Everything you ever wanted to know about the iconic QI set.

Set & Studio

Over 11 years of filming, the QI set has been subjected to fire, ice, water, electric shocks, a variety of dangerous chemicals, an attack from Alan Davies with a saw, Bill Bailey's iron fist (he's broken 3 buzzers in total), guns, robots, puppets, soldiers, scientists, and even a streaker.

The QI set was designed by Jonathan Paul Green, who also decorates it for the Christmas and other themed episodes. Here is his QI profile, and his website. He also has a blog about his work on QI, which can be found here.


 

Where The Elves Come In


Stephen is probably the most knowledgeable TV host in the world - but to give him an extra leg-up over the panellists during recordings, he's fully plumbed into QI's research database via notecards, an autocue, an earpiece, and a little screen with messages from the elves. We also communicate with him via carrier pigeon, smoke signals, a pneumatic tube system, and by lobbing bricks with notes tied to them.


 
Setting The Stage For QI

 

The studio floor has to be freshly painted every morning before filming to keep it looking spotless on television.

Buzzers and KlaxonsBTS - Sights & Sounds



The Bullseye


The layers which make up the QI Roundel or 'Bullseye' which sits behind Stephen are, from the outside in: The Rosetta Stone, The Dead Sea Scrolls, Newtonian Scientific Formulae, an astrological clock, and the QI logo.

Despite our best efforts, rumours about the bullseye continue to circulate. We'd like to make it clear that the following are all urban myths:

The bullseye is actually a cunningly disguised transmitter designed to beam our research questions into Stephen’s brain.
There is a Faberge egg concealed in the centre of the bullseye.
The bullseye forms a hypnotic optical illusion that subconciously urges viewers to pay the licence fee.
Pressing the middle of the bullseye resets the clocks on all the microwaves in the UK.



The Spirals


One of the most common questions that we get about the set are queries about spirals on the inside of the magnifying glass desk. Is it a golden spiral?  A logarithmic spiral?  Is it magical?

JPG has kindly provided us with a picture of his initial sketches (the original is currently on display in the National Musum of British Comedy Panel Quizzes). 

As you can see, the spirals on the desk are made by joining up the vertices of various rectangles, which means that the spiral is actually more like a Fibonacci spiral than a golden spiral. 

 The two spirals are close enough to be almost identical, but the 'Golden Spiral' is created simply by using the exact 'Golden Ratio' (1:1.618) to determine the rate at which it leaves the centre, while the Fibonacci series joins corners of rectangles of the golden ratio. The two spirals get more and more similar as the numbers get higher, but are not the same.

The golden spiral is famous because it appears a lot in nature (in the centre of a sunflower for instance) and is a special case of the 'logarithmic spiral' which mathematician Jacob Bernoulli loved to study; he called it the 'Spira Mirabilis.'

He wanted one to be inscribed on his tomb, but unfortunately the stone-mason was not much of a mathematician and if you visit Bernoulli's resting place in Basel, you can see that he is interred under a rather more boring Archimedean spiral.

But we probably shouldn't mock poor old Bernoulli.  You see, in fact, while Jonathan used the Golden Spiral as his inspiration for the set, and drew what looks like a Fibonacci spiral, if one gets up close and measures the set, one will find that ratios of the defining rectangles are 1.24 to 1 (central) and 1.76 to 1 (outer) - nowhere near the golden ratio of 1.618 to 1.  Such a fudge was necessary in order to make the set look aesthetically pleasing, and so the spiral is actually neither a golden spiral, nor is it a Fibonacci spiral - perhaps we should call it a 'QI Spiral' or a 'JPG Spiral'.

Here are some fascinating examples of the Fibonacci spiral appearing in nature.