The QI Set

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One of the most common group of questions that we get at QI (if you ignore the ones asking why we said that there was more than one moon) are queries about the iconic set. 

Our set at QI is rebuilt for every show. In fact, often by the time Stephen, Alan and guests have removed their microphones and arrived in the green room, the studio is nothing but a shell waiting for the next day's filming session, whatever it may be.  In between recordings it sits in a backstage area, along with the "Have I Got News For You" screens containing various newspaper cuttings, and various other odds and sods from shows filmed at The London Studios.

The set itself was designed by Jonathan Paul Green, who was also responsible for shows such as Mock the Week and TopGear.  You can check out his website here:

and read his blog specifically about QI here:

You can also follow him on twitter @jpgdesign

But what about the most common specific query that we receive?  It's all about the spiral on Stephen's desk.  Is it a golden spiral?  A logarithmic spiral?  Or something else?

Well here is Jonathan's sketch of the design:


And as you can see, it is 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 unforunately 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 maybe a 'JPG Design Spiral'.

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by eggshaped published on October 31, 2011 1:55 PM.

A Guide to QI. Series I, Episode 8 'inequality and injustice' was the previous entry in this blog.

A Guide to QI. Series I, Episode 9 'Illness' is the next entry in this blog.

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