A Quite Interesting Book
THE SECOND BOOK
John Lloyd and John Mitchinson
Table of Contents
FORETHOUGHT | Stephen Fry?
SECOND THOUGHTS | John Lloyd and John Mitchinson
THE SECOND BOOK OFGENERAL IGNORANCE
Who made the first flight in an aeroplane? How many legs does an octopus have?
What colour are oranges?
What’s the name of the most southerly point of Africa? What’s the hardest known substance?
What’s the strangest substance known to science? At what temperature does water freeze?
Where is the largest known lake?
Where is the world’s saltiest water?
Where did most minerals in the world come from? Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Can you name a fish?
How does a shark know you’re there?
Does the Mediterranean have tides?
Which birds inspired Darwin’s theory of evolution?? Where’s the most convenient place to discover a new species?
What kind of bird is Puffinus puffinus? Can you name three species of British mouse? How far are you from a rat?
What kind of animal is ‘Ratty’ from The Wind in the Willows?
What kind of animal did Beatrix Potter first write about? Which animal dreams most?
Which animal drinks most?
How do elephants get drunk?
What’s the world’s most aggressive mammal? Which animal has saved the most human lives? What’s the best way to treat a jellyfish sting? What causes pins and needles?
What causes a hernia?
Why should you avoid the free peanuts in bars? What is household dust made from?
What might land on your head if you live under a flight path? What are your chances of surviving a plane crash? What’s the word for the fear of heights?
What’s the world’s second-highest peak?
How can you tell how high up a mountain you are? How can you tell which way is north in a forest? Do people really go round and round in circles when they’re lost? What’s the best way to weigh your own head?
How do snakes swallow things bigger than their heads? Where does a snake’s tail begin?
What are the chances of a coin landing on heads? What does biting a coin prove?
Who invented the catflap?
What did Molotov invent?
Why was the speed camera invented?
What’s the word for a staircase that goes round and round? What’s so great about the golden ratio?
What kind of stripes make you look slimmer?
How many eyes do you need to estimate depth and distance? What’s the natural reaction to a bright light? How do you know when the sun has set?
What are the highest clouds called?
How much does a cloud weigh?
How much of the Moon can you see from the Earth? What can you hear in space?
How do you open a parachute?
Why shouldn’t you touch a meteorite?
What is a ‘brass monkey’?
What would you find on the ground at the northernmost tip of Greenland?
How cold is ‘too cold to snow’?
Where do you lose most of your body heat?
What colour should you wear to keep cool?
Is there any land on Earth that doesn’t belong to any country? Which country is the river Nile in?
What was Cleopatra’s nationality?
Why did Julius Caesar wear a laurel wreath?
What was Caesar talking about when he said ‘Veni, vidi, vici’? How many men did a centurion command in the Roman Empire? What language was mostly spoken in ancient Rome? Where is English the official language?
When did Parliament make slavery illegal in England? Why doesn’t Britain have a written constitution? What does a British judge bang to keep order in court? What does European law force British fishermen to do? Why have firemen’s poles been banned?
Why was absinthe made illegal?
How many countries are represented in the G20 group of leading economies?
Which European country has the lowest age of consent? Who lives in Europe’s smallest houses?
Which country is the most successful military power in European history?
In which country was Alexander the Great born?
Who killed Joan of Arc?
How tall was Napoleon?
What did Mussolini do?
Who thought Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton? Which revolution ended the First World War? Which country suffered the second highest losses in the Second World War?
Which nationality invented the ‘stiff upper lip’? What did George Washington have to say about his father’s cherry tree?
How many men have held the office of President of the United States?
Which country ritually burns the most American flags? In which country is the Dutch city of Groningen? What language is the Spanish national anthem sung in? Which city has the most Michelin stars in the world? Where was football invented?
Who was the first Olympian to score a ‘perfect 10’? Why did sportsmen start going into huddles? What’s a bat’s eyesight like?
Can you name an animal that only eats bamboo? Which is hairier: human or chimpanzee?
What did Neanderthals look like?
Which part of you is evolving fastest?
What were Bronze Age tools made of?
What was not Made in China and not made of china? What’s the name of the chemical that’s bad for you and is found in Chinese food?
Does eating chocolate give you acne?
Who gets over-excited by sugary drinks?
How many glasses of water should you drink every day? What use is a sauna?
What effect does drinking alcohol have on antibiotics? Can you name a narcotic?
What’s the best way to restart a stopped heart? Can a living person be a successful heart donor? Which mammal has the most heartbeats in a lifetime? How long do mayflies live?
What comes out of a cocoon?
What does an amoeba live in?
What do Mongolians live in?
Can you name a tapestry?
Who became king of England after the battle of Hastings? Who invented Gothic architecture?
Which country do Huns come from?
How did Attila the Hun die?
What should you do when you get a nosebleed? What happens if you swallow your tongue?
Which part of your tongue tastes bitter things? What does cracking your knuckles do?
What are the symptoms of leprosy?
Why did lepers start carrying bells?
Who wore horned helmets?
Can you name an animal with horns?
How do you milk a yak?
What do you say to get a husky to move?
On which day should you open the first door on an Advent calendar?
How many days are there in Lent?
How did the Church of England react to Darwin’s Theory of Evolution? Who is the only person on Earth who can never be wrong? What are the four main religions of India?
From which country did the Gypsies originate?
What was shocking about the first cancan dancers?
Where does tartan come from?
Who wrote ‘Auld Lang Syne’?
Which writer introduced the most words into the English language? What were Richard III’s last words?
When does ‘i’ come before ‘e’?
How many letters are there in Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwll-llantysiliogogogoch?
What’s the proper name for the loo?
How much does your handwriting tell about you?
How can you tell if someone’s pleased to see you?
What’s the best way to get to sleep?
What happens if you eat cheese before bedtime?
What did ploughmen have for lunch?
Where is Stilton cheese made?
Where does the name Milton Keynes come from?
Which kind of ball bounces highest: steel, glass or rubber? What’s the most economical speed for driving a car? What happens if you leave a tooth in a glass of Coke overnight? What happens if you cover a beautiful woman from head to toe in gold paint? What colour was Frankenstein?
What colour were Dorothy’s shoes in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz? How do you know if something’s radioactive?
Which part of the food do microwaves cook first?
Where did the British government plan to drop its second atomic bomb? Which two counties fought each other in the Wars of the Roses? Who led the English fleet against the Spanish Armada? What did Cornish wreckers do?
How did the USA react to the sinking of the Lusitania? Which radio play first made people think the world was coming to an end? What did US bankers do after the Wall Street Crash of 1929? Who was the first American to be buried in Britain? Is there any part of Britain that is legally American soil? Which was the first film to star Mickey Mouse?
What was Dan Dare’s original job?
Why were postcards invented?
Who made the first computer?
What is paper money made from?
On a pirate’s treasure map, what does X mark?
What did early nineteenth-century whalers use to kill whales? What makes the Penny Black stamp so special?
When did women first show cleavage?
What effect does testosterone have on men?
After a disaster, what’s the greatest threat to the water supply? What positive effect did the Great Fire of London have? Can anything live forever?
THE USES OF INTERESTINGNESS
About the Author
By the Same Authors
FORETHOUGHT | Stephen Fry?
Now, what I want is facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wantedin life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds ofreasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them. This is theprinciple on which I bring up my own children, and this is the principle on which I bring up
these children. Stick to Facts, sir!
Nothing but a shudder runs up the spine of the sensible man, woman or child as they read thesewell-known words of Thomas Gradgrind in Dickens’s novel Hard Times.
‘But surely, Stephen,’ you say, in that way of yours, ‘QI and General Ignorance and all that
they are or hope to be represent nothing more than the triumphant distillation of Gradgrindery,fact-dweebiness, trivia-hoarding and information-hugging. The world of noble ideas falls beforeyour world of grinding facts. Facts are the abrasive touchstones on which we test the validityof concepts! Surely, Stephen. Surely, surely, surely! I’m right, aren’t I? Aren’t I? Oh do
say I am!’
Well now, bless you and shush and oh you dear things. Calm yourselves and sit down in asemicircle on the play mat while we think about this.
I know it must seem sometimes that QI is a nerd’s charter that encourages boring dorks tovomit undigested boluses of fibrous factoid. QI and its volumes of General Ignorance mightappear to some to be nothing more than provisioners of ammunition for tiresome gainsaying did-you-knowers and tedious trotters out of turgid trivia. But look beneath the surface and I hopeyou will agree that the volume that you hold in your delicate hands is in truth a celebration,
a celebration of the greatest human quality there is. Curiosity. Curiosity has wrongly, bythose with a vested interest in ignorance and their own revealed truths, been traduced andeternally characterised as a dangerous felicide, but you, dearest of dear, dear readers, knowthat Curiosity lights the way to glory.
Let us put it another way: the lack of curiosity is the Dementor that sucks all hope, joy,
possibility and beauty out of the world. The dull torpid acedia that does not care to find out,that has no hunger and thirst for input, understanding and connection will desertify the humanlandscape and land our descendants squarely in the soup.
Do we want our species to make its way, foreheads thrust out, knuckles grazing the ground, intoa barren of tedium and brutish unquestioning blindness, or do we want to skip through the worldfilled with wonder, curiosity and an appetite for discovery?
This screamingly overwrought preface that is even now embarrassing you to the encrimsoningroots of your scalp, is called Forethought in honour of Prometheus, the greatest of the Titans
of Greek mythology. Prometheus, whose brother Atlas was busy holding up the world, looked at uspoor newly made humans and loved us and felt sorry that we were animals so close to gods yetstill lacking … something …
Prometheus climbed up Olympus and stole that something from the gods, bringing it downcarefully preserved in a fennel stalk. It was fire. Fire that gave us technology, but more thanthat, it was iskra, the spark, the divine fire, the quality that drove us to know. The fire
that allowed us to rise up on a level with the gods.
The Greeks rightly understood that if there were such creatures as gods, they were (it is self-
evident) capricious, inconsistent, unjust, jealous and mean. And indeed Zeus, their king, wasoutraged that Prometheus, one of their own, had given humans great creating fire. He punishedthe Titan by chaining him to the Caucasus mountains. Every day an eagle (or vultures depending
on your source) came to peck out his liver, which (Prometheus being an immortal) grew back eachnight. This eternal torture he underwent for humans, that we might, each one of us, have thedivine spark, the immortal fire that drives us to ask Why? Who? When? What? Where? and How?
The name Prometheus means Forethought. We can repay him his daily agony by being, every day,curious, wondering and entirely on fire.
I adore you widely.
SECOND THOUGHTS | John Lloyd and John
When we compiled the original Book of General Ignorance in 2006 – aided by the doughty andindefatigable QI Elves – we laboured under the misconception that we might have mined theMountain of Ignorance to exhaustion, depleting its resources forever.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Four years on, four series later, there is so much more ignorance available that we’ve had todeliberately cull it in order to make this Second Book of General Ignorance tolerably portable.
We hope you’ll have as much fun reading it as we’ve had putting it together.
It is a wonderful thing that we, ‘The Two Johnnies’ (aged 58 and 47 respectively) canhonestly say that we genuinely do ‘learn something new every day’.
Thank you for allowing us to do that.
THE SECOND BOOK
GENERAL IGNORANCE ?
Everybody is ignorant, only on different subjects. Will Rogers (1879–1935)