— Colonel Jack O'Neill (on opening a bomb with all yellow wires), Stargate SG-1, "Fail Safe"
In fiction-land, disarming just about any bomb is a matter of cutting the right wires in the right order - usually each wire will be given a distinctive color, and an assistant will read from a manual: "Clip the red wire, then the blue wire, then the yellow wire..." The implication is generally that if the wrong wire is cut, the bomb will explode instantly, killing the person disarming it and everyone else in the blast radius. Combines Race Against the Clock with the need to make absolutely sure you're making the right decision for dramatic tension. Of course it's never as easy as just following the manual - generally some kind of subversion is used to heighten tension.
The red wire isn't there.
All the wires are the same color.
Cutting any wire at all is a bad play.
The hero is colorblind, or the lighting makes him effectively colorblind.
The guy reading from the manual changes his mind between maybe red, maybe blue ... are any of 'em green?
The guy with the manual says "red", the hero says "Frack it!" and yanks out the whole snarled-up mess of wires, or cuts the blue one and... there is a big explosion.
The guy with the manual tells the hero to cut the red wire. He goes on to do so, but just as he's about to cut it (sweat in his eyes and all) - or already has - the guy says "NO!! STOP!! It's not that one!". Even if there's no manual guy, the hero will usually change his mind about which wire to cut at the last second.
The color is one the cutter doesn't know: taupe, ochre, turquoise, umber, etc.
An expert arrives and simply flips the OFF switch on the bomb to deactivate it.
The hero/expert futilely tries to defuse the bomb. The other person watching (usually another member of the team if the hero is trying to defuse the bomb, or if the expert is defusing the bomb, then the hero is watching) gets frustrated and shoves the hero/expert out of the way and punches the control panel. This may result in two different endings. One is that the bomb shuts down to the hero/expert's surprise, or two, the bomb skips the timer and just detonates, Hilarity usually ensues.
At no point is there a plausible explanation as to why a homemade bomb should conform to any color-code standard at all, especially since the designer obviously never intended for it to be disarmed in the first place.
Naturally, a bomb intended for air-dropping (or a missile warhead) really shouldn't have any trick wires to start with. Still, it makes you wish there were an Override Command.
Example of a Dead Horse Trope, partly since in real life the electronics of a bomb are both simpler and more fragile than Hollywood would have you believe. The Wire Dilemma has a minor Sub-Trope in the Wrong Wire. See also Bomb Disposal and Cut the Fuse.
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An ad circa late 90s featured a scene like this, with the guy advised to cut the cyan-colored wire. He doesn't know what cyan means, though, and fails. It turns out to be an ad for some sort of trivia or brain boosting game.
In one episode, Excel finds herself trying to defuse a bomb in a restroom, while at the same time Il Palazzo questions what a bomb was doing in the dating game he was playing (and which is also controlling the episode's events). Both choose the red wire. Both choose wrong. Thankfully, they have a living Reset Button in the cast.
Lord Il Palazzo has a couple of bombs set in the F City, resulting in the Ropponmatsu androids going and dismantling them - and always failing the Wire Dilemma, resulting in big booms.
In the third episode of Galaxy Angel, Milfeulle, whose incredible luck powers render her the only one that could probably stop the bomb, is scared stiff of pressing the button to clip its digital wire; Vanilla has to force her to do it.
Lupin III Island Of Assassins: Everyone's survival comes down to red wire vs. blue wire. Goemon walks up while the rest of the group is paralyzed by the decision, draws his sword and cuts the red wire ("the color of pickled plums" being his justification). It works.
The movie The Time-Bombed Skyscraper ends with this situation, in which Ran (Rachel) has to pick the red or blue wire (which weren't in the schematics they were using until this point). Throughout the whole movie it has been explained that Ran and Shinichi (Jimmy)'s lucky color for the month is red (for this reason, Ran got Shinichi a red sweatshirt for his birthday), so it seems like the correct wire would be the red one until you realize that Ran actually told the villain who built the bomb about the lucky color thing. The correct wire ends up being the blue one, because Ran didn't want to cut the Red String of Fate.
The 2-hour special "Trembling Metropolitan Police Headquarters: 12 Million Hostages" has several of these. Three years prior, one of Sato's colleagues sacrificed his life by not disarming a bomb in order to text Sato a clue to the location of a bomb in a populated area that was given 3 seconds before the bomb went off. This is then subverted by Conan choosing to disarm a bomb in a similar situation before it can go off?8364;he is able to figure out the location of the larger-population bomb from only half the clue.
The focus, multiple times, of a particular Outlaw Star episode, with the final dilemma (if there even was one) occurring offscreen. Both wires set off the bomb. The real detonator wire is implied to have been concealed behind an earlier booby trap with no dummy wire and is easily disarmed.
In one episode of Code Geass, the mind-reader Mao has kidnapped Nunnally and has a thousand-pound bomb hanging above her set to go off if time runs out... or if she moves... or if anyone tries to cut the wrong wire... or if anyone tries to cut the right wire at the wrong time... or if Mao decides to just go ahead and detonate it remotely... Lelouch gives up and goes after Mao in the hope of disarming the bomb, but in the end it turns out he told Suzaku which wire to cut and how, then erased his own memory so as not to tip off Mao.
The anime adaptation of Viewtiful Joe has a character who would show up randomly with this as his gimmick. He failed a lot.
Haruhi Suzumiya played this one in the web-series, Haruhi-chan. Yuki had left the house, and to entertain Ryoko and Kimidori (a green balloon dog) she had left a gift. They unwrap it, and it's a large box with a timer...and a small compartment with a red wire and blue wire opens up, along with a pair of scissors. They chuck it out the window.
An episode of Patlabor had Asuma facing a wire dilemma. He was about to cut one wire, when a pair of wire cutters appears from offscreen to cut the other.
Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple subverts this beautifully with a bomb made by the Laughing Fist, Diego Carlo. Miu disarms it, and a little video of Diego pops up, telling her that he wouldn't make disarming the bomb that easy, and starts the timer. Then she disarms it again...and another video pops up, with Diego mocking her for attempting to disarm the bomb again, and takes another minute off the timer as a penalty. Then Miu's grandfather shows up, picks up the bomb, and throws it far enough away that it doesn't do any damage.
In the third season of Koihime†Musou, Rin-rin must choose between red or blue tail of an enraged elephant that's been imbued with the forces of the metaphysical.
Ryo: What are you so mad about? It WORKED, didn't it?
Shows up in episode 3 of Tiger & Bunny. Barnaby is doing fine cutting the wires to a bomb until he gets to the final two: both the same color, but sticking out from the top and bottom ends of the detonator. He is stuck on which to cut, but in the end chooses the "upper" one — as in he and his super-powered partner break the ceiling and kicks the bomb into the air a second before it goes off, thus Relocating the Explosion.
Subverted(maybe more downright averted) in episode 13 of Master Keaton there is an attempt at a more realistic bomb threat scenario where the trickiest parts of disarming the bomb are in fact having to find and open it. There are still more wires than would probably be necessary, and there is mention of how disarming a false timer would set the bomb off, but ultimately the whole thing is resolved without cutting any wires at all.
Parodied in a Knights of the Dinner Table strip, where after trying hopelessly to figure out which wire to cut (the colorblind character problem), someone asks for a physical description of the bomb, and it turns out it's powered by a simple battery pack, which is pulled out. The GM was steamed he didn't realize it would be that simple.
Subversion: In Catwoman #61, Catwoman fights Film Freak, a madman who sees everything in terms of film tropes. After defeating him, she has to defuse an atomic bomb, and faces a classic "red wire blue wire" situation. She cuts a wire at random — cutting any wire will shut the bomb down.
Subverted in the Judge Dredd comic book, where a 4-year-old amoral supergenius tries to hold Mega-City One hostage with several nuclear warheads placed in strategic locations. After bragging to the Judges that no one in the city but himself is smart enough to be able to defuse his intricate booby-trapped bomb triggers, Dredd solves the dilemma by simply handcuffing the villain to one of his own bombs.
Animal Man has the titular hero completely stumped as to how to disarm a Thanagarian bomb. Luckily, resident Thanagarian Hawkman walks in at the last second and figures out where the off switch is.
Played with in the Spider-ManClone Saga story "Maximum Clonage", the Scarlet Spider's able to easily defuse a bomb's chemical payload the Jackal had set up to wipe out New York through his Spider-Sense, but he's forced to haul it out to the Hudson Bay when he can't disarm the actual explosive.
In the New 52, after the Justice League International gets together, they have to face an underground faction of mad anarchists who want to bomb the United Nations. One of the bombs is disarmed in this fashion, when Godiva sends her Prehensile Hair into the bomb (because it would go off if the casing were removed) and uses it to blindly pull out one of the wires. Which turns out to be the right one.
A variation in the second Superman/Spider-ManCrossover, where Superman and Spider-Man work together to stop Doctor Doom's super-reactor from going critical and threatening to destroy the world. While Superman tries to contain the reactor elements from within, Spider-Man has to shut off the reactor, but if he throws the wrong switch it will only accelerate the meltdown. When he touches one switch it triggers his Spider-sense, making him realize he needs to trigger the other switch.
In All Dogs Go to Heaven, done with water mains instead of a bomb while Itchy tries to break Charlie out of the pound. They can't agree on whether water mains are green or red, and being color blind and in the dark, can't tell what color the pipe they're arguing about is anyway. Turns out it's a water main and Hilarity Ensues.
In The Simpsons Movie, a bomb disarming robot is trying to decide which wire to cut on the bomb that's supposed to blow up Springfield, but can't take the pressure and shoots itself in the camera.
Films — Live-Action
Played straight in Armageddon, where the Pentagon activates the nuclear bomb on the shuttle because they believe the mission is doomed to failure, and the Air Force nuclear specialists on the mission have to disarm it. In this case, the airmen can't shut the bomb down directly because it has been remotely activated, and they have to cut the wiring. The usual dilemma is subverted; the airman disarming the wires briefly hesitates when determining which wire to cut, but he remembers exactly which one to cut after a second of thought. Justified in that they weren't trying to disable the bomb, as they still needed to use it. They just needed to disable the activated timer and stop the Pentagon ordered the launch. It's also unclear if cutting the wrong wire would cause the bomb to detonate, or if it just wouldn't stop the countdown.
In The Abyss, Virgil must disable a warhead at the bottom of the Cayman Trough. He is told to cut the blue wire with a white stripe, not the black wire with a yellow stripe, but the yellow-green chemical light on his diving suit renders them indistinguishable. In reality, wires are striped (or not) specifically so they are distinguishable under colored lighting (e.g. one wire striped, one plain).
Played straight in the 1997 movie Air Force One, where the President of the United States has to choose three wires out of five on the titular airplane's fuel dump system blindly. He puts his trust in red, white, and blue and is proven right.
In The Avengers (1998), when Mrs. Peel is trying to turn off the weather control machine, she must choose whether to pull a red wire or a black wire. She chooses and pulls one, and the machine turns off. However, a short time later a Self-Destruct Mechanism activates, which indicates she may have made the wrong choice.
Played almost totally straight in Bon Cop, Bad Cop. Martin was bomb squad before taking his current position, so he knows exactly what to do.
Cats & Dogs: "Okay, cut the red wire." — "Wait a minute. We're dogs. We're colorblind!" Played for Laughs. By the way, dogs aren't totally colour blind and would at least have a vague hint of which colour was which.
Subverted in Die Hard with a Vengeance, where the bomb squad guy is cutting wires left, right, and center, but nothing happens at all... he stays to the end. When the timer hits 0, he finds it's a fake.
Subverted in Goldfinger: James Bond only has seconds to defuse a nuclear bomb in Fort Knox, and the best thing he can think of is to attempt to pull out a mass of wires and hope it does something. However, just when he makes the attempt, Felix Leiter arrives with a bomb expert who brushes away Bond and simply hits the off switch for the bomb to stop its countdown. With "007" on the timer. Fun Fact: the original cut of the film actually read "003", and this is reflected when Bond explicitly says there were "three ticks" left. Only later did the producers think it would be clever to make the timer read "007", so they shot the timer reading just that... but Bond still says "three ticks" in the final cut of the film. Felix Leiter also makes reference to Bond's fate if they had been 3 seconds too late.
It shows up in For Your Eyes Only, when Bond takes the ATAC from the sunken ship, but it's downplayed since there's no timer and he has the instruction card on hand.
In Heathers, J.D.'s bomb can be switched off by pressing one of three buttons, all of which are red. He refuses to tell Veronica, but somehow turns it off himself by sticking his knife into it.
In Jet Li's High Risk, any (big) wire you cut will inadvertently activated the bomb, but a string of wire, subtly hidden from untrained eyes, will actually defused the bomb. Because of the small size and the hidden nature of the wires (attached to a bigger wire), the bomb squad thinks that the small wire is a trap.
The 1974 film Juggernaut in which a blackmailer has placed bombs inside 55-gallon drums on a cruise ship. At the film's climax, defusing the bomb requires guessing whether to cut the red wire or the blue wire. The police back in London have captured the bad guy, and he tells them to cut the blue wire — so now the question becomes, do you believe him, or cut the red wire?
This gets a Call Back at the end of the film. Riggs and Murtaugh drive up to a scene where a bomb has been reported and are trying to recall what colour wire they cut the last time, when the building explodes before they can get out of the car.
Played with a twist in the 1986 vehicle for bad acting, worse science and Fridge Logic moments, The Manhattan Project (featuring a young John Lithgow). The timer on a fat-man style plutonium bomb is accidentally activated and couldn't be deactivated. Fortunately, the bomb is just a high-school science project. No trick wires; no problem. Yet, before the right wire could be cut, the individual photo-flashers that powered the detonators charged up. This meant all six wires between the flashers and the detonators had to be cut simultaneously. And wouldn't you know it, there were only five pairs of wire-cutters in the hangar.
In The Naked Gun 2 1/2, Drebin has to disarm a nuclear bomb at one point in the film. He can't figure out what wire to cut, but saves the day by accidentally unplugging the bomb, shutting it down.
In Rush Hour, the token chick (the bomb technician) must disable the C4 strapped to a child. The important part is not in what she cuts but in what order: she fails a bomb training class because of this - in fact that's why they hire her to get it off. She even uses a rhyme to memorize it. The order: Roses are red (red), violets are blue (blue), honey is sweet (green), and so are you (takes the bomb off the kid).
MARGO: (strained, nudging the green wire) This is green. (nudges the red wire) That's red.
In Sky High, where the device that sabotaged the school's anti gravity systems could be disabled by severing the red wire, but most of its wires are red.
Spoofed mightily in 1976 Disaster Movie parody The Big Bus, in which driver Dan Torrance must defuse a bomb planted on the world's first nuclear-powered bus, guided by radio from the front cabin by girlfriend Kitty Baxter (reading from Jane's Book of Bombs):
Kitty: It's got a single hand timing mechanism, four wires at the top... Dan: Right. Kitty: One of these wires leads to the trigger. One leads to the triggering mechanism, one leads to the trigger guard, and one leads to all three. There are also three fake triggers, and four fake trigger guards. One trigger looks like a detonator, one looks like a trigger guard, and one trigger looks like a trigger. Dan: Right... Kitty: Now, about the detonators. You've got eight detonators, but don't let 'em fool you, they're all fake- Dan: Look, this bomb is no fake. I've gotta do something fast. I'm gonna cut the yellow wire. Kitty: No, Dan, don't! It could be the blue one! You cut the wrong one and you blow it! Dan: I'm cutting yellow. (Cuts a wire, bomb stops ticking) [Later, after Dan has returned to the cabin] Kitty: I spoke to Scotty, and you were right about cutting the yellow wire. Dan: Aaah.. Kitty: What is it? Dan: I cut the blue one.
Speed. The bomb will go off if any of the wires are cut, justified - the guy who made the bomb is a retired Bomb Squad member himself, and knew how to make it impossible to practically disarm.
Also seen in V for Vendetta, where Dascombe is trying to defuse V's bomb. Lampshaded by an appropriately nervous Finch.
"Do you have any idea what you're doing?"
Surprisingly averted in The Rock. Goodspeed's assistant inadvertently triggers a time bomb loaded with corrosive gas. Goodspeed immediately sets to work rapidly clipping wires to defuse it while ignoring his colleagues telling him to inject himself with antidote first.
Subverted in the 1998 The X-Files: Fight the Future, when this trope set up as a bomb is discovered in a government building and an FBI agent remains behind to try to disarm it. However, we find out that he actually makes no attempt to disarm the bomb and intentionally lets it explode to preserve a government cover-up.
Parodied in the german comedy movie Neues vom WiXXer, the sequel to Der Wixxer (set in London). The heroes, Very Long and Even Longer, have to disarm a bomb in an abbey. The abbey is usually in black-and-white, they just installed colour for the royal wedding. When they don't know, which of the differently coloured wires they have to cut, they simply switch off the colour so it doesn't make any difference. It works.
Not with a bomb, but with connecting an oxygen tank to a space shuttle's tubes, in Space Camp. In this case, the proper valve is blue, but there's a blue valve on either end, with a red valve and yellow valve between. They have to figure out which one, with one of the kids thinking it's one, and another thinking it's the other. It was the blue valve next to the yellow valve. Andie listened to Rudy, and Rudy was right.
Subverted in Star Trek Into Darkness, when Bones and Carol try to disarm one of the advanced torpedo warheads to see what's inside. McCoy goes to snip the wire, but the hatch simply slams shut on his arm and the warhead begins counting down to detonation until Carol simply rips a piece of electronics out.
Played for comedy in The Hangover Part III. Mr Chow and Stu have to simultaneously cut the wires on an alarm system to disable it. However, it turns out that Mr Chow is colour blind and has no reference for which wire he should cut.
Averted in the climax of Epoch. Rand and Czaban find out that the US military plans to blow up the Torus (a huge, spinning alien artifact that threatens to cause a new Ice Age) with a nuke. Since the Torus is likely the reason for all life on Earth, the figure that this act of violence would only show its alien creators that humans cannot be allowed to live. They sneak into the Torus and reach the bomb site. Rand, an experienced engineer, tries to figure out how to disarm the bomb only to realize that this particular design cannot be disarmed with this trope. They kiss, and the screen fades to white... only to reveal that the Torus absorbs the energy of the explosion and not only keeps Rand and Czaban alive but also cures Rand's terminal illness and impregnates Czaban with Rand's child.
At the end of Quick, Myung-shik is attempting to defuse the bomb on the railway bridge. He is told to cut the blue wire, but sneezes at the wrong moment and cuts the red wire, which accelerates the countdown.
The protagonist in John Ringo's novel Ghost, while trying to prevent a nuclear bomb from going off in Paris, takes a cell phone away from the terrorist mastermind and finds two pre-set numbers on it, "Fire" and "Ice". One of them dials the bomb and tells it to go off immediately, one dials the bomb and disarms it. The protagonist gives the French bomb squad as much time as possible to try to disarm it physically, then dials a number. The dilemma here being whether you trust the terrorist when he confessed which was the disarm code...
The Warhammer 40,000: Ciaphas Cain novel The Traitor's Hand uses multiple permutations of this for hilarity. Cain discovers a hovercar that has been crashed into a hotel full of high-ranking military officers is jury rigged to explode in a very violent manner. He calls up a techpriest to tell him how to fix it, who promptly tells him that "theological matters" such as disarming a bomb are not for unconsecrated plebes like Cain. Cain answers by threatening to have him shot, and when he finally secures the man's cooperation, Cain is told to pull the red wire....at which point Cain realizes both wires are purple. The techpriest starts swearing, then advises him to use his own judgement. So Cain picks one at random and pulls.
In the Murray Leinster story Second Landing the main character has to disable an atomic bomb built by aliens. Eventually he realizes that in all atomic bombs, no matter who built them, the explosives surrounding the fissionable core have to fire in a perfectly synchronized sequence or the bomb will fizzle. So he shoots the bomb with a bazooka, prematurely detonating some of the explosives.
In The English Patient, this is basically Kip's job description as a sapper, constantly coming up against newer and newer Axis bombs.
An interesting form of this shows up in Survivor's Quest. Luke and Mara have been trapped in a turbolift and are told that they can't slice their way out with lightsabers, because the power and control cables for both repulsor beams have been wrapped randomly around the turbolift car. Currently it's suspended midway between two Dreadnaughts, but if one is cut the forces will become unbalanced, and the surviving repulsor beam will quickly smash them into a Dreadnaught. They and the people caught in other turbolift cars are supposed to be kept there until their captors disarm the traps and let them out. Luke and Mara get out of this by carefully moving their lightsabers so that they don't quite nick the cables and using their danger sense to discover which wire will shove them up and which one will shove them down. Then they stand back to back, mindmeld, strike simultaneously, and sever both at once, cutting both repulsor beams. After that they start falling, but the safeguards in the car can handle normal falling speeds. Four 501st stormtroopers and an officer stuck in the same trap in a different car solve this by using their sensors to figure out what wire does what and rigging something using the control cables, so that some power from one beam is redirected to the other, letting them move.
In one of The Hardy Boys books, Countdown To Terror, a bomb maker named Omar Fellawi purposely fails to follow the "usual conventions" for wiring a bomb. Frank becomes the resident available expert on disarming Fellawi-made bombs by sheer dint of the fact that he's successfully done it a couple of times already in the book.
In Mylor: The Most Powerful Horse in the World, the kids are trapped in their robot horse with a bomb on board. Boff thinks he should cut the red wire, but hits his face and has a nosebleed, turning all the wires red. He takes a guess and cuts one, successfully shutting off the timer - only to notice that the wire he cut was actually white.
Parodied in The Lost Fleet. The marine doing the disarming is expecting to be told to cut a specific wire but the engineer directing the operation tells him that it's much safer to just grab as many wires as possible and pull them all out with a single yank.
It's also stated that the nukes are specifically designed to go off as soon as the timer is activated in order to prevent anyone from disarming the device after the soldier planting it leaves or decides to have a change of heart. Naturally, the soldiers told to deliver the devices don't know this.
Live Action TV
Castle: Mostly averted in episode "Countdown"; when faced with a bomb about to go off, with the expert a couple blocks away (New York traffic, seconds to go) and unable to make out the cell phone photo they sent him, Castle and Beckett hold hands, give each other sad looks, and then Castle grabs a whole handful of wires as the timer counts down to the last second and yanks. Later he says "One of them had to be the right one."
Family Matters: Instead of having a timer, the bomb is on a treadmill, which has to have a rider on it non stop until it can be defused. So of course the bomb is discovered then Carl Winslow has just started running on the treadmill. When Carl begins to get tired, his boss jumps on the treadmill and starts running. Meanwhile, the trope is discussed at length, with various mnemonics such as "Red you're dead" and "Blue you're goo!" tossed back and forth until they figure it out. And why were these two left to deal with the bomb? The bomb squad was afraid to come inside because there was a bomb. Worth noting, the entire scenario is Played for Laughs. This show, of course, came on well before the War On Terror was a thing.
Diagnosis: Murder: One episode has the hero try to disarm a nuclear bomb, when told to 'cut the red wire' he replies that the wires are all black. Then a bomb tech yanks out all the wires disarming the bomb.
Subverted in M*A*S*H's season one episode, "The Army-Navy Game". Of course, nobody in their right mind would even consider writing a manual this way. Then the bomb blows up, revealing it to be a propaganda bomb... from their side. The manual may have been intentionally written that way to increase the chances that the propaganda would be spread even if the bomb failed.
Henry: (reading instructions) And carefully cut the wires leading to the clockwork fuse at the head. Trapper cuts the wires Henry:But first, remove the fuse.
The quote at the top of the page comes from the episode "Fail Safe", in which an asteroid is on a collision course with Earth, so SG-1 goes to set off an explosive on it and blow it off course. Then they realize it's a bad idea, but not before the timer is set and space debris busts the keypad, so they have to defuse it manually:
Carter: Now find the wires leading from the timer to the detonator and cut the red one. O'Neill: Carter, they're all yellow. Carter: Say again? O'Neill: There are five wires, and they're all yellow!
"Serpent's Venom" features an interesting variation, with a space mine with an access panel designed like a combination lock. The scene goes all out with this trope, including a "No, Wait!", uncertainty over the correct code, and a Wrong Wire scenario resulting from the fact Carter and Daniel are having to translate the manual on the fly using the language's distant descent from Phoenician which doesn't have the number zero.
Lampshaded in the Season 9 episode "Ripple Effect" in which an alternate reality Mitchell impishly leaves his counterpart with the cryptic advice, "When the time comes, cut the green one." Fans have debated whether he was referring to an actual future event, or just messing with his counterpart's mind. Word of God says that they were going to come back to this, but they never found a good spot to use it in Season 10 and then the show got cancelled.
In "Smith and Jones", the Tenth Doctor is about to disconnect a blue electrical cord in order to turn off a sabotaged MRI machine, but chooses to disconnect the red one at the last minute.
In "Victory of the Daleks" the Eleventh Doctor needs to stop a bomb hosted by an Artificial Human from going off in an underground bunker:
Amy: There's a blue wire or something you have to cut, isn't there? There's always a blue wire! The Doctor: Yes- Amy: ...Or a red one. The Doctor: You're not helping!
Played straight in "The Armageddon Factor" when the Fourth Doctor is disarming a mad supercomputer with the help of its creator - who still doesn't remember which wire is which.
In an episode of Eureka, the town is under threat from a "Death Ray" accidentally activated in a disused lab. Attempts to disarm it include a failed wire dilemma that shortens the countdown. When the weapon's designer shows up and simply removes the launch keys, the system seems to shut down, then activates a "deadman's protocol", an anti-sabotage strike calling for an even bigger boom. The designer asks, "Did someone cut the blue wire?"
Subverted in Life On Mars, where Sam agonises over which wire to cut, but the bomb squad appears from off screen, cuts both wires with a pair of hedge trimmers, and walks away.
Another twist in a Hogan's Heroes episode, in which Hogan cuts the opposite wire of the one Klink picked, on the theory that Klink is always wrong. It's played with even further than that. Originally, Hogan had simply planned to stage one of these situations to use in order to distract Commandant Klink while his crew are up to their usual shenanigans. He simply planned to set up a fake bomb (taking advantage of an air raid that recently happened), and pretend to take his time defusing it until his crew could finish their job. Ultimately played straight though. Hogan thinks everything is set up, then we find out a cave-in trapped Carter below with the fake bomb- and Hogan has to actually defuse a real one.
Hal from Malcolm in the Middle plays up this trope to evade the cops. After a strange series of events that leads the police department to believe that Hal's detached ankle bracelet (he was under house arrest) was a bomb, he claims he is from the bomb squad and tries to defuse it. As the police watch, Hal suddenly screams "Oh God, I cut the wrong wire! This thing's gonna blow!". When all the cops duck, Hal makes a run for it.
Given an interesting twist in the Profiler episode "Unsoiled Sovereignty", where the villain has planted explosives at a site, all of them accessible only by the outside of the building. ATF agent Coop defuses the first, but it is affixed to the inside wall of the building, so he has to work THROUGH a small window without being able to see what he's doing. VCTF agent John Grant, who always wanted to be on the bomb squad, panics at trying to defuse the second, mounted on a strut of the building, and it is only after Coop ignores his own bomb to talk John through his that John figures out how to disarm it. Of course, both bombs are disarmed.
Subverted on Monk. Monk is disarming a mail bomb, and the bomb expert tells him that it doesn't matter which wire he cuts. Monk nearly lets the bomb go off because he can't decide whether to cut the red wire or the blue wire, due to his OCD. (Eventually he cuts both.)
Avoided in the Austrian series Inspector Rex. One of the characters is agonizing over which wire to cut. He can't come up with anything, the timer runs out - and his colleague had pulled the detonator out of the explosives.
Parodied in The Fast Show. After doing the standard Wire Dilemma for the first two wires (complete with dramatic close ups on the wires being snipped and disagreements over which wire to cut first) another soldier goes "Sod this, anyone fancy a pint?" and just cuts them all with hedge trimmers.
On one episode of Criminal Minds the profilers face a victim wearing an explosive vest built by someone using the plans of a bomber Gideon had imprisoned. With the usual seconds left, the bomber tells the bomb squad tech which wire to cut. Just as he's about to, Gideon tells him to cut the other one, basing the decision on the fact the bomber had earlier admitted he could never pass up an opportunity to see something go boom.
The British must love subverting this one. In one episode, the characters are presented with your standard "rainbow wire" bomb. While Malcolm (the resident tech-head) angsts over which to cut, Adam grabs his clippers and cuts them all. Malcolm frets over how incredibly dangerous that was, until Adam points that waiting for the timer to hit zero probably wasn't the healthiest alternative.
In one episode, Ros and Lucas try to defuse a bomb in restaurant. Actually, it's a converted Italian landmine. No wires are attached, so Malcolm's solution is to pop it in the restaurant microwave for twenty seconds. It works
Subverted on LOST; some of the heroes find themselves trying to deactivate a bomb liberally festooned with wires of every color. The debate is not which wires to cut but whether any wires should be cut at all; Jack speculates that the bomb will detonate only if they tamper with it and try to disarm it. He's right, but Sawyer tries to disarm it anyhow...
Bottom does this with tea mugs. Richie & Eddie are trying to poison a burglar they have captive. Richie, in his haste, forgets which mug - out of the three - the duo have laced with pigeon pellets. (They then give the burglar three mugs of tea to no effect. Comic vomiting isn't exactly "no effect," but given their expectations it's close enough.)
Richie: No, which one's got the poison in it? Eddie: The yellow one! Richie: Eddie, they're all yellow! Eddie: It'll be one of them, then! Richie: But which one? Eddie: A-ha-ha! The one with the poison in!
Used as a mission in The Mole: In "Tick Tock Boom", the contestants had one hour to solve a puzzle that would tell them how to defuse a time bomb. Successfully defusing the time bomb would add $50,000 to the pot; if it blew up, nothing would be added. This came down to cutting the correct (purple) wire, of the bunch of wires of various colors leading into the bulletproof glass box containing the bomb. It is unknown what would've happened if the players had cut the wrong wire.
The team once encountered a subversion of this situation. They had two people who knew exactly how to disarm the bomb, unfortunately it was so poorly made that disarming it would take longer than they had left.
Ziva is suspiciously adept at disarming bombs with no colored wires. Must be something they teach at Mossad.
One episode had the team discover a giant bomb at the end of the episode, with around 100 wires. Of course, some of them are red and blue. Luckily, the "criminal" (she actually isn't, and was chasing the bomb owner to stop the bomb from exploding) they've been chasing the whole episode knows how to defuse it.
On Heroes, Matt Parkman is fitted with a bomb vest by the season's Big Bad and dumped on the National Mall. When Nathan shows up to help, Matt has to read the mind of the D.C. Bomb Squad officer trying to figure out how it works. The scene plays this trope straight as Matt pieces together the guy's scattered thoughts.
A wireless variant is played straight in Babylon 5. A planetbuster bomb drives up to the station to announce that it's safeguarding its makers and will detonate, unless the inhabitants can prove their intelligence by solving a series of difficult scientific problems within a time limit of about a day. So, would the makers be afraid of barbarians or of the sophisticated? The station crew is able to come up with the answers but correctly guesses that the bomb will detonate if it transmits them. To demonstrate the latter, they send the transmission after the probe is almost out of communications range. Boom.
The Professionals. In "Stakeout" the lads are disarming a crude home-made atomic bomb with the help of its builder, who's decided he doesn't want to die for the cause after all. He's just removed the detonator with 30 seconds to go when he forgets which wire he's supposed to cut (it's red, naturally).
The Equalizer. Robert McCall and Mickey Kostmeyer use a simple rhyme (presumably taught in spy school) to help them remember which wire to cut: Blue before yellow, kills the fellow. Then one of them asks: "Wasn't it blue after yellow, kills the fellow?"
Used at least three times on Home and Away, most recently with a bomb placed under a bus that would explode if anyone got off (although the bus wasn't moving at the time). With help from an explosives expert on the bus, Hugo was able to cut the right wires, disable the timer and remove it. However, he fails to notice a second timer until about ten seconds before the bomb goes off.
Subverted on an episode of Early Edition, Gary and some his friends were kidnapped and left on a stranded boat that contained a bomb. Gary suggested to his former-cop friend for which wires to cut. But his friend told that the bomb's timer was entirely digital in nature and had no weak wires.
In one episode of MacGyver, a Time Bomb is planted on a ship. After Mac disables the numerous defense mechanisms of the bomb, he arrives at a Wire Dilemma. A bomb technician tells him which wire he should cut, but Mac cuts the other one instead because he suspects that the bomb technician is the villain.
Came up in an episode of Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, where Wayne Salynzkie admits to memorizing a mnemonic device (a running gag in the episode) to decide which wire to cut, but gets it confused with the Mnemonic for Coral Snakes ("Red and Yellow, kill a fellow... Oh God, that's snakes!") He eventually calls up his son for the mnemonic... and it turns out to be wrong. In the end, the bomb is disposed of by shrinking it to the size of a firecracker.
In the very first episode, there is a bomb that is about to go off connected to a computer with internet connection. Sarah and Casey open up a panel to reveal a mass of wires, so are reluctant to cut them. Chuck decides to disarm the bomb by downloading an OP destroying porn file established at the beginning of the episode.
An episode had a variation in which the person giving the instructions was suicidal and wanted the bomb to go off. Chuck figured this out in time and did the opposite of what he said, disarming the bomb.
An episode of Primeval had a bomb planted under a car in the Arc. When Cutter and Conner stay behind to defuse it, Conner says to cut "The red one. its always the red one." Too bad all the wires on the bomb are red. It's a subversion as in the end they can't disarm the bomb in time, but they stop the explosion by disconnecting the Car's battery which was powering the detonator.
Human Target: Winston is on the phone to Guerrero, asking him which wire to cut. Guerrero flips a coin, which does not improve Winston's temper. On being told what the correct wire was, Guerrero nonchalantly says, "Huh... good to know..." and then hangs up. Bonus points for Guerrero pointing out he couldn't possibly tell Winston which wire to cut without actually looking at the bomb.
A Benson episode has one of these. (Bomb squad technician: "Is it 'White you're right, red you're dead', or...?")
A Turkish crime-drama (YılanHikayesi) had a variation of it where the protagonist is trying to defuse a bomb and having trouble since neither him nor his partner have bomb training beyond basics. His partner quips that "they always cut the red wire" in the movies. The protagonist, on the other hand, works around the wires to see what goes where before taking a risk to sever the wire he suspects is the right one.
In the season 3 finale of 24, Jack Bauer is told by a bomb disarmer to first cut the red wire on the virus detonator, which he does, then to locate the green wire. The problem? He's only got orange, yellow, black, and purple wires. Seems the mechanism differs from model to model. After a few tense moments, especially seeing as the bomb is attached to Chase, the two decided to hack Chase's arm off and run the bomb down to the nearest fridge to contain the virus.
One episode of Alias begins where the last one ended—Sydney sitting on top of a nuclear bomb that has been wired to explode. She calls the bad guys she's a Double Agent infiltrating, reasoning that if she doesn't it'll blow her cover, and speaks to the nervous technical specialist there. Notable is the Long List of wire colors she notes, including "dark blue, blue, blue-white...". It of course uses the "NO WAIT!" trick, to which she quite reasonably responds "DO NOT TELL ME TO WAIT I AM SITTING ON A TICKING NUCLEAR BOMB". The real subversion here is that she then has to turn a nuke over to the bad guys.
A future-y variant occurs in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine when a torpedo is lodged in the hull of the stricken Defiant in a room where Quark and a merchant he had earlier swindled are trapped. Rather than wires they have the choice of removing two identical components of the warhead, one of which will deactivate it and the other will cause it to detonate. Quark eventually just grabs one of them and in the process teaches the merchant a lesson about going with your gut.
The torpedo in question is actually manufactured and sold by the merchant's people.
In The Six Million Dollar Man, a bomb is placed UNDER the Liberty Bell. The bomber had earlier given a Dying Clue of "red, white, and blue" to Steve. When Steve lifts the Bell for a bomb tech to disarm the bomb, there are FOUR wires - red, white, blue, and green. Steve figures out that the bomber WANTED the Bell to be destroyed, so he tells the tech to cut the green wire - which disarms it.
In an episode of Fringe, Mad Scientist David Robert Jones has his follows place a bomb placed on a window of a very tall building that releases a toxin that causes scar tissue to grow over one's mouth, nose, eyes and... other orifices. The wires are all black and the only way to turn it off is to telepathically turn off fifty or so little globes. Olivia does so.
The Japanese game show Dasshutsu Game DERO! has this as the basis of one of its games. The team is asked a multiple-choice trivia question, and each answer corresponds to a different colored wire. Cutting a wrong wire causes an "explosion" of liquid CO2 smoke effects and eliminates the team member who cut the wire, after which one of the remaining teammates (if any) must cut another wire for the same question. The object of the game is to get through 3 questions within a given total time limit with as few explosions as possible. If time runs out or all members are eliminated, the game ends and they win nada for the round.
Happens twice on Primeval. In the first example, Connor tells Cutter to cut the red wire, but all of the wires are red. In the second example, Jess is trying to disarm a bomb under Becker's direction, but the two wires- only one of which she can cut without killing both of them- are both red.
In the My Name Is Earl episode "My Name Is Alias", Earl and Randy are handcuffed to a briefcase bomb. Randy figures out that all they have to do is open it up and cut the blue wire, since that's what always happens in TV. So they open it up, only to find that it's ALL blue wires.
In an episode of Seven Days, at one point an extremely patriotic lunatic has planted a bomb which the hero (Frank Parker) and the bomber's equally patriotic but less crazy brother (Nathan Ramsey) have to disarm. The wires are, of course, red, white, and blue (the colors of the American flag). Running out of time, with the colors not corresponding to any standard, Nathan cuts the red wire at the last second - bomb defused. When asked why he chose the red wire, Ramsey replies "Because I hate Communists..." (implied to be the same reasoning the bomber used).
Danger: UXB is mostly devoted to the real-life situation that probably inspired this trope: Of the many bombs that the Nazis dropped on England, some failed to explode and yet were quite dangerous. So the British had to disarm these unexploded bombs, or UXBs, and it was an extremely dangerous task.
Subverted when the team discovers blue prints for a bomb in the (dead) bomber's basement. Sam is describing the blue prints to Spike, who's with the bomb, when Sam and Ed start to argue over whether the bomber might have mislabeled things on his own blueprint in order to screw with anyone trying to disarm it. While they argue, Spike effectively disarms the bomb.
This trope is subverted every time the team encounters a bomb. Spike (the team's bomb disposal technician) always looks for the wires connected to the detonator so the color never matters. On another episode he uses a bomb disposal robot to shoot a water cannon through the detonator. And in the series finale uses liquid nitrogen to stop an anti-tamper device. The writers must love showing off the various ways of disarming bombs.
In the Leverage episode "The Girls' Night Out Job", Tara and Sophie defy this trope. They find a time bomb with about a minute left before it explodes, so they call up Hardison to ask how to defuse it. He starts running through a complicated spiel about how to determine which wire to cut. They quickly realize that they don't have time to do what he's saying, and throw the bomb out the window instead.
One episode of El Chapulín Colorado has permutation number 10 (throwing the bomb out the window) happening twice. Actually, the second time used a door.
Max: You don't know how close, Chief. I was going to wear my bow tie today.
Burn Notice explains that it's not about cutting wires in the real world, because any bomb maker worth his salt will make sure you can't get to any of the important wires. Instead Sam and Fiona use liquid nitrogen to freeze the bomb and remove it from several barrels of fertilizer that way. It does go off several seconds later after they throw it behind a pallet rack full of water bottles, though.
Parodied in MythBusters, where Grant is trying to rig the R/C setup used on one car to another:
Adam: "Cut the green wire with the yellow stripe, not the yellow wire with the green stripe!" And then I'll just guess, and it'll be right.
Subverted in ''Sherlock during the episode "The Empty Hearse" because the bomb has a hidden off switch on the side.
Subverted in the Murdoch Mysteries episode "Murdoch Ahoy", when Inspector Brakenreid asks Murdoch how he knows what wire to cut, and he says it doesn't matter. 1900s bomb design didn't extend to having wires that would activate it if cut.
Parodied in Community when Abed asks this because he likes playing out tropes. There's only one wire. It's also highly unlikely it would have gone off if he had somehow cut the wrong wire. Given who put it together there's even odds the thing wouldn't have worked anyway.
A version of this is in the first episode of Home Improvement, where Tim is going to rewire the dishwasher with youngest son Mark watching. After first cutting power at the circuit breaker (maybe; appropriately for the trope he has labeled the breakers in pencil and they've faded), he marvels at the bundle of wires under the appliance and demonstrates that he should first cut the ground wire... if he can figure out which one that is. First he guesses green, then eventually settles on yellow because the sun's yellow and it heats the ground. Snip, zap.
In a story arc in FoxTrot, Roger writes a hilariously bad spy novel with him as the title character. In one scene, he mulls over 173 wires with seconds to spare. Turns out the novel's so bad that, when reading it, his wife lets out a Big "NO!" over him cutting the right one.
Woman on TV: Bob, we've only got 3 seconds before the bomb explodes! Cut the red wire, not the green one!
Man on TV: Bernice, there's something I've always wanted to tell you…
Woman on TV: Yes?
Man on TV: I'm color-blind.
Garfield: Bye-bye, Bob and Bernice.
Played straight and subverted in Data East Pinball's Lethal Weapon 3; cutting the correct wire (hitting the correct drop target) starts Unlimited Millions. Subverted in that getting the wrong wire results in an animated explosion but no penalty to the player.
In one episode of The Navy Lark, the Troutbridge is sent to retrieve a lost American satellite. After they think they find it, an American expert reads them a ludicrously complicated set of instructions on how to disarm the device. The crew get hopelessly lost, but it turns out not to be really the satellite after all. However, they later find the real satellite and find they can't remember the instructions at all.
One Paranoia mission requires the Troubleshooters to fiddle with a device whose specs are above their clearance, but instead of just going in blind like usual, they're given specs with Unusual Euphemisms replacing the higher-clearance terms. The device isn't exactly a bomb, but it might as well be: "Warning! Do not cut the NINTH SHOELACE or you will be VERY HEALTHY!" Paranoia being what it is, it can be very, very easy to make the situation much more difficult. Just ask the question: Do you have the clearance to be cutting blue wires, citizen?
Traveller. In the Classic Judges Guild adventure Darthanon Queen there are several bombs planted aboard the title starship. Each has three wires: red, black and green. To disarm a bomb the red and black wires must be cut. If the green wire is cut the person doing so will have to be scraped off the nearest wall with a spatula.
After defeating one boss in the RPGIllusion of Gaia, you have to cut one of the wires on the bomb tied to your friend (red or blue, naturally); however, either one will work, and the true problem is making your decision before the timer stops - at which point it turns out the bomb is a dud. This is because, of course, the main character Will has the power to always guess correctly. No matter which one the player picks, it's right, because Will is psychic. Since this is introduced very early and not used throughout most of the game, it is often forgotten by the player. He uses this power later in the game to win a game of Russian Glass (like Russian Roulette, but with poisoned drinks)... unfortunately for the other guy. You actually can lose the Russian Glass game but only if you want to.
A 'wireless' variant appears in the adventure-game Death Gate, when the hero has been poisoned and shackled in a dungeon. He knows what color the antidote is, and uses a spell to possess a dog who can go fetch the bottle for him - only problem is, dogs are color-blind, and since the poison will kill you soon, you've only got time to pick ONE bottle. Effectively, the entire trope is reproduced in low-tech. The riddle is solved by observing colored lines behind the bottles, and based on which are visible through which bottles, you can figure out which is the right one...
Metal Gear Ac!d did Number 7 pretty well, with the bomb disposal segment going very smoothly - until Alice, giving instructions, loses her head and foreshadows the impending reveal of her dual personality. Minette had previously been told, very confidently, that the bomb would be defused as soon as she connects the black and white wires.
Minette: I'm gonna connect [the black and white wires] now. Alice: ...No! Minette: Hm? Alice: Don't connect them. Just cut the red one. Minette: What? Alice: Two don't make one. It's impossible for two to be one! Minette: ...Alice? Alice: Just do it. Only cut the red one. Minette: ...
Mook 1 Red, blue, or green? Mook 2 It's always red or blue in the movies. Mook 1 So, green? Mook 2 No, not the green!! * snip* BOOM!
Police Quest II plays this straight, but one-ups it by that wires (and there are many of them) not only have to be cut in the right order, but some must also be reconnected in the middle of the run. Luckily, it's not as bad as it seems, because a perceptive player will have picked up the instructions earlier in the game. The written instructions come from the dead terrorist who built the bomb and actually describe how to arm the bomb. You have to reverse the procedure to disarm it. The game actually does a good job justifying why this trope works in this particular scenario.
Made fun of in Urban Chaos Riot Response where since you have no experience in disarming nuclear warheads, your C.O. does it instead. He chooses blue, like his mother's eyes. Heaven help us if his mother was an albino.
In Return to Castle Wolfenstein, the player comes to a brick wall that blocks your progress. On the other side of the wall, you overhear some German soldiers arguing about which wire to cut to defuse a bomb. Eventually one of them says, "The hell with it, they all look grey to me anyway." *snip* *BOOM*
Unsolved Crimes for the DS has one of these for its final puzzle. The solution? Both at the same time. Humorously enough, rather than have one person cut both at the same time, the two characters each take one, meaning it's very easy to get a Game Over if you don't cut it just right at just the right moment.
Played straight in GHOST Squad. One of the sequences in the first stage has you cutting the wires of a bomb in the specified order. This can be a pain if your hands are unsteady, since you (the player) are using your gun to move the wire clippers.
Trauma Center has one "operation" where Dr. Stiles is following very precise instructions to defuse a bomb. In the DS version, it's a fairly standard bomb - but it becomes ridiculously elaborate in Second Opinion.
In Trauma Team, Naomi has to defuse a final bomb that's in a pillow.
This is a standard microgame in Wario Man's microgame set in WarioWare Touched, with the number of wires to cut going up per difficulty level. The color (red, blue or yellow) to be cut varies and you are always told which one to cut.
Parodied in a cutscene at the end of Jak II. Daxter climbs into the ginormous Piercer Bomb in order to get it to release the Precursor Stone (and, theoretically, disarm it). Some of his mutterings include "Should I clip the blue wire?" And "Wait a minute, are ottsels coloblind?" He eventually just breaks a few things and the Stone comes loose. The Lost Frontier also has him disarming missiles by just pulling wires and stuff out.
In the Intellivision game Bomb Squad, you have to cut out or replace the parts of each bomb in a certain order. If you replace a part incorrectly, the Magic Countdown speeds up until you remove it. If you cut a part out of order, you only have a few seconds to resolder it before that bomb explodes. Short circuits also occasionally occur, requiring you to use the fire extinguisher to prevent an explosion.
Trouble In Terrorist Town features the elusive C4. However, the greed of the traitors usually leads them to setting it at the minimum of 45 seconds, which means 5 out of 6 wires will disarm the bomb.
Played for Laughs in the Hidden Object GameHidden Expedition: Devil's Triangle. One minigame requires you to disarm a bomb by cutting colored wires in the correct order. If you cut the wrong wire, you get a short cutscene of the island exploding, a snarky comment on the lines of "try again", and the minigame resets.
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City has an amusing example in the mission Publicity Tour. The band Love Fist's car has been rigged with a bomb that will explode if their limo slows down. The drunken stupor of Love Fist's efforts to cut the wires combined with Tommy's annoyance? Priceless.
Parodied in the Interactive Fiction game Cut the Red Wire! No, Cut the Blue Wire! where cutting either wire, among other wrong moves, blows the warehouse the bomb is in sky-high.
Discworld II: The wires are replaced with flasks on the bomb Rincewind finds in the Fools' Guild's donkey-cart park. He turns the wrong one and speeds up the timer. He and the Librarian get clear, but Death isn't so lucky. And thus the plot is kicked off by our favorite bonehead's disappearance.
In Puppet Show 4: Return to Joyville, while an explosive device with red and blue wires does appear near the end of the game, clipping the wires results in automatically cutting the (correct) blue wires.
In Dismantlement: Radio, your task is to dismantle a radio down to its bare-bones compartments until you find and defuse the bomb hidden in it. You're helpfully given a pair of pliers once you uncover the bomb, but it turns out that cutting any wire on the bomb nets you an instant Game Over — the pliers are actually just a Red Herring, as the instructions at the start of the game explicitly told you that you can "only use a screwdriver" and hence that you need to use it to unscrew and remove it.
In the NES co-op platformer Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers 2, the player must choose between a red or blue wire at the end of the first episode. Picking the right one goes as normal, but picking the wrong one triggers a harmless flash of light, revealing that the bomb was a dud. Dale fainted from shock and nerves.
Urban Strike had one in the World Trade Centre, where the player has to choose between Red, Blue or Green. Blue is correct.
In Saints Row: The Third, the mission "Party Time" leads to Shaundi discovering there's a bomb in the penthouse apartment the Saints just raided. As the Boss chases down a Morningstar lieutenant to find out how to disarm the bomb, Shaundi eventually reveals the bomb has four colored wires, leading to some snark from the Boss.
One of the scripted events on Day 15 in Papers, Please is for the 2nd entrant to toss a bomb into your booth, requiring you to defuse it. The actual dilemma part of this trope is averted, however, as the maker helpfully labeled the wires you need to cut with the exact order you need to cut them in. Your guard buddy Calensk lampshades this.
Calensk: This is the poorest bomb I ever see. A simple mind created this.
Star Trek Online: Episode "Vigilance", mission "Alpha" has Hirogen booby-trap several hogtied Klingon crewmen with bombs. The game tells you which wires to cut so it's more of a contest of speed than anything else.
Curses! has a bomb requiring two wires to be cut out of a wide selection. There is no explicit clue to which to cut; you have to superstitiously cut the wires that match your school colors.
In An Epic Comic, Tails has to hack into a missile with two wires. One wire allows changes to be made to it and the other wire locks the missile so one can tamper with it. With the help of the Nostalgia Critic knowing of Batman Gambits, they cut the right wire, re-coordinating the missile.
Yet another same-color play: in the first issue of the furry Super Hero spoof Web ComicSupermegatopia, Weasel Boy tries to defuse a nuclear bomb in mid-air, only to find that all the wires are blue. Fortunately, the bomb crashes through the roof of a candy factory and lands in a vat of caramel without detonating, and with little incident other than the creation of a fairly amiable caramel monster.
In Sluggy Freelance, Riff buys a brand name nuclear reactor (actually a repurposed Soviet suitcase nuke) that goes meltdown after an EMP burst. He spends the next couple of strips talking to customer service, who tell him to cut the wires in order of color, only to find out that, to save money, the company used the same color for each wire in a few of the reactors. After he tells them this, the company puts him on hold while they get to a safe distance.
Oh My Gods! had a strip entitled "Why there aren't any gay men on the bomb squad." The strip featured the comic's two gay protagonists wondering, "Is it the cyanide wire or the chartreuse wire?"
Marcie: You'll see three wires. Cut the carnelian wire. Do not cut the magenta wire. Whatever you do, don't touch the burgundy. Chris: They're red, Marcie. Marcie: This was kind of not a well-designed nuke.
In one of the "Ethan MacManus, Space Archaeologist" storylines in Ctrl+Alt+Del, he comes across a Wire Dilemma while hotwiring a spaceship. The catch? It's a Choose Your Own Adventure story by popular vote, and the voters had to guess. They guessed wrong, but the character escaped before it exploded. The branching story tree revealed that one of the other choices would have killed himimmediately.
Parodied in the original episode "Michelangelo Meets Mondo Gecko". With less than 10 seconds until the stolen bomb detonates, Donatello, without hesitation, cuts the purple wire because it matches his eye mask.
In the episode "Convicts From Dimension X" when inter-dimensional criminals trapped the turtles in a force field with a time bomb set up nearby. They freed themselves and Donatello has to decide which wire to pull.
Donatello: I'm just not sure which wire to pull. Raphael: What do you mean? It's the red wire! It's always the red one! Donatello: You're absolutely right. [pulls blue wire] Raphael: What are you doing!? I said the red wire! The red wire! [timer resets to 1 second] Raphael: It stopped. But I said to pull the red wire, not the blue wire! Donatello: I know. That's why I didn't pull it. It is always the red wire. They tried to trick us.
Parodied in The Fairly OddParents in an episode where Timmy wishes to always be right. In the end where he wishes to be wrong, Cosmo's idea to test it out is to take Timmy to a bomb squad mission and tell him to pick a wire, the idea being that if the bomb explodes, the wish worked, however it got shoved aside in favor of Wanda's idea.
In the SWAT Kats episode "The Wrath of Dark Kat", Razor needs to defuse a bomb in mid-air. Popping open the hatch while muttering it's always the red wire, he discovers the villain has filled the entire bomb with enough red wires to fully equip a house.
Razor: Okay, piece of cake, just remember, always cut the red wire. [opens the bomb] Oh Dark Kat, you miserable psycho!
In the Justice League episode "Wild Cards", the Joker plants a bunch of bombs all over Las Vegas. This being the Joker, the bombs all require a very specific sequence of wire cuts to disarm, which Batman learns and communicates to the rest of the team. The very last bomb is encountered by the Flash. Being the Flash, he can't remember what said sequence of wire cuts is. To make things worse, the Joker keeps messing with him while he tries to figure it out. So he just decides to use his Super Speed to run the damn thing out into the desert. The bombs themselves turn out to be an Invoked Trope on part of the Joker, who is filming the whole thing for a TV show and is playing with the public's perceptions on how time bombs function to increase suspense. Their confusing layout also helps cover up the fact that several of them are fake and won't detonate either way.
In one episode of Atomic Betty Sparky must defuse a bomb while X-5 reads him instructions over a video link. X-5 discovers that cutting any wire will cause the timer to count down faster and says "DO NOT CUT THE WIRES. REPEAT: DO NOT CUT THE WIRES!". The video link is bad and both of the "do not" parts of Z-5's transmission is cut off, causing Sparky to become frustrated and cut a wire randomly.
G.I. Joe had an episode where COBRA-planted earthquake-causing bombs had to be disarmed in this fashion.
The Tick has to stop an oversized bomb from destroying The Renaissance. He finds a huge mass of wires inside, but after considering the wire problem, he finds an incredibly obvious On/Off switch instead.
The episode "The Idea Men", where The Tick fails at disarming the bomb and ends up running it outside its intended blast zone to a place where it can't harm anyone (it detonates in his face, but The Tick is Nigh Invulnerable).
Meg: What do you mean, cut the blue wire?! THEY'RE ALL BLUE WIRES!
One episode of the US-made Street Fighter cartoon has a scene where Guile tries to defuse a bomb, but comes up short and simply decides to Sonic Boom it. Miraculously, this actually defuses the bomb. While it's not clear whether the writers put that much thought into it, depending on just how the Sonic Boom works and the type of explosives involved, this might have worked if the circuitry was destroyed before triggering the bomb.
An episode of The Mask has the Mask trying to shut off a nuclear bomb on motion by cutting its wires. Doesn't work. Cue Plan B: cover the bomb in bread and fillings and eat it.
First the bomb expert directs Archer and Lana to cut the blue and white striped wire... except there are two of them, and they can't tell which one is blue with white stripes and which one is white with blue stripes. Then, after checking the serial number of the bomb, Archer is directed to cut the green wire... except the bomb expert misheard the last letter of the serial number, so cutting the green wire speeds up the detonation. Eventually they just dump out the bomb from the airship. Onto a populated area.
Subverted in a later episode when Archer calls him about disarming a Self Destruct bomb wired to his mother's safe:
Archer: Hey Ray, I'm sending you a picture of a bomb, which wires do I—
Ray: Blue and yellow.
Archer: Seriously? You don't want to take a minute to look at it.
Ray: I wired the damn thing!
In the Jonny Quest: The Real Adventures episode "Escape to Questworld," Jonny, Jessie and Hadji get antagonist Jeremiah Surd to tell them which wire to cut in order to deactivate the release of his nerve gas in Chicago. He tells them it's the orange wire, and Jonny relies this information to his father, who, along with Race, is in a sealed chamber full of said nerve gas with only seconds to spare before their protective suits start failing. Right before Dr. Quest is about to snip the wire, Race interrupts, telling him to cut the blue wire instead. Benton does, and the day is saved. It's the one time Jonny's glad his father didn't listen to him. To elaborate, Surd had a personal grudge against Race, and wanted the bomb to go off in his face for revenge.
While not a bomb, one episode of Dexter's Laboratory had Dexter cutting wires in one of his inventions, with help from a now genius Dee-Dee. While he goes to cut the wires she hints they are wrong until they get to the last one, which Dexter states has to be correct via process of elimination and cuts it. It's wrong. Dee-Dee then reveals they were all the wrong wires.
A variation happens after Iron Man/Tony Stark falls victim to an alien virus. In order to revive Tony, Maria Hill has to repair his arc reactor, and has to do so quickly enough so that his heart wouldn't stop. While guiding Maria, Tony passes out before he could point out the last wire to bypass. Maria decides to guess which of two wires she should bypass, and miraculously, Tony regains consciousness after she performs her guess.
Another variation comes when Spider-Man has to deactivate Kang's time portal. JARVIS tells Spidey that the machine relies on Kang's "intuition," so Spidey decides to use his Spider-Sense to figure out which power cell he shouldn't remove.
This coundrum was featured on Total Drama Action, however the yellow wire isn't the correct wire for most of the contestant's bombs.
Duck Dodgers once had to disarm a bomb set by someone who, believing Dodgers would follow the cliche of cutting the red wire, set it to explode once it was cut. Dodgers, not knowing the red wire custom, cut the blue one, disarming the bomb. His would-be killer, furious Dodgers wouldn't cut the red wire as per tradition, did it instead.
In an episode of Extreme Dinosaurs smart guy Stegz is faced with a bomb that has multiple multi-colored wires and decides to just rip them all out.
Dogstar: In "The Greening of Gavin", Lincoln instructs Fenwick on how to disarm the Tesla cannon and tells her to cut the red wire. Fenwick then points out that both wires are red and asks what idiot would do that. Lincoln looks embarrassed.
Dan Vs.: The episode "Dan Vs. Baseball" has a b-plot that culminates in Elise deactivating a nuclear warhead. She has less than a minute left before it detonates, and she has to choose between cutting an orange wire or a green one... and she can't concentrate because her husband Chris picks then, of all times, to phone her. So she asks him which of those colors is his favorite (without telling him the reason for the question) then cuts that wire.
During the Second World War, some bombs dropped over Britain by the Luftwaffe intentionally featured such designs, on the logic that simply blowing up a building causes trouble, but calling out the bomb squad could drive an entire town to a standstill. In fact, the later generations of bombs were designed to blow up when the disposal tech tried to follow the correct instructions for disarming the previous generation of bomb. It was only when the UXB teams got lucky and found a few duds of those models that they could safely take apart to figure out what the new extra disarming steps were that this stopped happening.
Lewis Page, a writer for The Register, trained in bomb disposal. He remarks, in this article that he and his colleagues were originally trained to defuse bombs made by people who knew what they were doing, and actually had to be re-trained out of their paranoia about dummy wires, etc, as they were more usually called out to deal with "bombs" made by the sort of people who probably have difficulty wiring a plug.