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Series 7, Episode 12

Transcript by: Glenn Campbell
Notes: This transcript has not been edited for style or content, but I'm sure it's jolly good.

TRANSCRIPT

Stephen
Gooooooood evening good evening good evening good evening and welcome to QI where tonight we're looking at 'G' for gravity, assisted by our weighty contestants and of course my own gravitas. Distorting space/time for us tonight we have four massive stars… a gigantic pulsar, Rich Hall… a huge red giant, Bill Bailey… a colossal supernova, Barry Humphries… and a hypothetical black hole, Alan Davies.

And tonight their buzzers are all weighty. Rich goes:

Rich
[presses buzzer, which plays a sound of an object falling and crashing]
Aw, man.

Stephen
Weighty, you see. And Barry's goes:

Barry
[presses buzzer, which plays the sound of soldiers marching, over which a voice shouts "Wait for it, wait for it!"]

Stephen
And Bill's goes:

Bill
[presses buzzer, which plays a 'speak-your-weight' machine saying "Your weight is twelve stone, two pounds, four ounces."]

Stephen
You wish. Sorry…

Bill
How dare you. Oh, the new cockiness of the recently svelte.

Stephen
No… and Alan goes:

Alan
[presses buzzer, which plays the sound of a cartoon-style spring and an airborne person yelling "Yaaargh!"]

Alan
I do, actually.

Stephen
Let's drop right into it and my first question is: How can you get from here to anywhere on Earth in exactly 42 minutes and 12 seconds?

Barry
[presses buzzer, which shouts "Wait for it!"]

Stephen
Barry?

Barry
I meant to say I like that tie very much.

Stephen
Thank you. And coming from a man with your colour sense that makes me so happy.

Barry
I was hoping I wouldn't be overdressed tonight.

Stephen
42 minutes and 12 seconds, you can get to anywhere…

Bill
Through the Earth.

Stephen
Through the… say that… ooh, ah, develop? Develop that thought. It's a theoretical rather than a practical one.

Bill
Ooh, alright. Burrow, then.

Stephen
Yes, if you…

Bill [gesturing with his hands a small creature digging]
Burrowing through the Earth. Directly.

Stephen
Yeah.

Alan
You'd have to be more vigorous than that. [launches into an energetic mime of a large animal digging madly, occasionally checking his watch]

Bill
That's just getting the surface soil off. You've got to start somewhere… you wouldn't start like that, would you?

Alan
What speed would you have to go through the Earth to do it in 42 minutes, though?

Stephen
At the speed that is determined by…?

Alan
Gravity.

Stephen
Gravity, by maximum velocity. The idea is, if you were to tunnel straight through…

Alan
You mean, if there was a tube, a tunnel that went… and you jumped down it, it would take you 42 minutes to come out the other side?

Stephen
Exactly.

Alan
But wouldn't you drop… like if you dropped straight through and dropped out the other end?

Stephen
Yeah, you would accelerate all the way to the middle and then you would decelerate out.

Alan
So you'd just make it?

Stephen
Yeah.

Barry
You'd be in Australia.

Stephen
Ah! That's the point I was going to say. But actually, you could do the tunnel from London to Moscow, it could go in any sort of section across. That's why I say from anywhere from here, gravity operates at all angles, it doesn't just operate from the north to the south. As it were.

[Alan mumbles as he works out the scene visually]

Barry
So from London to Paris … would be the same length of time?

Stephen
Yeah. It would, indeed, absolutely the same time.

Rich
I can get… I can dig a tunnel… I could get from here to right there in 12 seconds.

Stephen
Yeah, there you're right…

Rich
The other 42 minutes is just waiting for your luggage.

Stephen
But the antipodes thing is quite interesting. An antipode is the exact opposite point on the Earth, it doesn't have to be north to south. There are antipodes from one part of the equator to the other…

Alan
I thought we were New Zealand.

Stephen
Well, interesting thing is, we're nowhere near land.

Alan
So we're coming out the sea.

Stephen
And there was a contest to make an Earth sandwich, for someone to put a piece of bread on one part of the Earth and the others would put the piece of bread on the exact antipode of the… and there are not many choices, oddly enough. So if New Zealand was one piece of bread…

Alan
Iceland.

Stephen
Not Iceland. A little further south.

Alan
Norway.

Bill
Trixbury.

Alan
Spain.

Stephen
Spain is the right answer! Ah, brilliant, very good. There was immediate controversy because they used baguettes as pieces of bread, and so they aren't quite sure if they were oriented in the same direction. So it might've made a cross shape which would have disqualified it for a sandwich, really. You can't have a sandwich with baguettes crossing, can you?

Bill
How do you get to be involved in these competitions?

Stephen
I fear the answer is you have to be Canadian. Erm, they were Canadian brothers who won it, they were called Jonathan and Duncan. But anyway, they could have chosen Indonesia to…?

Bill
Oh, er…

Alan
America.

Stephen
You're going sideways, well… South America. It's Colombia. So not bad, not bad. But one of the most interesting ones – from a practical point of view if you're a particular kind of religionist – would be the antipode of Mecca. The exact opposite of Mecca, you see, is a tiny little atoll in the South Pacific.

Bill
Christmas Island.

Stephen
Tematangi Atoll. It's also known as Captain Bligh's Atoll.

Viewscreens : Aerial image of Tematangi Atoll.

Stephen
There it is. That's actually a photograph, amazingly. It's actually got a huge lagoon in it. And the great thing is, if you're a Muslim, you could kneel there, you could face any direction and you'd be facing Mecca. Because it's the antipode. It's rather pleasing. We were talking about the gravity train, weren't we? The idea of it going through the…

Bill
Is it feasible then? Has Richard Branson already figured out some way of…

Stephen
Well it's not… it's not feasible on the Earth. On the moon it might be because the moon has no molten core, but oddly enough it would be 53 minutes.

Rich
Which moon are we talking about?

Stephen
Ah! That's a sore point. Our usual friendly moon, the one we look at. Oddly enough, that would be 53 minutes to get through.

Barry
What?

Stephen
Why would it take longer to get through the moon, it's so much smaller.

Alan
Gravity's so feeble.

Stephen
Yeah.

Bill
Really, what's the point? Because the antipodes are not all that exciting are they, really?

Barry
No, the other side's just as boring as…

Stephen
Exactly. What, I tell you though, is interesting… is, who do you think worked out the 42 minutes and 12 seconds?

Alan
Patrick Moore.

Stephen
No.

Alan
QI researcher.

Bill
I know. Alan Tichmarsh. He was busy digging in the garden…

Alan
Charlie Jimmock. Where are they now, eh?

Bill [pointing under the counter]
Down there.

Alan
Oh good.

Stephen
What's so amazing about it was that it was actually a series of letters between Isaac Newton and Robert Hooke in the seventeenth century. They worked out the exact mathematics and it's not changed, it's exactly as true as it was then.

Alan
You know those tubes, like in the film Brazil where they put things in tubes and they never know where they go…

Stephen
I love that, aah.

Alan
Just put it in a tube and it pops out in the antipodes.

Stephen
You're too young, young scampi grace, aren't you, to remember the change machines in shops…

Barry
Aah.

Stephen [to Barry]
You remember those?

Bill
Sorry, who's scampi grace?

Stephen
Was it, erm…

Barry
It was wonderful.

Stephen
What was the one… in Gammidge's, was it?

Barry
That's right, You gave them money – real money, no credit cards – and a very nice girl – black, with B.O. – she took the money and she wrapped it in the docket – it was called the docket – and she put it in a cylinder…

Rich
It looked like a milkshake.

Barry
… it was sucked to some other part of the store.

Stephen
That's it, it was a vacuum, it was a real... So you'd put the fiver in there, put the docket in which said that you've bought something worth three pounds seven and six, and there's the five pounds… and it would go [pops his cheek] pop like that, or that 'schloop' noise as you say… and then you'd sort of wait there and chat…

Barry
They were subject to abuse, those machines.

Stephen
Perhaps it wasn't B.O. after all.

Alan
There just aren't enough tubes, are there?

Stephen
There aren't enough tubes in the world, yeah, just… things that work mechanically are kind of larky and fun.

Rich
Yeah and they'd suck, that big sucking sound they made. I would like to know the force in an airline toilet… I don't know what creates that.

Bill
That is… frightening.

Rich
I have to cover my ears.

Stephen
If you mis-timed it, your intestines would shoot out…

Alan
Don't put your head down. If you're sitting on it and you've sealed around the rim…

Stephen
You'd lose your guts.

Alan
… you can lose your innards. I've heard of that happening.

Stephen
Wow.

Rich
There's a guy where I live in Montana … 'cause we have prairie dogs, and prairie dogs are like that big… cute, like a cross between a meercat and a squirrel, yeah… but they're rodents and they dig tunnels. And if you don't wanna shoot them with a.22 this guy will come around and suck 'em out with a, er, with a grain elevator. It's on the back of a truck. A big howitzer cannon nozzle, and he knows exactly how many are in the tunnel. He'll go, "There's four in that tunnel" And he turns this thing on and it goes – 'ptu ptu ptu ptu'…

Stephen
Oh no!

Rich
The most amazing sound in the world. And then they come through and they have this like eighties blow-dried look, right? They've just been sucked through at like eighty miles per hour. Like miniature werewolves. I said to him…

Stephen
So they don't get shredded, it's not like Steve Buschemi in Fargo

Rich
No, but they are looking at you like you owe them an explanation. I said to the guy "Does this give them brain damage?" and he went, "Yeah, of course. But it doesn't kill them, that's the humane alternative." I asked what does he do with them after he captured them and he says "I just take them across the river and let them go, wait three or four days and work that side of the river."

Stephen
To return to the original question, if you drive a tunnel straight through the Earth, a gravity train would take you where you want to be in exactly 42 minutes and 12 seconds.

Aristotle, as I'm sure you all know, thought that heavier objects fell faster than lighter objects. And it seems an intuitive and correct idea but Galileo worked out that they didn't and how did he do that?

Barry
[presses buzzer, which shouts "Wait for it!"]
He dropped two cannonballs off the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

Stephen
Ah, well, did he?

Forfeit: Klaxons sound. Viewscreens flash the words "DROPPING CANNONBALLS OFF THE LEANING TOWER OF PISA "

Stephen
I'm sorry about that. The reality is that he worked out that this was the case in his head. He then did some experiments with ramps and things that proved it to be true.

Alan
What's heavier? A ton of gold or a ton of feathers?

Stephen
Exactly. That kind of thing, if you like. But what he's saying, half a ton…

Alan [to Bill]
What?

Stephen
…he's saying half a ton of coal, what Galileo said…

Bill
It sounds like an Elton John party request.

Stephen
Because the answer is, one of them is heavier, isn't it, because gold is measured in troy weight rather than avoir du poids and they're different. So a ton of gold is different to a ton of feathers. I believe, sorry. What Galileo said is that half a ton of coal falls at the same speed as a ton of coal, that's the point. Falls at the same speed. You know, if you let them go at the same time, they'll hit the ground at the same time.

Bill
How do you get a ton of coal up in the air?

Stephen
Well, indeed. Galileo's reasoning was thusly wise: He said that if you had a heavy object, and if you believed Aristotle, it falls faster and the lighter one slower. So suppose you attach the light one to the heavy one? Well, the heavy one falls faster than the light one, so it would make the light one fall faster. Or the light one would hold the heavy one up because it's going slower. So by attaching them together, you would make it go both faster and slower and that's obviously impossible. The only explanation is that they both travel at the same speed, and he then proved it.

And on Apollo 15, Scott, the astronaut, thought he'd try and see if Galileo was right and we have a clip of him doing it, it's rather wonderful.

Viewscreens: Colour video clip of Scott dropping a hammer and a feather on the surface of the moon.

Audio: [Scott] "And I'll drop the two of them here and hopefully they'll hit the ground at the same time" [He drops them] "How about that?" "Looks like mister Galileo was correct in his findings."

Stephen
Isn't that cool? Astronaut David Scott proving Galileo right with a hammer and a feather. But Galileo established it by the power of his own thought. Similarly Newton worked out the laws of gravitation and published them in 1687 which was just one hundred years before les freres Montgolfier, the brothers Montgolfier astounded the world with the first balloon ascent. And it was only one year after that that the dashing Old Etonian George Biggin and Letitia Sage were in a hydrogen balloon when they took off from Southwark and I want to know basically how far did George Biggin go?

Alan
Not to Biggin Hill, surely?

Barry
[presses buzzer, which shouts "Wait for it!"]

Stephen
Yes?

Barry
All the way.

Stephen
Hey! Well, oddly enough, that may be the right answer because it was one of the most extraordinary things. You can imagine a balloon ascent was an astonishing sight and 150,000 people turned out to see the first one. And this Italian who brought ballooning to England, he was called Lunardi, put these people in and he thought "That's probably too many" so he jumped out just as it was taking off and left this couple on their own, these complete first-time balloonists…

Alan
Were they tethered?

Stephen
No, they took off…

Alan
Did they just keep going then?

Stephen
Well it became one of the sensations of the age because they…

Barry
Mile-high club. The first one.

Stephen
They were the first members of the mile-high club as it were, yeah. Well what happened was, they were seen going over Piccadilly, she was seen on all fours…

Alan
Glass-bottomed balloon, then?

Stephen
She claimed later that she was fastening up the opening of the balloon and…

Alan
Yeah yeah. "Me officer? No officer. Opening of the balloon, officer."

Stephen
The technical answer is that they got as far as fourteen miles, they got as far as Harrow, shouting down using a speaking trumpet to people below… who must've been rather astonished… those slack-jawed yokels from the village of Finchley and such things…

Alan
"Work, you idle buggers!"

Stephen
There was a great scandal about it and it became the issue of the age, was whether or not you could do it. And one of the most remarkable social records of that age is the wager books, the betting books of the great London clubs, particularly Brooks' and White's which were in St. James. And people used to bet on anything. The books still exist, in their handwriting, and there is one here: "Lord Chumley has given two guineas to Lord Derby to receive five hundred guineas whenever his Lordship 'plays hospitals' with a woman in a balloon one thousand yards from the Earth."

For 'plays hospitals with', I think you can insert your own – er – word. You see what I mean. Erm, good.

Alan
So did he pay up, then? Is that in the book?

Stephen
We don't actually know.

Alan
"One thousand yards" … "No, you were only 900."

Stephen
Yes, that's true, they had no way of measuring. What did they use for an altimeter, do you think?

Alan
They dropped things and saw how long it took to hit the floor?

Stephen
No, they used a barometer. Barometers existed in those days. Different pressure, it's quite accurate.

Bill
Barometer's quite a hefty piece of kit, aren't they?

Stephen
Yeah. They hang it up and tap it, with the stem of your pipe. Well as with flight, of course, as soon as new technology emerges – as we saw with aeroplanes later – there are various targets that you want… to be the first person to do this, the first person to do that, we've seen the first person to 'play hospitals' on board a balloon, but one of the great things is to cross the…?

Alan
Channel?

Stephen
Channel, exactly. Cross the Channel, either with aeroplanes or …

Alan
M25?

Stephen
… Bleriot… of course, not the M25… but the Channel… The Channel was an extraordinary… there was a Frenchman called Blanchard and his American backer, but they hated each other and they loved their own country so, first the Frenchman – can you imagine a Frenchman not playing fair? Hard to imagine but anyway, try and picture it – had carried lead weights on a sort of belt, this Blanchard, so that he could claim to the American [French accent] "Ah, there's only room for one of us, unfortunately, so I have to do this record alone." And the American saw the weights and made him take off his ballast and then they 'accidentally' dropped each other's national flags out of the balloon when they took off.

And then the balloon started to drop over the Channel too early and so they threw out their food, they threw out their instruments then they started to throw out obviously the sand bags, then they took their jacket off then they took their trousers off, then they peed and pooed out of the basket because they were approaching the cliffs and they're dropping and dropping… and they poo and they just go over it like that… landed in the trees and the record was made.

Bill
That's not a very dignified way to break the record, though, with your trousers around your ankles.

Stephen
No…

Bill
Hanging out… "We've nearly done it!" … "Oh, hold on, the press are here to meet us." … "Oh dear."

Stephen
"One last push". Yeah, that's Mr Biggin and Mrs Sage, they went, as Barry correctly said, 'all the way' from St. George's Fields to Harrow.

We won't have any truck with gossip here on QI, of course, so what do you say to a gossypiboma ?

Barry
[presses buzzer, which shouts "Wait for it!"]
"Mind your own business."

Stephen
Aah…

Forfeit: Klaxons sound. Viewscreens flash the words "MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS".

Stephen
You're getting a nice score building up, Barry.

Barry
It is?

Stephen
That's good. Gossypiboma ?

Alan
Bo- bo- boma? What's a boma? Is it a creature?

Barry
I know what it is. It's something a surgeon leaves behind inside you after an operation.

Stephen
Oh, Barry, that is brilliant. That is the right answer. That's exactly what it is. It's cotton or lint or a piece of sponge…

Barry
Or a mobile phone.

Stephen
Or, indeed, a mobile phone. It comes from the Latin for cotton, a gossypium, so it'll be like a piece of cotton wool, is the most basic one. In America, 1500 cases a year of things being left inside…

Alan
Really?

Rich
That's 'cause a lot of them, er, eat fridge magnets. Because they look like cookies or chocolate. Then you try and open them and the tools just… slide off the tray and… they stick to the sides of mobile homes all kinds of things.

Stephen
54% of foreign bodies are left in the abdomen or pelvis, 22% in the vagina, 22.5% in the chest, 17% in other places like the spinal canal, brain and face. Bizarrely.

Alan
Do they do it for a bet?

Stephen
What, the surgeons?

Alan
Yeah. Then they get more work, they got to get it out again.

Stephen
They probably get sued though, don't they? I would imagine. There was one chap who had a six-inch metal surgical clamp taken out, and he'd already had an operation to take out one surgical six-inch clamp and he'd had two left in him, and when they took the one out they never thought to look for another one in there. Extraordinary behaviour.

Alan
Train set…

Stephen
The main risk factors… why is it likely to happen? Because they do, there is a protocol whereby you count all the equipment, so why would it happen?

Rich
Well some of them would, you know, they do good work and they think, "Well, I want someone to recognise my work so I'll leave my forceps in there." … "Well, this is the work of Dr Bonner…"

Stephen
Well the reason they give is emergency operations which have not been planned properly and unplanned changes in the operation and patients with a 'higher body mass index'. Fat people…

Alan
Fat people? They lose their stuff…

Stephen
They put it down on the side and [makes a sucking sound] it's sucked in. I don't know, is that the…

Alan
"There's a nurse in there!"

Barry
This is where we need Hugh Laurie on the show, isn't it?

Stephen
He would explain, exactly. He would explain. If the script is put in front of him, he's a gibbering idiot without it. No… he isn't… There are, in fact, specific words, the most commonly used is gossypiboma which originally comes from the fact that it's cotton – 'cause the Latin gossypium is 'cotton' – but if it's a surgical instrument it's actually called a foreign body granuloma. The cheek of the surgeons is that they call it 'retaining', as if somehow it's the patient's fault. "The patient retained this object while unconscious on the slab." You know, "Nothing to do with us."

Viewscreens: Picture of a surgeon's hands wearing rubber gloves.

Bill
Yes, his pancreas grabbed it…

Stephen
That's right.

Alan
… and wouldn't give it back. No choice but to leave it there.

Stephen
There you are. Anyway….

Bill
Slightly disturbed by this picture, it's really disturbing me. Backstage at a public theatre… "Glove puppets, quickly!"

Alan
It's a lady with invisible breasts.

Stephen
We like the thought of it. Well, yes, a gossypiboma is a piece of cotton left inside you by a surgeon. Anyway, what's the use of an underwater weighing machine?

Bill
[presses buzzer, which says "Twelve stone, two pounds, four ounces."]

Stephen
You are?

Bill
I weigh a bit less underwater.

Stephen
'Speak your weight'. Why would you have an underwater weighing machine?

Barry
Whales? Whales weighing station.

Stephen
Oh…

Forfeit: Klaxons sound. Viewscreens flash the words "WHALE WEIGH STATION".

Stephen
This is fabulous, you're thinking along…

Barry
I hope I get the worst marks because losing is the new winning.

Stephen
Yeah, I have to say, you're bidding fair.

Rich
Don't they weigh your mass body fat by floating ya?

Stephen
Yeah. What is a Body Mass Index, do you remember exactly what it…

Alan
Is it your height divided by your weight, or height squared…

Stephen
Weight divided by your height squared, yes. More or less, yes. But it's very faulty. If you're very muscular, the BMI would argue that you were overweight and obese and far too fat when in fact you're immensely fit. Or if you're a marathon runner and you have that slow-twitch muscle as they call it, I think, then you would be 'starving' and be considered, you know, 'malnutrited' or whatever the word is. So when they want to make really, really accurate measurements of Body Mass Index, they go underwater and it's considered the 'gold standard' for body fat measurement.

And what would you say body fat should be under not to be obese?

Bill
Chubby.

Barry
Twenty.

Stephen
Twenty… How did you know that?

Barry
[looks at his belly]

Stephen
No, you're fine. No, that's just… you've got a baggy thing… With women? Should women be more body fat or less body fat?

Alan and Bill
More.

Stephen
More, yes. They can be th….?

Alan
Three hundred.

Stephen
Thirty percent. Thirty percent…

Alan
Saw one in Budgens the other day who was definitely three hundred percent. And all she had in her hand basket was a massive, massive chocolate, that's all she had… a really serious expression on her face.

Stephen
Now when I'm in Norfolk there's nothing I like better than having a good old bicycle around the Broads. You and I do it together don't we… there we are… Look…

Viewscreens: Image of Stephen and Alan on bicycles.

Stephen
Such larks we have. Don't we?

Alan
Patched again, I don't believe it.

Stephen
Home in time for lemonade and buns. And, erm, "Isn't it funny Alan," I said, "Isn't it funny the faster I get the more likely I am to stay stable but I go very very slowly, I wobble and fall off. I wonder why that is?" and you said, "No, Stephen, let's make that a question in the next QI episode." And so that's what I'm doing. Why, when you slow down, do you become less stable on a bicycle? What is at work, what is…

Rich
I have a better question. Why do you have a Hitler haircut? Is Alan wearing a hairnet? If you put a little moustache under that nose, that would be frightening.

Bill
Ah, yeah. I dressed as Hitler once, I did a school play, I played Arturo Ui in The Resistible Rise of … and I was Ui, and, er, I actually dyed my hair black and cut it in the Hitler style for the authenticity of the role – not because I'm a Nazi or anything – and my mum said "Oh now that does look nice." … "You look very smart." And I was dressed like Hitler. My mum was incredulous, she couldn't see anything wrong… "Well you look very smart. Wish you would keep it like that."

Stephen
Oh, mothers.

Barry
Why do we wobble? I wobble because I'm scared to death when I'm on a bike. I wobble even when I'm going very fast.

Bill
What kind of bike is it? Is it a Penny Farthing?

Barry
No, whatever I can find in the street that hasn't got a lock on it.

Bill
You bastard! Was it you?

Stephen
Oh, that happened in Cambridge, that was so sad. This nice, noble idea that city bikes would have this special number on, and you just saw one leaning on a lamppost, you got on it and you bicycle to where you want to be and left it outside… and they were common exchange bicycles. It's a perfect socialist dream, a utopian ideal, free bicycles… two days, I think it lasted, before…

Alan
… a truck arrived from Oxford.

Stephen
Yeah. Basically. The odd thing about it is that bicycles are a pretty ancient invention by modern transport standards, but it was only in 1970 that the physics of them was understood.

Bill
Is it that there's more force working on you if you're going slowly… so you're, sort of, being pulled from other sides…

Stephen
Well people thought it was gyroscopic pull or a centrifugal one. Somewhere. But it was a fellow called David Jones in 1970, that in fact it's not that, it's torque that lowers the centre of gravity. And the other thing is called the castor effect, like a supermarket trolley, the fact that the trailing wheel kind of self-centres, it rights the whole thing as it trails along.

Barry
I always get the trolley with the stiff wheel.

Stephen
They're the ones…

Barry
At airports, supermarkets, I always get that trolley. I veer into old ladies with it, go crashing into displays…

Rich
I do that and blame it on the wheel. "Oh, sorry… bad wheel."

Stephen
So, here's a thing. When you want to go left, you turn the handlebars of your bike slightly to the right. Motorcyclists know this as a rule.

Alan
Counter-steering.

Stephen
Yeah, counter-steering, exactly. It's very very quick, it's done automatically, people don't know they're doing it. Which is why kerbs are so difficult, if you're close to a kerb, in order to steer away from the kerb, you have to steer into it first. You do a [motions] that and then that. Otherwise you fall over. Weird, it's an automatic thing people do. Really strange. There's a way of testing it; coasting along, take your left hand off the… right, okay… and you push the handlebars with your right. Now with this, you can only force the handlebars left, obviously. But you go right.

So the reason why bicycles are stabler when you go fast is nothing to do with gyroscopes, it's all to do with torque and castoring. When you're cycling, the more revolutions, the better.

So, imagine it is the revolution, the red dawn has come upon us gentlemen, we've overthrown the hated oppressors and we're all happy and we've got guns so we shoot straight up in the air as people do, "Wheee! Yee Haai! Yee Haaa!"… Is this a good idea to do that?

Alan
I don't know. I've often thought, "Where do those bullets go?"

Stephen
Yeah.

Barry
They come down…

Stephen
They come down and kill…

Barry
… and hit you right on top of the head.

Alan
Does that often happen?

Stephen
Yes! Unfortunately it does because what goes up, as you know, must come down. And of course it won't happen to the guy who shoots because, when it gets to the top, the smallest amount of wind will, you know…

Alan
They go about a mile away.

Stephen
Well, not a mile probably, but they did an experiment on a floating platform, where they fired 500 straight up in the air and only four landed on the platform, the bullets…

Alan
All dead, then?

Stephen
No, I think they cover themselves, tin hats. Yes, with a typical 7.62mm, fired vertically, would reach a height of… What sort of height do you think they would reach?

Bill
Half a mile?

Stephen
Longer. Two and a half kilometres, nearly.

Alan
Straight into the couple shagging in the bush.

Stephen
Talk about coming full circle. So, if it takes some seventeen seconds and another forty seconds or so to return to the ground, at a speed of about 70 metres per second… So what you will get is this gigantic thing that will penetrate the… smash the skull, very, very dangerous… cranial injuries.

Here's an interesting thing, you won't believe me, I sort of don't believe it myself and yet I know it's true… it's one of those things, it's counter-intuitive I think is the word. [He holds a fist out at arm's length] In this hand here, I've got a bullet. [He holds his other arm out, parallel to the first, with hand shaped as a pistol] In this hand, level with it, I've got a gun. I fire the gun and let go at the same time. Which bullet, that one or that one, will hit the ground first?

Alan
The one that you drop.

Stephen [gestures]
That one?

Alan
Yeah.

Stephen
No. They both hit the ground at exactly the same time.

Alan
Bollocks.

Stephen
I know! I knew you'd say that. Both have exactly the same force acting on them. Gravity.

Alan
Yes but the momentum would defy gravity, won't it, for a bit?

Stephen
It would just describe a different [indicates a trajectory with his hand] thing.

Alan
The speed of the bullet?

Barry
It could go two kilometres, that bullet.

Stephen
But incredibly fast. And then hits the ground.

Alan
The speed of light?

Stephen
No…

Barry
Does this information come from Wikipedia?

Stephen
No. [to audience] Are there any scientists here who will back me up on this? Yup, see, there are some yeses there.

Rich
Any assassins?

Stephen
It does seem incredible but it is true.

Rich
So you're saying you drop a bullet at, what height?

Stephen
Well, you're standing. Your height. You're standing… you're standing, yup.

Rich
And you fire a bullet. That bullet will hit the ground.

Stephen
Both at the same level, yeah. I mean, there are things that can stop it, if the bullet went five miles a second it would actually leave the atmosphere and obviously never fall to Earth. If you went far enough, the curvature of the Earth would mean it had further fall. But, assuming this kind of gun doesn't have that range, then what I'm saying is true.

Bill
Is there any practical application for this?

Stephen
Who knows. Well, there's enormous practical applications in the laws of physics that say this must be the case.

Bill
Well, no, I suppose there is this double assassination, isn't it? You kill a person and an ant. It's a source of personal pride to the assassin. The offing of some insects.

Stephen
Exactly. So, if you're going to stop a bullet, the very worst way is to do it with the top of your head. Still, nonetheless, viva la revolution. Let's say we've entered the city, which we've now secured. We've rounded up all the investment bankers but a small group of them have holed up at the Welcome Break motorway service station at Scratchwood, which is the first one if you go north out of London on the M1.

Viewscreens: Picture of the service station.

Stephen
Now but we, the revolutionary cadre, los compadres, okay… we are in the city of London. Okay? But we have to stop them. We've closed down all telecommunications, you know, so we can't give instructions to, you know, members of 0our brigade… We have to stop them from where we are. In the city of London. And they're in Scratchwood. Huh? How's that going to happen?

Alan
Fire something at them.

Stephen
Yes.

Bill
A Gingsta's pasty.

Stephen
Um, this is just a bizarre fact. Without knowing it, they've chosen the one place to get to where you can get to them with a gun that exists, here, now, today… not far from this studio, we're on the river here… And these weapons are on the river and they're pointed, I promise you…

Alan
H.M.S. Belfast.

Stephen
H.M.S. Belfast is the answer. Which is a World War Two ship and it has guns, it's the only one with these guns, working guns… there they are…

Viewscreens: Video clip of HMS Belfast in dock.

Stephen
And they are pointed at Scratchwood. If you go on board as a tourist, which you can, it actually tells you… There's a sign saying "These are pointed at the Scratchwood service area."

Bill
Oh God, I would love to fire them.

Alan
Come on!

Stephen
Here's another weird… you may know this… it's just a weird World War Two ship story as well, this was a U.S. ship, it was known as the Luckiest Ship in the U.S. Navy in the 1940's because it was the only ship to be unscarred at Pearl harbour. It was called the U.S.S. Phoenix. It was sunk in 1982 but it had changed it's name to… Do you know what to?

Alan
H.M.S. Belfast.

Stephen
It's named after a person who has a military rank. And sold to another country. Named after General…?

Bill
Pinochet.

Stephen
Bel…?

Bill
Grano.

Stephen
General Bel Grano. Sunk by the British and remains the only warship, the only ship ever sunk by a nuclear submarine. And it was sunk with all hands, or most hands lost, apparently.

Alan
Over three hundred people.

Stephen
Over three hundred people, yeah. But that was known as the luckiest ship in the U.S. Navy. That's an extraordinary history for that boat, you almost want to make a movie about it. Just bizarre.

Alan
Well I never knew that.

Stephen
So H.M.S. Belfast may be docked in the city of London but it's guns are trained on Scratchwood service station, so it looks like those bankers are for the high jump.

Talking of the high jump – this leads me to my next question – why did Fosbury flop?

Viewscreens: Monochrome image of Dick Fosbury crossing the high jump bar.

Alan
Gravity.

Stephen
Why did he choose to flop? That's the Fosbury Flop, what is it?

Alan
People previously would jump forwards over the bar and land in a sand pit and he jumped backwards over it and landed on like a big cushion.

Viewscreens: Images of high jumpers showing four different styles.

 

Stephen
Right, these are the previous ones; there's the Scissors, the Eastern Cut-Off…

Alan [pointing at Viewscreens]
Yeah the Western Roll, that was the one.

Stephen
… the Western Roll, the Straddle. In 1968, old Fosbury appeared with this new move and he won the Olympic gold and now every high jumper does it, and no-one will ever go back to any other way of doing it. But there's a reason why it's so efficient, why it works so well.

Alan
Might be that, in the other ones, you have to get all of yourself at that height, at the same moment, whereas he kind of took himself a bit at a time.

Stephen
You're sort of right, it's where your centre of gravity is, and on the Fosbury Flop your centre of gravity is under the bar.

Viewscreens: Graphic on image showing the centre of gravity.

 

Stephen
And on the other ones… There, that's the dotted line there, that indicates the centre of gravity which is that, sort of, hazard symbol.

Alan
He just realised there's no thing to land on.

Stephen
Well that's the other thing of course…

Alan
"Aaaarrgh!"

Stephen
The other thing about the Fosbury Flop was it did require a move from sand to nice rubber cushiony things. Yeah. If you do the scissors one - you saw, that sort of stepping one over there – your centre of gravity passes thirty centimetres over the bar. So what it means, having a low centre of gravity, is you get extra height in exchange for no extra effort. And also, these records stay for a long time. The male one was set in '93 and the female in '87 and they still stand, so it looks as though we're reaching the limit of human…

Alan
'Cause gravity's getting stronger and stronger.

Stephen
Well that could easily be… pard… hmmm? Erm, and long jumps too, they stay for a long time don't they?

Alan
Yeah.

Stephen
Who held the world long jump record from 1935 to 1960?

Alan
Was it not Jesse Owens?

Stephen
It was Jesse Owens. So you're wrong. By saying it's not Jesse Owens.

Alan [wincing]
Oh.

Stephen
You get a point for that.

Bill
Is this a sort of a limbo competition…

Stephen
That would be a good idea.

Bill
Olympic limbo.

Alan
Should be.

Stephen
And are you allowed to, sort of, flatten your nipples? Snip them off.

Alan
With duct tape.

Bill
You tape them down. I lost a limbo competition…

Alan
I thought you were going to say you lost a nipple.

Stephen
Lost a nipple!

Bill
"I lost a nipple."

Alan [indicating the bar]
It was a razor blade.

Stephen
Owww.

Bill
We were playing in prison.

Stephen
Russian limbo.

Alan [pretends to have lost both nipples]
"Yaaaaargh!"

Stephen
You lost a limbo competition?

Bill
I lost…

Alan
You amaze me. Somebody got lower that you?

Bill
I know, somebody got low… imagine that. Someone more limber than me.
It was actually Lionel Blair.

Alan
Obviously a dream.

Bill
Hey! It wasn't.

Alan
"Me and Lionel Blair had a limbo competition… and all my nipples fell off."

Bill
Yeah yeah. I'd had a bit of blue cheese before I went to bed. No, it was for charity. It was a charitable limbo dancing competition, there was me, Sinitta and Lionel Blair.

Alan
Surely Sinitta cleaned up?

Bill
No, you'd think, you'd think, wouldn't you… Sinitta, Lionel… and then me… no, no, I was third, Sinitta… but Lionel…

Stephen
Well he's a dancer to his feet.

Bill
He's limber.

Alan
He's also about seventy years old.

Bill
But he's limber!

Stephen
Anyway, yes, so the revolutionary thing about Dick Fosbury's Flop was that it allows your centre of gravity to pass under the bar, an innovation which means that the current world records are likely to stand forever.

And so to a matter of the utmost gravity, the dead weight of general ignorance. Fingers on buzzers if you please…

Hallelujah it's raining wine. How big would a cloud need to be, right, in order to dispense for me my recommended daily limit of wine?

Bill
[presses buzzer, which says "Twelve stone, two pounds, four ounces."]

Stephen
That's your answer, is it?

Bill
Yes!

Stephen
Okay.

Bill
Alright, the size of a car.

Stephen
Well, oddly enough, you're strangely using the same metaphor we are. We're using a form of transport…

Bill
Well, er…

Alan
Bus. Train.

Stephen
Bus is the right answer, about the size of a bus, a rain cloud would weep the same amount of water that would match, i.e. 250 millilitres which is your recommended daily allowance of wine. But this, this recommended daily allowance business is very interesting. In Britain it's twenty-one units of wine, that's per week I think, in Poland it's twelve and a half units… a tiny amount. But in Canada it's twenty-three and three quarters, America twenty-four and a half, South Africa and Denmark thirty-one point five and guess where it's thirty-five? Barry?

Barry
Australia.

Stephen
Australia, good old Australia fair. Yeah, erm, but our limit is twenty-one. A study that found that if you drank between twenty-one and thirty, you would belong to a group of people who had the lowest mortality rate in Britain. So in other words, we're being recommended to drink too little alcohol for our health. In fact – it's been worked out – you have to drink sixty-three units a week or a bottle of wine a day to face the same death risk as a teetotaller.

Bill
I think you'll find that most people are actually making that up themselves kind of, you know, instinctively.

Stephen
Well the odd thing is, is the Government guy who actually came up with it has admitted they made the number up. They said, "Well we had to say something, so we said that."

Alan
But are they not… is the assumption not that there are other lifestyle factors associated with the sort of person who likes a bit of wine?

Stephen
Having an accident is the main problem, obviously, yeah. But nonetheless, statistically and actuarially you are likely to live longer if you drink between twenty-one and thirty…

Alan
If you're a social animal, you're less stressed.

Stephen
It may actually be the physical effect of alcohol on the body is beneficial in those amounts. Anyway, if clouds were made of wine you should limit yourself to about a bus full a day.

Now, an easy one. How many bullets are there in a gunslinger's revolver?

Alan
Seven.

Rich
Five.

Bill
[presses buzzer, which says "Twelve stone, two pounds, four ounces."]
Er, six.

Forfeit: Klaxons sound. Viewscreens flash the word "SIX".

Stephen
Well six, they're called 'six guns' as you'll notice, six chambers.

Alan
You can put six in and one in the spout, isn't that…?

Stephen
No it's not, quite the other way around.

Rich
Five.

Stephen
You're right, why five?

Rich
Gravity.
I used to know this but I forgot.

Stephen
It's simply safety. Wyatt Earp, who can be regarded as something of an expert, he said, "I've often been asked why five shots without reloading were all a top-notch gunfighter ever fired with." Five, when his guns were chambered for six. The answer is safety, the hammer rested on the empty chamber so it could never discharge by mistake because there was no safety catch on a…

Viewscreens: Photo of Clint Eastwood firing a pistol.

Stephen
And there, of course, the great… the great Clint Eastwood. I did a thing in America once and there was an armourer, a film guy who gave you your gun and everything - takes it away and keeps it safe, gives you blanks or whatever – and he told me a fact. He'd been doing it since the thirties – he'd been working on westerns – he said only two actors he ever worked with, and he'd worked with them all, didn't blink when they fired a gun.

This is actually, oddly enough, a shot of Clint exactly proving he was one of them because the gun's going off and his eyes are open, as much as they ever were. Erm, and he was one, he never blinked. John Wayne blinked, you know, Anthony Quinn, Dorian Hooper… who's the other?

Alan
[presses buzzer, which plays the cartoon spring]
Kenneth Williams.

Stephen
In Carry on Cowboy.

Alan
Yeah.

Stephen
[parodies Kenneth Williams] "Yes, wide open, yes…" [as himself] The idea of those butch American armourers called Rusty or Randy or whatever having heard of Kenneth Williams. [Southern accent] "It was your own guy, Kenneth goddamn Williams." [as himself] No, er, it was actually… Westworld was probably the western most people would think of…

Alan
Yul Brynner.

Stephen
Yul Brynner, yeah, Yul Brynner never blunk. So anyway, the answer is they have five bullets, not six.

So to gravy. You know when you're cooking a steak and all that red juice flows out, that red liquid… what is it?

Barry
Blood.

Alan
Blood.

Stephen
Is it?

Forfeit: Klaxons sound. Viewscreens flash the word "BLOOD".

Stephen
Oh! Oddly enough it isn't. You'd think it was, wouldn't you, but it's not. It's another prototenous substance, not haemoglobin but in fact something called myoglobin. It's the thing that's used to operate the muscles but it isn't actually the blood that is coming out there.

Bill
So it's not got anything to do with blood, then?

Stephen
Well no, as I say, it's called myoglobin, it's related…

Barry
It's colouring, it's artificial colouring would you…?

Stephen
It's not artificial, it's real. You see, the two have distinct functions, when muscles are used for short, fast bursts of energy, glucose from the blood provides the fuel. For sustained activity, this stuff – myoglobin – is used to oxidise the fat and that provides the energy.

Barry
I didn't realise this program was so educational.

Stephen
No? Well that's our promise.

Rich
It's all made up, though.

Barry
Hmm?

Rich
I love his lies.

Stephen
What, the bullets that…? [holds out his arms in reference to the story] I know, it seems…

Rich
I'm gonna test that out tonight.

Stephen
I know what it is. If you put it in the gravy… and if you put 'it' in gravy you get…

Rich
Gravity.

Stephen
Gravity, exactly. So we go from gravity trains to the gravy train and the circle is complete. So it's time for the scores ladies and gentlemen.

Oh I say, this is really interesting. We have a tie for the lead, ladies and gentlemen, Rich and Alan at plus three!

Alan
Plus three!

Stephen
Yes! Three!

Stephen
In, er, in third place with minus eight, Bill Bailey. But, er, failing… failing to defy gravity the way Rich and Alan did and sinking like a stone, I fear. However, what a welcome and gorgeous pebble, what a shining lustrous gorgeous stone, on minus thirty-six, Barry Humphries!

That's the lot from QI. My thanks to Barry, Rich, Bill, Alan… and I leave you with one last interesting thing about gravity. You know in the early days of television, it was widely believed that television sets weighed more when they were switched on. And the main reason for this belief apparently came from reading the manufacturer's instructions, which warned people always to switch off their sets before attempting to move them.

Good night.

 


 

Practical applications: the first task the U.S. put to a computer was to calculate gunnery tables which, if worked out a few years before, would have eliminated the trench warfare battle technique that typified WWII.

42 minutes: Transcriber's note - this is why I thought Douglas Adams chose 42 as the ultimate answer.

Two moons: goes back to 1x02 where Rich questioned the QI assertion that Earth had two moons. Also mentioned in 2x06 and 5x02.