Back in May this year television production company Magnum Media contacted me to ask me whether I would be interested in being one of their experts on their TV series “Duck Quacks Don’t Echo”.
If you are not from the UK: It’s a factual quiz show with Lee Mack, a comedian1, which aims to investigate and replicate interesting scientific studies.
They were looking for a pencil and graphite expert to discuss the abilities of the pencil and the history of the pencil and they gave me some details of what was supposed to happen on the show. It would have been great to take part, but I’m certainly not an expert, also not a professional (not even semi-professional) in any sense of the word, so I replied that I am only an enthusiastic pencil user, but would be very interested in taking part.
I haven’t heard from them since, but this week the episode they asked me to take part in was broadcasted – and they got a proper pencil expert: The technical manager of Derwent, Barbara Murray, who is also a chair of the UK Coloured Pencil Society.
There were a few things to learn:
In Ireland they call sharpening a pencil paring a pencil. Irish comedian Jason Byrne also mentioned something about pencil paring on New Year’s Eve, but I didn’t get that. Maybe someone can explain what is going on with pencil paring in Ireland on New Year’s Eve.
There was some talk about that there’s no lead in pencil leads. I think David would have been quite upset about the kind of things they said.
Emma Bunton, of Spice Girls fame, then presented her fact (the show is about checking whether these fact, presented by the guests, are true or not): a normal sized pencil can write for 20 miles.
In an effort to keep this blog post short I will spare you my thoughts on this topic. The fact was checked with with a custom made device similar to a football pitch line marker.
They then ran a pencil lead down (HB). The lead was removed from the wood and no sharpening (except the initial point) took place. I want to add that it did look as if the lead was repeatedly covering the same paper again and again, which, in my opinion, will have prolonged the life of the lead as graphite coated paper wouldn’t be as abrasive as pure paper. After 10 hours of ‘walking with the machine’ the lead was used up. It survived 24.31 miles.
Their estimate was that the pencil will be able to write between 20 and 25 miles. This was based on a pencil lead having 1.25 g of weight with 0.00032 g of lead being used per metre of writing. If you do the calculation that should be 3906 metres, just under 2.5 miles, so I assume there was just a 0 missing in the figures for grammes used per metre.
Unfortunately the pencil fact, one of three fact presented in the show, was voted least popular fact. The audience found the fact that 10 rubber bands can hold the weight of a person and the fact that men prefer to inflict pain to themselves rather than be bored more interesting.
The screenshots in this blog post has been taken from Episode One of the Third Season of the UK version of Duck Quacks Don’t Echo. I believe that the use of the screenshot shown in this blog post falls under “fair dealing” as described by the UK Copyright service.