, girl, crack on.
No, I want to know about pleasuring an armadillo.
My brain's gone off in the wrong direction.
So, anyway, it got a very bad reputation,
because it was thought at first it had a sort of soothing effect
and then eventually people thought it drove you mad to listen to it
and would even summon the dead.
And people who played it said they got mental anguish
from the vibrations.
In fact, the chances are they were getting lead poisoning
because the lead was leaching out of the glass and into their system.
Do they revive them and get them out for the Proms
or anything like that?
The only time I ever heard one played
is outside Paul Revere's house in Boston.
There's woman who plays and you give her money to stop.
Now, make of this nonsensical question what you will.
Who blows their nose for something to eat?
There might be some good bacteria in your mucus.
That's what I was told about children,
doing that does actually help the immune system,
-to consume their bogeys.
Was that one of your children that told you that?
"It's very good for me, actually."
There is a conflict of interest there.
Is it an anteater?
Is it an anteater?
Well, they suck up ants through their noses, don't they?
Yes, but we are actually looking for something that blows its nose.
Blows its nose.
Are you trying to psyche me out so I tell you?
-I'm trying, I'm trying.
-OK, it's a worm! You did it.
Worms haven't got noses, they've got spiracles!
Oh, well, here's the extraordinary thing.
Have a look at this.
Prepare yourselves for this bit of footage.
Make it stop!
It's called a nemertea, or a ribbon worm,
and it literally blows its nose.
So it explosively injects its proboscis from its body
in search of food.
They are also known as proboscis worms.
-Is that snot then?
-No, it's its nose.
When they detect food or prey, the muscle contractions of the body wall
forces the proboscis, literally its nose,
out of the body and turns it inside-out, like a rubber glove.
-OK. And the one that's shown here is a gorgon worm,
and it's got these branching, spaghetti-like tentacles
on its proboscis which then envelops the prey
with a sticky toxin and draws it back into the body.
Are you telling me that it ate that bloke?
-Let's have another look. Let's have one more look.
-No, let's not!
-It's amazing, isn't it?
Now, name a nonsense museum.
-The Leicester Gas Museum?
-Is there a gas museum?
-I want to go.
I went there, it was amazing,
and the guy who runs it is a James Bond lookalike.
But he asked us to guess who he was a lookalike of
-and we didn't get it, so I'm not sure how successful he is.
-That's not so good.
Does he look like a specific James Bond?
He looks like the Scottish guy.
Is it unlucky to mention him?
-"You're not allowed to say..."
-The Scottish Bond!
"..The Scottish James Bond."
And because we were so enthusiastic,
he gave us some British gas tracksuits from 1988.
Is he supposed to give away the exhibits? That doesn't seem right.
My favourite, there's a Pencil Museum in Cumbria.
Keswick. It's got the world's biggest pencil, which is massive.
You go and they show you how they make pencils,
they show you how pencils were invented,
you can have a pencil with your name on it.
It's like, the best museum in the world.
Until I went to McLean in Texas,
where they have the Barbed Wire Museum.
-How do you get in?
Barbed wire is the thing that changed
the entire face of America, because that thing that we think about,
the Wild West, was only about a 20-year period of history
because barbed wire came in and it was impossible
to drive cattle across the country, so it's hugely important.
-But it is an extraordinary museum.
-Oh, yeah, yeah. It's great.
"That piece of barbed wire there, that's over 200 year old."
Anyway, there is actually a Nonsense Museum.
The Nonseum in Herrnbaumgarten in Austria.
It was founded in 1994 and it houses a collection of absurdist icons.
So it has things like the selfie rifle.
One previous owner.
This crockery set, I think, is a very useful thing.
This is divorce crockery.
And these are keyhole-shaped spectacles for voyeurs.
And the next one is something I absolutely would like to have.
This is a biological lawnmower.
That's not a real sheep!
But there's also some very good stuff.
The US Patent Office is a tremendous place to look for nonsensical items.
For example, the Behringer vacuum cleaner, this is a depressing thing.
It's from before the time of the electric vacuum cleaner.
Basically, the man's had a busy day and he comes home and he sits in his
rocking chair, reads the paper, smokes a pipe,
and he rocks, and the action of rocking enables the woman,
quite rightly, to do the hoovering.
The worst example of these is the centrifugal birthing machine.
So this was invented in the 1960s by a George and Charlotte Blonsky,
who I can only imagine did not actually have children.
So, women were strapped to it and rotated
at a speed dictated by the doctor.
And when it was delivered , the baby landed in a net...
..which triggered the machine to stop.
I love the idea that all other midwives were like,
"Kabaddi, kabaddi, kabaddi..."
That would be awesome. What a way to come out.
Something that would be like that would be a birthing trebuchet.
So you're labouring away
and then they strap you to a catapult, but then, bang!
It's like getting ketchup out the bottom of the thing.
Just the force of the boom. They'd be, "Whoa!"
You've forgotten the cord, Phill.
That baby's coming back.
Anyway, moving on.
In America there are three places called Fort Nonsense
but only one called Nowhere.
What's the official name for the middle of nowhere?
There is a place in the world that is the middle of nowhere.
AUDIENCE MEMBER GROANS
I'm from Croydon, so I can say that, OK?
It's the centre of the least-populated bit?
You're absolutely in the right area.
So where would you find the least number of people?
Not necessarily on the land, maybe?
It's a part of the Pacific.
It is as far from land as it is possible to get on the Earth
and it's called Point Nemo.
It is 1,700 miles from any coast.
Named, of course, after the submarine captain
in 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea.
-And there's a Starbucks there, right?
-Yeah, there's a Starbucks.
Nemo, Latin rendering of the ancient Greek Outis, meaning "nobody".
It's also known as the oceanic pole of inaccessibility.
And here is the extraordinary thing -
you'd think there's nothing there, but it is a spacecraft graveyard.
There are more than 160 spacecraft littering the ocean floor there.
I have to say, they're mostly Russian.
So here's the thing - it's much cheaper to allow
the orbit to decay naturally than to push it out into space.
But when they know they're going to do this to a spacecraft
they have to see if there are any sailors in the area
and ring them or contact them by radio and make sure that they know.
And if you pass Point Nemo at the right time of day
you'll be closer to the astronauts on the space station,
250 miles away, than to any other human being on Earth.
Isn't that extraordinary?
And now it's time for the most nonsensical bit of all,
general ignorance. Fingers on buzzers, please.
More than 1,000 stone examples of what are found on Easter Island?
There are giant heads, they're called Moai.
There's 187 of them,
but it isn't the thing that there's more than 1,000 of.
There are more than 1,000 - 1,233, in fact -
chicken stone houses.
There they are. And here's the extraordinary thing -
there are no trees on Easter Island.
I thought you were going to say there were no chickens!
No chickens, they live in hope!
The chief came out and said, "We must build houses for the chickens.
"When the chickens come."
But the chickens, they never came.
"What shall we put in the chicken houses?"
"Wait for the chickens!"
"Make some heads. Make some heads!"
Just one empty Nando's on the outer island.
No, there are chickens, it's their main source of food,
but there are no trees at all on Easter Island.
There used to be, thousands of them.
So, what are you going to do to protect your chickens?
And what you did was, you built a house like this,
with a single, small entrance that you could close up
with a suitable, flush-fitting stone,
and your neighbour would be unable to find the entrance.
I think I've lived in London for too long,
because I'm looking at that, thinking, "Looks all right."
600 a month? Yes, please.
Let's have a look at the heads. What's missing from this picture?
Well, weirdly enough they used to have a sort of topknot,
a red topknot. So huge kind of headpieces.
We don't know why or indeed how they got them up there,
-but something else is missing.
-The rest of his body is underground.
The body. Absolutely right. People used to think that
they were only heads but, in fact, they have bodies as well.
And the other thing they used to have, they used to have eyes.
Extraordinary eyes that were detachable.
They were made of coral and they were inserted for special occasions.
Like my nan.
Stick her eye in for a special occasion?
"I'll pop me coral eyes in."
The volcano where the stones come from, Rano Raraku,
which is where they were carved...
The only volcano named by Scooby-Doo.
-"What volcano are we going to, Scoob?"
Anyway, how many Rex Britanniae have been called Alan?
One is the absolutely right answer.
Well done. It means "King of Brittany".
And there's been one. He was called Alan the Great.
The Great Alan, he was a lovely man.
He was given the title by the Emperor Charles the Fat.
Yeah, he was around 876, until his death in 907.
By the time he died, there was another Emperor, Charles the Simple.
When did they switch to the number system for naming the Charleses?
When you had to have Hotmail addresses.
Yeah, that's true.
Alan's main adversary,
you have to say it very carefully, because it's called F-U-L-K.
What do you think, Falk? Foolk?
-Fulk of Angouleme?
I don't fulking know.
What's that's depicting?
Well, after Alan died, Brittany was overrun by Vikings
and they were in turn driven out by Alan's grandson who was Alan II,
but he wasn't a king so he doesn't count as a Rex.
What you can see in this picture is Alan the Simple,
who's trying to hit a fire alarm.
-Just to the right, off shot.
-Got his shoe off.
Just a sandal.
Now, this spider is called the house spider,
but what is its natural habitat?
You're absolutely right.
House spiders really do live in houses.
Whenever I catch them, I put them outside, which must drive them mad.
-No, it kills them.
-It kills them?
-It absolutely kills them.
They're one of a very small number of species
specially adapted to living indoors.
The same as if you take the garden spider and you invite it in
from the cold and you think, it's a bit chilly out there, it will die.
Who's doing that?!
What idiot is going out looking for feral spiders to bring indoors?
-So really you need a spider cupboard?
A special cupboard in your house, when you catch a spider,
you put it in the spider cupboard, they're all in there together.
-What kind of hellish arrangement is that?
I just think it's probably a good thing that Peter Parker
wasn't bitten by a radioactive house spider.
Because it would have been a very short film.
Of him just going, "I've got all this power."
He walks out of the house, dead immediately.
He has to stay indoors going, "There's a criminal!"
Phoning the police!
"Chase him, chase him!"
"Spider-Man, come out." "I can't come out. I can't come out.
"I'm a House Spider-Man."
Iron Man would go rusty, right?
-That's another... "I can't come out, it's raining.
-"I'll freeze up."
-And Batman just gets smacked by someone's shoe.
Certain people get really itchy eyes around Catwoman.
Bruce Banner's in therapy, never gets annoyed.
Anyway, moving on.
What phrase do you use to end a radio conversation?
-Come on, someone, don't make me do it.
-Go on, Holly.
Do you go, "Over and out"?
I bought my kids walkie-talkies and they knew about over and out,
but they didn't know how to say it, and they would say,
I could hear them in the house going, "Out and in, out and in."
No. Over means,
"This is the end of my transmission to you and a response is necessary.
"Go ahead, transmit."
Out means, "This is the end of my transmission to you
"and no transmission is required and expected."
So over and out would technically mean, "You can talk now if you want,
"but I'm not going to be listening."
You know when you're on the phone to someone and they drop out
of reception and it goes beep, beep, beep, and you know they've cut off.
I'd love to be able to do that in normal conversation with someone.
So if they just bore me, I just sit there and go, "Beep, beep, beep."
Well, that's quite enough of this nonsense.
Let's have a look at the scores.
And I can tell you, oh, we have a tie for first place.
-They both have...
-Fight, fight, fight...
Kabaddi, kabaddi, kabaddi...
They both have three points, it's Phill and Nish!
A very creditable third place, with -4, it's Alan.
Pleased with that.
And then last place, and what an honourable place it is to be,
with -6, it's Holly!
It only remains me to thank Holly, Phill, Nish and Alan.
And I leave you with this account of a bit of old nonsense
from the London Evening Standard.
"'Their behaviour was disgusting.
"'She and her friends pulled their clothes up for pictures,
"'lay about on the floor in compromising positions
"'and pulled a man's trousers and pants down,'
"A club member told the tribunal.
"'I was absolutely horrified.
"'You don't go for an evening out at a Conservative Club
"'expecting to see behaviour like that.
"'We stayed to see midnight in and then left.'"