QI: The World in 1,339 jaw-dropping facts
QI: around the world in 1,339 jaw-dropping facts
The BBC’s QI team present just a few of the jaw-dropping facts in their new book – in no particular order
When we came to write our first volume of facts – 1,227 Quite Interesting Facts to Blow Your Socks Off – last year, we set ourselves the goal of producing 1,000 nuggets of information that seemed to us unforgettable.
We pooled 10 years of extraordinary comparisons (there are 1,000 times as many bacteria in your gut as there are stars in the Milky Way); astonishing statistics (a single male human produces enough sperm in two weeks to impregnate every fertile woman on the planet); unexpected truths (the Bible is the most shoplifted book in the United States) and memorable absurdities (Richard Gere’s middle name is Tiffany), and then counted up what we had. It turned out we had a file of 1,227 facts, which seemed both more interesting and more appropriate than the 1,000 we’d originally targeted.
In the course of editing and arranging that material we discovered something surprising: the facts seemed to have a mind of their own. Far from being inert bits of trivia, they behaved much more like molecules, bristling with energy and a desire to form strong attractions with other facts to make longer and more meaningful sentences. All we had to do was keep trying the best combinations.
As well as being deeply satisfying, this process of fact-matching also meant we needed to create a much deeper pool of truth in which to dip our editorial spoon. And, before we’d finished, we realised that this new pile of strange and wonderful facts we hadn’t been able to sequence was already forming the core of a new book: 1,339 QI Facts To Make Your Jaw Drop, published this week.
Once you are in the Fact Zone, everywhere you look, astonishing new facts seem to demand inclusion. And, to adapt a line of Groucho Marx: if you don’t like them, we’ve got others....
The first private detective agency was started by a criminal.
A baby pterosaur is called a flapling.
All the mountains on Saturn’s moon Titan are named after peaks in The Lord of the Rings.
Women look their oldest at 3.30pm on Wednesdays.
Agatha Christie was a keen surfer.
The Express, the Telegraph, the Economist, the Times, the Star and the Independent were all London-based stagecoaches in the 1830s.
There is enough carbon in your body to make 9,000 pencils.
On an average day, Britons spend 14 hours and 39 minutes sitting down.
Americans eat 10 billion doughnuts every year.
Speed dating was the brainchild of a rabbi.
Lord Kitchener had four spaniels called Shot, Bang, Miss and Damn.
Stephen Stills, Glen Campbell and Charles Manson all failed auditions for The Monkees.
The Moon is shaped like an egg: it only looks round because the big end points towards Earth.
In Britain, spiders outnumber people by more than 500,000 to 1.
The vampire spider is attracted to the smell of human feet.
If a dead whale is found on a British beach, the head belongs to the king and the tail to the queen.
According to English folklore, if a woman feeds her husband roast owl, he will become subservient to her every wish.
At any one time, 45 million people in the world are drunk.
North Americans account for less than a sixteenth of the world’s people, but more than a third of their weight.
A garden snail would take three years and two months to make its way from John O’Groats to Land’s End.
Buckingham Palace is built on the site of a brothel.
The Beatles classic Yesterday was originally entitled “Scrambled Eggs”.
Arthur Conan Doyle was one of the judges at the world’s first-ever bodybuilding contest.
There are six villages in France called Silly, 12 called Billy and two called Prat.
Dublin, Glasgow, London, Petroleum, Coal, Wax, Goforth, Stay and Jump are all towns in the state of Kentucky in the United States.
Since 1990, more people have been killed by sandcastles than by sharks.
Wordsworth had no sense of smell.
A group of kittens is called “a kindle”.
Sixty per cent of Premier League footballers go bankrupt within five years of retirement.
The Arabic word for hamster translates as “Mr Saddlebags”.
Rodents prefer peanut butter to cheese.
Eton College was founded to provide free schooling for poor boys.
David Cameron is a great-great-great-great-great-grandson of King William IV.
Samantha Cameron is the great-great-great-great-great-great-great-granddaughter of Charles II’s mistress, Nell Gwyn.
In Denmark, Laurel and Hardy are known as Gog and Cokke; in Germany, they’re Dick and Doof.
Earthworms have five hearts.
Your eyebrows renew themselves every 64 days.
If Jane Austen hadn’t broken off her engagement, she would have been known as Mrs Harris Bigg-Wither.
40 million people in China live in caves.
Sgiomlaireachd (pronounced “scum-leerie”) is a Scots Gaelic word meaning “the kind of friend who only drops in at mealtimes”.
Albert Einstein claimed that his second best idea was to boil his eggs in his soup, thereby saving on washing up.
We dot our I’s, but Shakespeare “tittled” his.
”Son-of-a-bitch” stew was a cowboy dish made from the internal organs of a whole cow and an onion.
There is one Kalashnikov assault rifle in circulation for every 70 people on Earth.
There is only one sneeze in the Bible.
In Norway, stripping counts as an art form for tax purposes.
In Armenia, chess is a compulsory school subject.
A person who illegally exports sheep is called an “owler”.
More reverse-charge telephone calls are made on Father’s Day than any other day.
In the movie Titanic, the location for the ship’s engine room was a pumping station in Cricklewood.
Piranhas enjoy beans and other vegetables.
In Canada, Santa has his own postcode: HOH OHO.
The small pocket in the front of a pair of jeans was intended for a pocket watch.
The largest millipede in Tanzania is called the wandering leg sausage.
One in ten women cares more for a fictitious male character than her actual partner.
Tarzan’s ululating cry is a registered trademark in the US.
Science students who wear white lab coats perform better in tests.
All the houses in Glasgow are worth less than all the houses in Elmbridge, Surrey.
Galileo’s middle finger is on display in the Museo Galileo, Florence.
In the Polish version of Scrabble, Z is only worth one point.
The guillotine was last used in France in 1977.
The French word for “hashtag”, coined this year, is Motdièse (“sharpword”).
The only member of ZZ Top who doesn’t have a beard is drummer Frank Beard.
The Russian team arrived 12 days late for the 1908 London Olympics because they were still using the Julian calendar.
Air trapped inside hedgehogs can make them blow up like a balloon. They should be carefully deflated with a syringe before they burst.
Costa Rica is home to the world’s only sloth orphanage.
Twice as many forks as knives are sold in the UK.
Sliced bread was originally marketed as “the greatest forward step since bread was wrapped”.
The electromagnet driving the particle accelerator at CERN in Switzerland weighs more than the Eiffel Tower.
The average woman spends 16 months of her life crying.
The horsefly Scaptia beyonceae is so named for its “bootylicious” abdomen.
The first country to ban foie gras on the grounds of cruelty was Nazi Germany.
80 per cent of men born in the Soviet Union in 1923 were dead by 1945.
“Flak” is an acronymic abbreviation of Fliegerabwehrkanone, “flyer-defence-cannon”.
Silent letters in words such as “knife” and “psychic” are called aphthongs.
The dinosaur noises in Jurassic Park were made from recordings of tortoises having sex.
Abraham Lincoln was inducted into the Wrestling Hall of Fame.
Babies are born with no bacteria in their bodies.
The Marianas Trench in the Pacific is so deep that a coin dropped into it would take more than an hour to reach the bottom.
The most-read publication in the UK is Tesco magazine.
Splenda was an insecticide that became a sweetener when a lab assistant misheard an instruction to “test it” as “taste it”.
Chewing gum costs 3p a stick to buy, but 10p a blob to remove from the pavement.
Half of British adults don’t believe in evolution.
The remains of birds hit by aeroplanes are known as “snarge”.
90 per cent of guns in Mexico are smuggled in from the USA.
Danny DeVito is a qualified hairdresser.
Plants grow more quickly if you talk to them in a Geordie accent.
The Norwegian word på˚legg means “anything that could conceivably be put in a sandwich”.
Only one shot was fired in the “Kettle War” of 1784, between the Netherlands and the Holy Roman Empire. It hit a kettle.
Two-thirds of British children aged 5-13 can operate a DVD player, but fewer than half can tie their shoelaces.
The Arabic word for “nipple” is buzz.
Anglerfish have black-lined stomachs to stop them giving themselves away if they eat something luminous.
Only one dog has ever been to both North and South Poles.
Johnny Cash became addicted to painkillers after being attacked by an ostrich.
Shark Bay in Australia is now called “Safety Beach”.
In London today, twice as many women over 40 as teenagers are giving birth.
Hewlett Packard printer ink is 20 times more expensive than 2003 Dom Perignon.
'1,339 QI Facts To Make Your Jaw Drop' by John Lloyd, John Mitchinson & James Harkin (Faber & Faber, rrp £9.99) is available from Telegraph Books (0844 871 1515) at £8.99 plus £1.10 p&p.