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Wire Dilemma

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"There's no green wire?!"

"If I build a bomb, I will simply remember which wire to cut if it has to be deactivated and make every wire red."

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.

Known permutations:

  1. An aforementioned colored wire isn't there.
  2. The bomb has more than one wire of the named color.
  3. All the wires are the same color.
  4. There are hundreds of wires inside the bomb.
  5. Cutting any wire at all is a bad play.
  6. The instructions are wrong.
  7. The hero is colorblind.
  8. The hero isn't technically colorblind, but due to bad lighting / weather / blood in the hero's eyes / etc., he can't see the wires clearly anyways.
  9. The guy reading from the manual changes his mind between maybe red, maybe blue ... are any of 'em green?
  10. The color is identified by a name the cutter doesn't know. (e.g. taupe, ochre, turquoise, umber, etc.)
  11. The guy reading from the manual says something like "It says to cut the blue wire.." [snip] "... after cutting the red one..."
  12. Cutting the wrong wire doesn't trigger an explosion, but causes the timer to speed up.
  13. The guy reading the manual asks about a specific feature of the bomb and the hero answers correctly. However, the guy reading the manual mishears the answer causing him to read the wrong instructions.

At no point is there a plausible explanation as to why a homemade bomb should conform to any color-code standard or manual at all, especially since the designer obviously never intended for it to be disarmed in the first place - in fact, having multiple colored wires in the first place is puzzling since you'd expect the wires to come from the same spool, with the same color. Maybe they wanted to make sure they were assembling it correctly?

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. Mostly, however, it's because Time Bombs simply aren't used anymore, at least not very much. Both proximity triggers and remote detonation are more likely to get the intended target, as well as blow up anyone who gets close enough to disarm them. A Time Bomb still has the advantage of both letting you get away without the risk of a proximity trigger being set off by you or the need to hang around close enough to perform the manual detonation, but most simply opt for a work around instead of a timer. See also Bomb Disposal, Operation Game of Doom, Cut the Fuse, and Relocating the Explosion.


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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.
  • The page picture is not of an actual bomb, but of a novelty alarm clock shaped like one. You can interrupt it from ringing during the 10-second delay by cutting the right wire, which are easily replaceable.
  • A Red Bull commercial has a James Bond-esque secret agent unsure over which wire defuses a Time Bomb. Mission Control suggests that he drink a Red Bull to help him decide, and he goes to get one...but before he can, the bomb explodes. (He's not actually hurt.)
    No Red Bull, no wiings[sic].

  • Boonie Bears: In Season 3 Episode 10, Bramble gets a bomb glued to his hand and Briar must disarm it before it explodes. There are three wires on the bomb, one red, one yellow, and one blue; Briar cuts the red one, causing the countdown to plummet from two minutes and fifteen seconds to ten seconds, but then he cuts the yellow one and actually stops the bomb.
  • In Happy Heroes Season 2 episode 6, Careless S. has to disarm a bomb on the school bus by cutting one of its two wires, a red one and a blue one. He eventually decides to pull both wires out, causing it to explode anyway, though Happy S. does get the bomb out of the bus in time.
  • In Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf: Joys of Seasons episode 76, Wolffy sets up a time bomb on Goat Village and Sparky is trying to figure out which wire to cut to defuse the explosive. Weslie, under the effects of a potion that controls his impulsiveness, just tells Sparky to take his time, but this wastes enough time to let the bomb finish its countdown. It doesn't explode, though, and Sparky throws it into the distance; the bomb knocks Wolffy out of the tree he was perched in.

    Anime & Manga 
  • Excel♡Saga:
    • 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.
  • Cyber City Oedo 808. The three main protagonists are all criminals who are earning reduced sentences by capturing other criminals. To keep them in line they wear explosive collars. At the start of episode 2, Gogol tracks down one of their own who has gone rogue and is now trying to defuse his own collar. There are seven fuses that have to be removed and he's down to the last two. Gogol suggests removing the right one. He decides on the left and... Your Head Asplode.
  • 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.
  • Case Closed:
    • The movie Detective Conan Film 01: The Time-Bombed Skyscraper ends with this situation, in which Ran 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 Shin’ichi ichi's lucky color for the month is red (for this reason, Ran got Shin’ichi 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 — he is able to figure out the location of the larger-population bomb from only half the clue.
    • Subverted in the first Detective Conan live-action special, in which the culprit made the bomb with all wires the same color so that it could not be disarmed. Shinichi ends up soccer-kicking it through a skylight in one of the most blatant CGI special-effects ever.
  • 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.
  • In 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 has Asuma facing a wire dilemma. He's 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.
  • In City Hunter The Motion Picture, Kaori must choose between six different colored wires. Ryo tells her to cut the blue wire — he made the decision by lifting his client's skirt and noting the color of her panties, which were blue. It turns out to be the right choice.
    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 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.
  • SPY×FAMILY: Anya discovers that a terrorist group planted a bomb inside a clock tower. When she tries to defuse it by cutting the red wire (as seen on TV) she realizes that all of the wires are black. Fortunately, the bomb does not have a timer, but is rigged to blow when a door is opened. Anya writes a warning over the door to prevent it from being opened. note 
  • One Golgo 13 chapter is built around a Mad Bomber who has wired an explosive to an elevator in a large hotel. When the elevator reaches the center of the building, the bomb will detonate - and the bomber has rigged the elevator to automatically descend at a certain time, so it can't be disabled. However, the bomber was forced to leave the bomb's battery exposed, and if the battery is destroyed the bomb will fail. Duke Togo is called in because he's the only person with good enough aim to take out the battery.


    Comic Books 
  • Animal Man: The titular hero is 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.
  • Catwoman: Subverted in issue #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.
  • Daredevil: In one comic, Black Widow talks Daredevil through disarming a bomb. He follows most of her instructions without any difficulty, but when she tells him to cut the red wire, he points out he has no idea which one that is.
  • Hawkeye: Parodied in Hawkeye (2012) #6. The issue starts with Clint standing over a bunch of wires, thinking carefully, and finally cutting the green wire over Tony Stark's objections... and then it turns out they're the wires to all the electronics in his apartment, which have gotten hopelessly tangled.
  • Justice League of America: 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.
  • Spider-Man: Played with in the Clone 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.
  • Superman and Spider-Man: A variation occurs when 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.
  • We Are Robin: Issue #3 has the Robins working on two identical bombs, with Shug-R, the Voice with an Internet Connection, trying to give them instructions. After one bomb is successfully disarmed, Shug-R gets called away from her computer, and The Nest, their other Voice with an Internet Connection, tells them to clear out. Troy stays behind on the basis that he knows how to do it now. It turns out that bomb was wired differently and when he cuts the red wire he's caught in the explosion.
  • Grimm Fairy Tales: In Grimm Fairy Tales: Genesis, Robyn Hood has to defuse a bomb in Times Square in New York on New Year's Eve. She snarkily comments on how movies never get it right right, and how it is never just one wire, as she rips out all of the wires on the bomb.

    Comic Strips 
  • In a story arc in FoxTrot, Roger writes a hilariously bad spy novel with him as the hero, "The Fox". In one scene, he mulls over 173 wires with seconds to spare. The novel's so bad, that he choses a wire based on a number that won him money at a casino. When reading it, his wife lets out a Big "NO!" over this being the right one.
  • Parodied in Garfield, of all places:
    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 colorblind.
    Garfield: Bye-bye, Bob and Bernice.
  • 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.

    Fan Works 
  • In The Weaver Option, Corax teleports into Quor Karmain's command room and plants a warpstone bomb with a warning that Quor needs to cut the red wire. The Dark Apostle opens the bomb to find it has a thousand wires, all red. He guesses poorly. Subverted when Corax admits he lied; the Skaven would never make a bomb that can be defused.

    Films — Animation 
  • In Batman: Assault on Arkham, Batman gets to a bomb the Joker set up. Inside is a note saying to cut the red wire, but all the wires are red.
  • 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 Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs, Buck tries to kill a Man-Eating Plant that is about to digest Manny and Diego. He dives inside, goes to the center of the stem and... there's a red root and a blue root.
  • 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 with in Armageddon (1998), 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 detonation. It's also unclear if cutting the wrong wire would cause the bomb to detonate, stop the countdown but render the bomb useless, or just fail to 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 in striped and unstriped pairs specifically so that they are distinguishable even under colored lighting. In the novelization, it's all for nothing; the alien entities whose lives he's trying to save are aware of the bomb and could neutralize it themselves, but the mere fact of him making the attempt on their behalf, which involves a one-way trip for him, changes their thinking about humanity and they explicitly see to it that he cuts the correct wire.
  • Played straight in the 1997 movie Air Force One, where the President of the United States has to cut and cross two out of five wires to dump the plane's fuel, and the wrong wires will naturally cause the plane to crash. His cell phone inevitably dies before he can be told what the second wire is. He chooses to do it to yellow and green leaving red, white, and blue alone and is proven right. The novelization explains it as him concluding the plane's designer would insure the colors of the American flag would be vital to the plane's functions, if only as a joke.
  • In The Avengers, 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.
  • Double Subversion in the French film District 13: a police officer is given the shutdown code to the bomb by cell phone — but it turns out that the code would have detonated the bomb immediately, taking out the entire ghetto with it. The bomb times out, but does nothing.
  • 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: "The book says cut the red wire." — "We're dogs. We're colorblind!" Played for Laughs. By the way, dogs aren't totally color blind and would at least have a vague hint of which color was which.
  • Discussed in Charlie's Angels. Alex is introduced helping her actor boyfriend rehearse a scene where his character has to defuse a bomb. Jason wonders why his character wouldn't just rip all the wires out and Alex replies that it's probably a dummy mechanism that will trigger an immediate explosion if removed.
  • 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.
  • Played with in Fight Club. "Oh, heavens, no, not the green one, anything but the green one." (After the green wire is cut) "I asked you not to DO THAT!" He's right about the wire, but the bomb builder promptly attacks him. More interesting is that the person who is disarming the bomb is the one who built it.
  • James Bond
    • 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. (This was actually a late addition - Bond says "Three more ticks and Goldfinger would have hit the jackpot", referencing the fact that in the original edit the timer was stopped with three seconds left. The producers thought 007 on the timer was better, even if the line that followed now didn't make sense.)
    • It shows up in For Your Eyes Only, when Bond has to disarm the self-destruct before he can remove the ATAC from the sunken ship, but it's downplayed since there's no timer and he has the instruction card on hand. The real problem is the Giant Mook who attacks him while he's trying to do the disarming.
  • 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 activate the bomb, but a string of wire, subtly hidden from untrained eyes, will defuse it. 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.
  • Juggernaut: The 1974 film, in which a blackmailer has placed bombs inside 55-gallon drums on a cruise ship, in the days before this was a tired cliché, everything comes down to Richard Harris, a pair of wire cutters, and two wires. 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? You cut the red wire.
  • In Lethal Weapon 3, Riggs insists on trying to defuse a bomb rather than waiting for the bomb squad to arrive. After joking around with Murtaugh about what color wire to cut, he finally cuts one that accelerates the timer on the bomb... which leads to the classic one-liner, "Grab the cat." 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 color wire they cut the last time, when the building explodes before they can get out of the car.
  • Parodied in National Lampoon's Loaded Weapon 1. The first wire that Emilio Estevez cuts causes Jon Lovitz to blow up. The second causes the power to go out on the boat. The third causes a complete power outage in Los Angeles. Finally, he throws the bomb overboard.
  • 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 can't be deactivated. Fortunately, the bomb is just an ill-considered high school science project: no trick wires, no problem. But wait, what's that sound? It's the individual photo-strobes that power the detonators charging up. This meant all six wires between the flashers and the detonators have to be cut simultaneously. And wouldn't you know it, there are only five pairs of wire-cutters handy.
  • In the climax of The Naked Gun 2½, Drebin has to disarm a nuclear bomb. He can't figure out what wire to cut, so he starts to run for cover and trips over the bomb's power cord, unplugging it and shutting it off.
  • 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).
  • In the 1994 The Shadow film, Dr. Lane, faced with a bomb he built while under Mind Control, declares that "It's usually green," but then cuts the red wire (he'd previously been established as red-green colorblind). At the last second, Margo pulls the green wire before he does so.
    MARGO: (strained, nudging the green wire) This is green. (nudges the red wire) That's red.
  • In Sky High (2005), 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.
    [bomb explodes]
  • In Speed, Jack goes through a lot of trouble to get under the bus while in motion to disarm the bomb, only to see it's too complex for him to safely do it and has to leave it alone; justifiedthe 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.
  • One of the international posters for The Hurt Locker has the tagline "Cut the red one", taking the trope front and center. There is no such wire dilemma in the film, and every wire shown on the poster is red.
  • 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 color for the royal wedding. When they don't know which of the differently colored wires they have to cut, they simply switch off the color 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 SpaceCamp. 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 color 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.
  • In the 1998 B-Movie Legion (basically The Dirty Dozen In Space), one of the Boxed Crook soldiers is a Demolitions Expert accused of murdering his commanding officer. He insists he's innocent. "I told him to cut the red wire. How was I to know he was color blind?"
  • Machete Kills: Referenced by Luz when Machete refuses to take along her bomb expert, reformed villain Osiris Amanpour. Luz quips that it's always the blue wire anyway. Later Osiris gets shot and Machete must disarm the missile by himself. It ends up Luz was absolutely right.
  • Death Train: The first bomb requires cutting the wires on it in a specific order or it will explode, and is only stopped at the last second. The second bomb starts counting down after Benin activates it but Graham can't remember the exact sequence. Fortunately, the scientist who built it had sabotaged it as payback against Benin for exposing him to its radiation.
  • Wrong is Right (1982). After the two terrorist suitcase nukes are found at the World Trade Center, a man in a bomb vest (useless if they went off) tries to defuse them, but doesn't know which wire to cut. He nervously hands the cutters to the CIA director who cuts the right wire. This only confirms the suspicions of the protagonist that the CIA placed the nukes there as a Pretext for War.
  • In Vigilante Diaries, Wolfman is trying to defuse the dirty bomb in the boot of Barrington's car; not being helped by the panicking security guard next to him who he keeps telling him to cut the red wire, because it's always the red wire in the movies. With seconds left of the timer, he grabs a handful of wires and yanks them all out and the timer stops.

  • The protagonist in John Ringo's novel Paladin of Shadows: 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 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.
  • 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.
  • The Hardy Boys:
    • In "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 a later crossover book with Nancy Drew, "Secrets of the Nile", they're tasked again with figuring out which wire to cut. Joe is responsible this time, and tries a new spin on it, he peels the plastic off and looks at the wires themselves under their insulation. When he sees that the black and red wires are copper but the green one is silver, he decides that's the one. He cuts it, and of course it works.
  • 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 Syndic nukes are specifically designed to go off as soon as the timer is set, in order to prevent anyone from disarming the device after the soldier planting it leaves or decides to have a change of heart (the thinking being that if a target is valuable enough to be worth nuking, you want to make sure that the nuke goes off). Naturally, the Syndic soldiers told to deliver the devices don't know this. It is widely believed amongst Alliance bomb technicians that the same is true for Alliance nukes.
  • There's a time bomb in 1636: The Viennese Waltz. It's the simplest possible design... but most people in the 17th century have no experience with "electrics".
    Dr. Faust looked at the knife and blanched. Then he reached down with his hand, grabbed one of the wires, and yanked it free.
    "Was that all it took?" Leo asked, feeling disappointed. "From the books, they are supposed to take some sort of specially trained experts to disarm?"
    "That's because up-time they used antitampering devices. Lots of wires, and if you pulled the wrong one, the bomb went off. But, Your Grace, iron and steel are excellent conductors. Putting your knife blade in between the two wires would have been as bad as touching them together."
    Leo fainted then. He would forever after claim that it was from blood loss.
  • One Fine Day in the Middle of the Night by Christopher Brookmyre has a fairly standard version of this trope, with the two twists that: 1) it's some of the villains who are trying to defuse the bomb, with the heroes having already gotten away, and 2) they pick the wrong wire.
  • In the Magitek novel The Sleeping Dragon by Jonny Nexus, Presto the wizard is trying to defuse a Fantastic Nuke by carefully picking his way through the control spells until he finds the emergency stop. When he finds it, it's password protected. He decides to just crash the main spell and hope like hell that this shuts it down rather than setting it off early. It does.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In an episode of 7 Days (1998), 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).
  • 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.
  • Arrow: In "The Calm", Felicity Smoak tells Roy Harper to cut the yellow wire on a bomb planted under a stadium. Roy tells her there is no yellow wire. They end up using a Freon line from the stadium's air conditioning system to freeze the bomb instead. Added bonus: The Freon pipe that Roy breaks is yellow.
  • 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.
  • A Benson episode has one of these. (Bomb squad technician: "Is it 'White you're right, red you're dead', or...?")
  • Bionic Woman: Jaime finds her love interest turned into a human bomb during a Hostage for MacGuffin trade. The bomb has two false wires and one true one. Fortunately, Mission Control can see an enhanced view relayed through her bionic eye, and tell her which wire to cut based on where the power is going.
  • The Blake's 7 episode "Countdown" uses the Your Other Left trope for this. Avon is trying to defuse a Doomsday Device that will kill everyone on the planet if he gets it wrong.
    Avon: We're going to have to take out the relays to get at the activator. Which one is it first? Left, right, or centre?
    Grant: Centre first.
    Avon: Cutters. [Grant passes him the cutters. Avon cuts the centre wire] Which next?
    Grant: Right next. No, no, wait! I'm opposite you now. Left is the next in sequence. Your left.
    Avon: You don't get another guess.
  • In Bones, Booth has munitions training and has an assist from Hodgins, so they know which wires to cut when. But just as they thinks it’s over, he sees a device called a repeater and realizes there are more bombs in the lab.
  • The entire premise of the Fox Game Show BOOM! Each wire represents an answer to a multiple-choice question; cut the wire to the wrong answer and, well...
  • 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!
  • A non-bomb version happens in the Bunk'd episode "A Star Is Torn" when Finn and Matteo get locked in a bomb shelter. When they open the fuse box, they see a large bunch of wires and Matteo just gives up trying to figure out which wire to pull. At the end however, Finn just pulls out a bunch of wires and unlocks the hatch.
  • 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.
  • 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."
  • Chuck:
    • 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.
  • 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.
  • In the third episode of Criminal Minds, "Won't Get Fooled Again", the profilers encounter a serial killer who creates bombs using the plans of another serial bomber, Adrian Bale, Gideon had imprisoned, though only after Bale tricked Gideon and killed six FBI agents. Bale agrees to help on the condition that he gets released from prison. Eventually, the team is faced with a victim who has one of the bombs strapped to his chest, with a timer ticking down to the explosion. The bomb has two wires for operation, a blue and a red one, and the bomb squad technician asks Bale which wire he needs to cut. With the usual seconds left, Bale tells the tech to cut the red one and the tech believes Bale since a wrong answer would cost Bale his freedom. Just as the tech is about to cut the red wire, Gideon tells him to cut the other one, basing the decision on the fact Bale had earlier admitted he could never pass up an opportunity to trick Gideon again.
  • The Crystal Maze would have a game like this once a series.
  • 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, either because of faults or because they were Time Bombs. So the British had to disarm these unexploded bombs, or UXBs, and it was an extremely dangerous task, not least because the Nazis start to Booby Trap the bombs.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Doctor Who:
    • 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.
    • "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.
    • "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!
  • 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 which wires to cut. But his friend told that the bomb's timer was entirely digital in nature and had no weak wires.
  • Nicely subverted on Elementary as Holmes and Watson find a large bomb set up in their apartment. Joan wants to run to find the bomb squad but Sherlock carefully looks the bomb over, then yanks out a single large cable to defuse it.
    Holmes: Despite the plots of the many movies you tell me are good which are in fact not good, bombmakers don't build tests of electrical-engineering skill, they build devices that go "Bang".
  • The Equalizer: In "China Rain", Robert McCall and Mickey Kostmeyer find the child hostage they're trying to rescue tied up in a room with an Incredibly Obvious Bomb. They use a simple rhyme (presumably taught in Spy School) to help them remember which wire to cut. Provided they can remember the rhyme correctly...
    Kostmeyer: Was it blue before yellow, kills the fellow?
    McCall: Blue after yellow...kills the fellow.
    Kostmeyer: Wait-wait-wait... blue before yellow after... Blue, it's blue!
    McCall: Shut up, Mickey. [hesitates... cuts the blue wire. Bomb deactivates]
  • 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?"
  • 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, and will go off the moment the rider steps off. So, of course, the bomb is discovered when 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 through!" 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. Carl's boss, after the fact, asks him how he knew which wire to pull. Carl's response being he didn't; he guessed.
  • 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.
  • The F.B.I.: In "The Problem of the Honorable Wife", Jim and a local field agent shoot down a communist agent who was smuggling a bomb into a union meeting. However, they are then confronted with the bomb. The timer has been set and there is no time to call in a bomb disposal team. Jim looks at the other agent, who tells him "Go for it". Jim pulls out one wire, seemingly at random, and the bomb stops. However, given the bomb-maker's reluctance to construct this particular bomb, it is entirely possible that they rigged it so pulling any wire would defuse it; hoping that someone would stop it.
  • Flashpoint:
    • 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 pretty much every time the team encounters a bomb. Spike (the team's bomb disposal technician) specifically looks for the wires connected to the detonator, so the color never matters. And that's assuming there are wires to be clipped at all: on one episode, he uses a bomb disposal robot to shoot a water cannon through the detonator, and in another, he has to manually remove the fuse, which is protected by an anti-tampering device. In still other cases, he does have to cut a wire, but the major challenge is not determining which wire, but rather getting to it; in the series finale, for instance, cutting the wires is fairly simple, but he first has to disable an anti-handling device (he uses acetone and dry ice to freeze the sensor). The writers must love showing off the various ways of disarming bombs.
  • 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.
  • An episode of Get Smart has Max trying to disarm a nuclear bomb left by KAOS. While pondering the wire dilemma he accidentally gets his tie caught in the mechanism which breaks the bomb.
    Chief: That was close, Max.
    Max: You don't know how close, Chief. I was going to wear my bow tie today.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 (which is the correct one, according to the US National Electrical Code), then eventually settles on yellow because the sun's yellow and it heats the ground. Snip, zap.
  • Came up in the Honey, I Shrunk the Kids episode "From Honey, With Love", where Wayne Szalinski admits to memorizing a mnemonic device (a running gag in the episode) to decide which wire to cut while infiltrating a nuclear submarine, 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, Wayne disposes of the bomb by shrinking it to the size of a firecracker.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • The LazyTown episode "LazyTown Goes Digital" had Sportacus unsure whether to pull out the red wire or the blue wire to stop Robbie's machine; Pixel initially says the red wire but later discovers the machine is a newer model, so the blue wire needs to go.
  • 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.
  • The Librarians, in the pilot episode, had a straightforward example when Flynn asked Eve to locate the blue wire and then told her not to touch it.
  • Subverted in Life on Mars (2006), where Sam agonizes 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.
  • 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. After a tense second where it looks like the timer has stopped it restarts moving even faster.
    • In the fourth season finale the heroes discover a giant pile of C4 on board the Freighter that's connected to a Dead Man's Switch worn by one of the bad guys. Desmond, who studied ordnance disposal in the army, tries to find a way to disarm the bomb but quickly establishes that the many, many wires are too complicated to undo. They eventually settle for cooling the bomb with liquid nitrogen but even that only buys them a few minutes after the switch goes off.
      Desmond: This is a trip wire. Move it, and... boom. This is dummy wiring. If you cut the wrong one... boom. This is multiple firing systems. You disable one, and the next one... boom. Uh, this... battery's the power source. If you disconnect it—
      Jin: Boom.
  • In one episode of MacGyver (1985), 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.
    • In the pilot of the reboot, young MacGyver has just jumped off a helicopter into a truck with a bomb in the back, complete with bright red LED countdown and a thing that goes "bleep" in time with it.
      MacGyver (Voiceover): Yeah, well, you know how you always have to pick between cutting the blue wire and the red wire? - Yeah? - Well, I've got about 12 wires down here and they're all green. Well, you better pick one quick.
    • Later episodes of the reboot series would introduce a recurring villain known as "The Ghost", whose gimmick was to make multiple interconnected bombs. Fail to correctly disarm any of the bombs - or disarm them correctly in the wrong order - and they all blow.
  • 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.
  • A variation in the 1979 mini-series A Man Called Intrepid. A Nazi officer gets suspicious and investigates the bilges of the ferry carrying the heavy water to Germany, finding the plastic explosives left to sink it. He gingerly gropes underwater for the timer and disconnects it, breathing a sigh of relief. Unfortunately for him, the saboteurs had been taught to use two timers for redundancy.
  • Subverted in M*A*S*H's season one episode, "The Army-Navy Game". In Henry's defense, he wasn't reading from a manual but from handwritten notes taken over the phone from an officer distracted by the big game. And possibly still suffering from an earlier concussion; he still had bandages on his head.
    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.
    • Then the bomb blows up, revealing it to be a leaflet-spreading propaganda bomb... from their side.
  • 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.
  • 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.)
  • 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.
  • 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 the Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode "The Brain That Wouldn't Die", Mike attempts to gain control of the Satellite of Love by cutting wires and when Tom Servo says to "cut the red wire", Mike responds "Which one? There are, like, four of them!" Tom responds "The green one." He ends up cutting something that is not the cheese compressor line.
  • MythBusters:
  • Nash Bridges had one episode where all the wires were very strange colors.
  • NCIS:
    • 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.
    • In one episode, McGee advises Gibbs to cut one wire, but Gibbs cuts the other one. With only seconds left before the timer would hit zero, it stops and McGee comments that apparently Gibbs was right. Cut to the next scene, and Abby reveals that actually, cutting that wire should've instantly detonated the bomb. It's just that an error was made in mixing the explosives, rendering bomb inert.
    • 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.
  • NCIS: New Orleans: Percy faces a variation of this in "Sleeping With the Enemy". In her case, she knows exactly which wire she needs to cut, but - in order to do so - she has to locate the detonator, and she is fast running out of time because the Coast Guard has orders to sink the boat she is on if it does not stop.
  • Person of Interest: A variation occurs in "Dead Reckoning". Not knowing how to defuse a bomb, Finch instead tries to hack the mobile phone being used as a detonator. He has five possible combinations for the unlock code, but the phone will lock him out after the first three.
  • The pilot for new series Phoo Action had the 'Hero is colorblind' version.
  • The Power Rangers and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles face this dilemma in the Power Rangers in Space episode "Shell Shocked".
  • Primeval:
    • One episode 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.
    • 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.
  • 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).
    • Averted in "Runner" where the Incredibly Obvious Bomb has wires which are all yellow. Our heroes just grit their teeth and pull them all out.
  • Profiler: In episode "Unsoiled Sovereignty", 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.
  • The Punisher (2017): In "Virtue of the Vicious", Lewis Wilson is holding a Dead Man's Switch for the bomb vest he's wearing, and is using Karen Page as a Human Shield against Frank Castle. Frank already knows to cut the white wire (having disarmed another bomb built by Lewis) and has to talk Karen through picking the right one (she can reach the wires but can't see them) while supposedly Talking Down the Suicidal.
    • That earlier bomb involved a wire dilemma, but the question in that case was whether the bomb was wired with an open or closed circuit; meaning does the bomb explode if you cut any wire or just some wires.
  • Sherlock: Subverted in "The Empty Hearse" because the bomb has a hidden off switch on the side. According to Sherlock, "There's always an off switch. Terrorists can get into all sorts of problems unless there's an off switch."note 
  • Sister Boniface Mysteries: In "Lights, Camera, Murder!", Sister Boniface and DI Gillespie have to defuse a bomb, with Sister Boniface trying to remember the half a lesson she had in bomb disposal when she worked at wartime Bletchley Park. She tells DI Gillespie they need to cut a particular wire, which is usually red, with a pair of wire-cutters. He tells her they don't have any wire-cutters and none of the wires are red.
  • 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. They connect the red and white wires, and then Steve has a hunch that "blue" was deliberately misleading, "his final stab at the country he'd grown to hate" and correctly selects the green wire instead.
  • A variation is used in an episode of Space Precinct, where instead of cutting wires, the defusers have a choice between removing the power pack or the trigger.
  • Spooks:
    • 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.
  • Stargate SG-1:
    • "The Serpent's Venom" features a 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.
    • "Failsafe" has 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!
    • 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.
  • A futuristic variant occurs in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Starship Down" 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. It turns out that the merchant's people are actually the ones who sell the device,note  so he knows how to disarm it. Rather than wires, there are two identical box-shaped pieces of the warhead, one of which will deactivate it if pulled out, while 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.
  • Played with in an episode of Strike Back in which a protagonist calls a retired CIA buddy to help disable an active bomb, but he only called because he knew the friend was terrible under pressure, so he reasoned that whatever wire he told him not to cut was actually the correct wire.
  • Top Gear has fun with this concept in a scene of the presenters removing an airbag device. After a lot of dramatic wincing and second-guessing their choices they successfully defuse the charge and joke they'll edit the whole thing out (they didn't).
    • The series also had an item where the boys had to make a cycling safety video. They showed a cyclist trying to defuse a bomb, being told to cut the red wire. He cuts the green wire instead, and the bomb goes off. The voiceover then says, "Cyclists: Red. Green. Learn the bloody difference!" note  The cycling body who commissioned the video were not amused.
  • Walker, Texas Ranger: In Season 4's "Blown Apart", Max Kale, a mad bomber Walker put away, escaped from prison and is seeking revenge against the people who put him away by bombing them to death. He already killed the judge, and Trivette was nearly killed in the process, having suffered numerous shrapnel wounds from his butt to his back, and before killing Walker, next on his list were the witnesses (including his ex-wife, Angela) and the prosecuting attorney, Alex. He subjects Alex to this at her apartment after he kills a Ranger protecting her; the bomb activates two minutes after Walker enters through her front door and if Walker touches it, it'll go off immediately. There were three wires connecting the bomb— one red, one blue and one yellow— and cutting the wrong one would make it go off. Walker determines that the blue wire disables the bomb, just one second before it went off.
  • Parodied in Weird Science. Gary and Wyatt, based on what they've seen in movies, hesitate whether the red wire will stop the bomb or is a decoy that'll detonate it. Lisa grabs the whole bundle of wires and yanks them all out at once.
  • Parodied in Whose Line Is It Anyway?. During a playing of Party Quirks, Colin is a bomb squad member who believes that there are bombs in other guests' pants. At one point the game, he goes up to Ryan and deliberates: "Red buttock, blue buttock, red buttock, blue buttock..."
  • 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.

  • The narrator in They Might Be Giants' "Now I Know" fell afoul of this trope.
    Now I know
    Why they said not to cut the blue wire, now I know
    I know that I only wish I could reach my hand into the past
    Prevent the die from being cast that made it so, now I know

  • 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 the Eleventh Hour arc of The Adventure Zone: Balance, Tres Horny Boys find themselves up against one of these. They're in a "Groundhog Day" Loop at the time, so they decide to save scum their way through it. Turns out that there was a keycard at the start of the area they were in that would let them totally bypass it. Upon figuring this out, Magnus decides to cut all five wires so that they can get back to the keycard faster.

  • 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.
  • A Bob & Ray skit involves a demonstration by a professional bomb de-activator, who takes the listeners step-by-step through the process of disabling a live bomb on the air. Naturally, he stresses the importance of clipping the wires in the proper order. Just as naturally, he winds up detonating the bomb.

    Tabletop Games 
  • One Paranoia mission requires the Troubleshooters to fiddle with a device (which isn't exactly a bomb, but it might as well be) 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: "Warning! Do not cut the NINTH SHOELACE or you will be VERY HEALTHY!" Paranoia being what it is, it's 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.

    Video Games 
  • In Global Operations, defusing a bomb brings up a loading bar and then indication of which wire to cut on the defusal kit. Cut the wrong wire and it will explode instead.
  • After defeating one boss in the RPG Illusion 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...
  • Mario Party 8: The minigame Cut From The Team has a non-explosive example. All four characters are placed near the top of a rock pillar in the desert, and each of them has to use a pair of scissors to cut one of the ropes that are tied to the platform the current character is standing on. Seven ropes are safe to cut, so if a character is lucky they can then leave the platform and let the next player arrive to cut another rope. However, the remaining three ropes must not be cut, as doing so will make the platform trigger its trampoline below and send the current character upward into the skies, disqualifying them. Which ropes are safe and which ones aren't is always a random arrangement, so it's ultimately a game of luck. The last player left wins.
  • In Metal Gear Ac!d, the bomb disposal segment is 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: ...
  • Parodied by two mob goons in Max Payne.
    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*
  • Police Quest 2: The Vengeance 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.
  • 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*
  • In the Uldum storyline of World of Warcraft, this dilemma comes up when the player and Brann Bronzebeard find the Doomsday Device left behind by the Titans. With a one-minute countdown due to Brann's sloppy approach, he decides to simply cut the color associated with the player's faction (blue if Alliance, red for Horde) and lucks out. (Unfortunately, the player can't help him here, even though he or she has done pretty much everything else in the dungeon.)
  • 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 (2004). 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.
  • Parodied in Star Wars: Republic Commando whenever you order your team to place a demolition charge. If Delta-62 ends up placing it, he may mutter to himself "was it red-red-green, or red-green-red?". The first time it happens, Delta-07 will remark "And he's supposed to be the Demolitions Expert?"
  • Trauma Center (Atlus):
    • The original game 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 teddy bear.
  • WarioWare: Touched!: This is a standard microgame in Wario Man's set, 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.
  • Subverted in Half-Life: Opposing Force. Adrian Shephard has to disarm a nuke set by Black Ops that would obliterate Black Mesa and everything inside. An open panel has instructions for how to arm it, and some wires are exposed, but all it takes to disarm it is flipping a red "ON/OFF" switch. The ease of turning it off gets turned around on him later, when Adrian later watches the G-Man pop in and re-arm the bomb, which detonates at the end of the game.
  • Parodied in a cutscene at the end of Jak II: Renegade. 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 Game Hidden 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 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.
  • One Room Escape game plays with this. Someone trapped you inside with a nuke set to go off in 2 hours, and there's a bunch of wires to cut from the get-go. But to find out which controls what, you have to find the password to a computer. it turns out you can't disarm it. All you can do is set the bomb so that the odd one out is disabled, cut that wire, then set off the smoke alarm so that firefighters can rescue you,
  • Chase the Express have this happening near the end, when you need to diffuse nuclear warheads on a train heading towards Paris. Complicating things even further, you'll need to cut all five wires, in the correct sequence, although there are clues beforehand directing you which line to cut.
  • 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.
  • Desert 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.
  • In a scripted event in Papers, Please, one of your entrants tosses a bomb into your booth, requiring you to defuse it. Fortunately, the bombmaker helpfully labeled the wires you need to cut with the exact order you need to cut them in, so the actual dilemma part is averted here. Your guard buddy Calensk calls them out for 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.
  • Played with in Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies. During Ted Tonate's breakdown, he madly pulls on the red wire of an armed bomb he's carrying with his teeth in an attempt to disarm it. It doesn't work, and he ends up desperately smashing the bomb with his goggles. Which doesn't work either.
  • A training exercise in Spandex Force 2: Superhero U's "Good Samaritanism" course is disarming a bomb in the middle of the city by playing a match-3 game. Played for laughs when the player character gets fed up with trying to guess the right wire and blasts it with their elemental powers.
  • Variation in Alien: Isolation. You have to shut off four generators in the right order, according to the colored wires coming out of them. After the first two, though, the main lights go out and the (red) emergency lights kick in, making it impossible to tell the colors of the remaining two wires. You either have to remember the colors or wait for your partner to tell you where the next generator is.
  • Referenced in City of Heroes by the minor character Color Blind:
    Color Blind isn't really color blind, she just earned the name because she can never remember which wires to cut.
  • Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes makes an entire game out of Hollywood-style bomb disarming, including multiple variants on "cut the right wire". The trick is that it's a two player game; one person is the expert with the manual and isn't allowed to see the bomb, the other is the technician who isn't allowed to see the manual and everything depends on clear communication between them. (It's set up so it can be played by two people over the phone or online voice chat.)
  • Suzuki Bakuhatsu for the PlayStation is an obscure Puzzle Game about Bomb Disposal. The typical red wire/blue wire situation comes up in the final puzzle (except the Ice Coffee and Gunder Mecha stage. The former is both wires are purple and you can cut a wire you want, while the latter is an Unexpected Gameplay Change where you have to win the mecha battle through Rock–Paper–Scissors). If you don't pay attention to any hints, visually and audibly, this trope will take place.
  • In Life Is Strange, there is a Railroad Tracks of Doom sequence where you have to save Chloe who is stuck between the tracks while a train is coming. Max can use pliers to cut a wire in the fuse box. There are three wires present (green, yellow, red) but only cutting the red one leads to the desired outcome.
  • In Policenauts, after completing several other steps to disarm a bomb, the timer suddenly speeds up, leaving Jonathan with the choice to cut either the red wire or the blue wire, with no apparent clue for which wire will disarm the bomb. A character earlier in the story tells you he'd cut the blue wire; since he's the one who set that bomb, the solution is to do the exact opposite of what he told you to do.
  • One of the cases in Sherlock Holmes: The Devil's Daughter begins with a time bomb thrown through the window of 221B in the middle of the night. Holmes deduces that one of the wires is connected to an anti-tamper device that will blow up the bomb if the detonator is disconnected, so defusing the bomb requires looking at how everything is connected to disconnect the anti-tamper device before cutting the wires to the detonator and power source.
  • In FTL: Faster Than Light, in Rockmen sectors you may come upon a mine that drills into your ship and threatens to destroy it unless you send someone to disarm it, possibly without a hitch but there's also a chance they will have to choose between a red wire and a blue wire. Both wires have an equal chance of either defusing the mine or damaging your ship and killing your crew membernote  and there is no way to tell beforehand which is wire is correct. The only guaranteed ways to escape from this unscathed are to have level 5+ engines or a drone system with a beam dronenote note .
  • Averted in Spider-Man (PS4), where during one sequence Mary Jane has to disable a bomb-like device. She has to disconnect all the wires, but in the proper order, and while they're colored (including a red one) this is just a visual aid to help the player solve the 3D puzzle: tracing each wire around the bomb casing to find out what it does (fan, power supply, etc.) so you know which one to unplug first.
  • Like a Dragon
  • The Adventures of Fatman contains a puzzle where you have to disarm a bomb by cutting a number of colored wires in the right order.
  • The Jackbox Party Pack:
    • "Bomb Corp" from Party Pack 2 is a game about following convoluted rules to disarm as many bombs as possible.
    • In "Trivia Murder Party 2" from Party Pack 6, if a player gets the Bomb from the "Gifts" minigame and manages to escape, they'll have to answer a bonus question at the end to figure out how to disarm the bomb and survive.
  • Averted and lampshaded by Claymore's profile quote from XCOM: Chimera Squad:
    "There is never a red wire. I'm lucky if there are even wires."
  • PAYDAY 3: Electronic locks provide a non-explosive version - unlocking them requires finding the lock and flipping the switch shown on the display. Flipping the wrong switch will trigger a search.

    Web Animation 
  • The trailer for LegendaryFrog's One Ring to Rule Them All 3 has Sauron deliberating over the Wire Dilemma.
    Sauron: Red wire! Blue wire! Red wire! Blue wire!
  • One RWBY Chibi sketch had us seeing a day in the life of Zwei. Among other heroic acts, he saves Ren from one of these.

    Web Comics 
  • 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 Comic Supermegatopia, 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?"
  • Parodied here in Skin Horse. And then it turns out that Chris can, in fact, tell the difference between carnelian, magenta and burgundy, as a result of the apparently-unrelated activity he'd been engaged in when the crisis began.
    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.
  • Parodied in Real Life Comics strip
  • 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 Gamebook 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 him immediately.
  • String Theory (2009): Cutting the green wire would have just resulted in equipment failure, but Dr. Herville Albert Schtein is color blind.
  • 21st Century Fox had one comic that demonstrated how they get around the issues with color-blind species and wiring, scented wires.
  • Original Life had one strip where Sissy asked Elizabeth how did Fisk remain so calm despite how chaotic their house was. Cue an action montage of a typical day at work for Fisk including a wire dilemma with his partner on the phone with the bomb expert saying there WAS no red wire.
    Red: There is no red wire. There's a light salmon wire, and a sort of dark heliconia...
  • In Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal: "Defuse", the dilemma is whether, since the bomb squad has been reading the news, they want to cut the wire that defuses the bomb or the one that means instant death.

    Web Original 
  • Adrian and Phoenixia in the Anti-Cliché and Mary-Sue Elimination Society — they have an argument over which wire Phoenixia said to pull after Adrian already pulled the wire. The bomb ends up shutting itself off because the argument was so ridiculous.

    Web Videos 
  • In "The Birthday Party" of Chad, Matt and Rob, the trio and Big Hurl hijack a van which happens to have a girl with a bomb strapped on her and with three wires to choose from. The green wire is the correct one, the white wire causes the others to have their life flash before their eyes, the yellow wires has Matt hesitate and gets mocked by Chad and Rob for it as their argument makes them forget about the bomb just as it detonates.
  • Inverted in two ways in Maple Evil. One, you can't actually see him messing with the wires, and two, instead of disarming the bomb he just extends the timer.
  • A Heavy's 2fort Adventure ends with one of these, with no way to safely determine which wire will not make the fort explode. A bit of Self-Parody, since many of the Choose Your Own Adventure options leading up to the wire-cutting are also impossible to guess correctly (i.e. without dying for some arbitrary, but hilarious, reason).
  • Parodied in the sponsorship ad for the Internet Historian video TheVarus Strakes Buck. A bomb defusal expert is in the middle of such a dilemma, worrying which wire to cut to defuse a bomb in the middle of a city, when Raycon Man runs up, uttering his Battle Cry "Raycon Good, Wires Bad", and snips a random wire, immediately setting the bomb off.
  • Shephard's Mind brings this trope into play, where Adrian thinks he has to cut a wire to disarm a nuke, and attempts to with his knife. It works.

    Western Animation 
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles:
    • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987):
      • Parodied in the 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.
    • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2003)
      • In "City at War Part 1", Leonardo tries to disarm a bomb planted by the Foot. Clearly having no idea what to do "(Okay...Donnie does this kind of stuff all the time. How hard can dismantling a bomb really be?") he yanks out a random wire. The timer stops...before restarting, forcing Leo to run for his life.
  • 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 a rat's nest of enough wires to fully equip a house; and of course all of them are red.
    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. Incidentally, the colors of the wires match the Justice League members involved: black (Batman), blue (Superman), red (Flash), green (Green Lantern) and yellow-and-black (Hawkgirl).
  • 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 X-5's transmission is cut off, causing Sparky to become frustrated and cut a wire randomly.
  • In one episode of G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero, COBRA plants several earthquake-causing bombs that can only be defused by cutting four colored wires in the right sequence, with the added problem that Joe's bomb-defusal expert momentarily forgets the right sequence halfway through.
  • The Tick:
    • 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).
  • Parodied on Family Guy's "Brian Does Hollywood" fake Previously on… intro.
    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.
  • Archer:
    • First Ray, 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 (thanks to Archer saying "Mancy" for M), so cutting the green wire speeds up the detonation. Eventually, they just dump out the bomb from the airship. Onto a populated area.
      Cyril: I think we just bombed Ireland.
      Lana: I'm pretty sure that's Wales.
    • Subverted in a later episode when Archer calls him about disarming a Self-Destruct Mechanism wired to his mother's desk:
      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!
      [Archer cuts the wires, nothing happens]
      Ray: Oh my God.
      Archer: What?
      Ray: I lied. I didn't wire it.
  • 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.
  • The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes:
    • 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 conundrum 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 has to disarm a bomb set by someone who, believing Dodgers would follow the cliché 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, does 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.
  • In Static Shock, Rubberband Man has to defuse a bomb. The directions are literally written on the bomb. Problem is that he can't read the instructions due to his dyslexia, which he never got help for and which is exacerbated by the stress of the bomb. The final step is to rotate the detonator, but he can't figure out which way. He reasons that the word is too long to be "clockwise", and so rotates it counterclockwise. He's right.
  • Bounty Hamster. In "Save the Whale", Cassie can't make a decision when confronted with the two wires. Then an alien baby with More Teeth than the Osmond Family runs up and chomps on the red wire, shocking itself and disarming the bomb.
  • In the Victor & Hugo episode "Do-In-Yourself" type 8 happens to Victor while trying to disable an alarm system in a jewelers, ending in him electrifying himself, to the total disconcern of anyone watching.
  • Rick and Morty: In "Rick and Morty's Thanksploitation Spectacular", Morty is told to cut the blue wire on the rocket, but all of them are shades of blue and Rick fails to clarify which blue he meant. Morty just lasers the monument in half.
  • In the The Penguins of Madagascar episode "Tagged", the penguins built an upgrade into the zoo's central heating system in order to keep all of the animals warm during an especially harsh winter. Unfortunately they are interrupted before Kowalski can install the cooling unit which would prevent the furnace from overloading and exploding. They have to rely on the lemurs to finish installing it and Kowalski tries to explain that there are seven knobs; red, crimson, scarlet, brick, cardinal, ruby and rose, but all of the buttons look the same shade of red. The lemurs are told to only twist the scarlet knob but as Maurice lampshades; they are all red and they're not interior decorators. Mort finally appears to get lucky and twist the right knob but then the lemurs realize they accidentally connected the cooling unit to the zoo's central air conditioner rather than the furnace. Thankfully they avert the massive explosion by opening the main water valve which somehow relieves the pressure enough on the furnace.

    Real Life 
  • 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. There is a story, possibly apocryphal, that some of these German designs had been registered in the London Patent Office before the war, but that nobody thought to look there.
    • Related to this, many German bombs were fitted with an anti-handling device, intended to set the bomb off if anybody tried to move or disassemble it. The British were able to figure out how to defeat it after one bomb landed on a muddy seashore, were the combination of soft landing and getting submerged caused it to fizzle.
  • 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. Sample quote: "Your correspondent was once called out to a scene where a teenage cretin, finding that batteries would go pop if heated in a fire, taped nails around D-cells and put them on a camping cooker. Terrifyingly, some of the nails flew as much as two or three feet when this infernal device reaped its deadly harvest."
    • He also said that while the newbies wouldn't even be half way through getting on the full EOD gear, before the veterans in fire resistant gloves had already yanked out the sparklers duct taped to a petrol can.
  • Because of this trope the preferred method of dealing with bombs is to relocate them to a bomb range (or at least somewhere that damage will be minimal) and then just setting them off. If moving the bomb is impractical, a common plan B is to surround the bomb with material that can contain the blast (again, to minimize the damage), and then just set the bomb off.
  • Robert Evans, a former EOD, serves up a dose of reality in this article from Cracked. Item one is titled "Cutting wires is the last resort (Shotguns are the first)".
  • A variation of this trope was a key part for John Birges' famous bomb used for the Harvey's Resort Hotel bombing. The bomb features a large steel box filled with the explosives, and a smaller box on top of it featuring 28 switches. To defuse the bomb, the switches must be flicked in a specific order that will only be revealed when Birges' ransom money is paid. If the wrong switch is flipped, it detonates. Needless to say, the defusal team didn't even attempt to guess the correct order.
    • Even worse. The bomb still wouldn't have been disarmed if the switches were flipped in the correct order, it would have just allowed the FBI to have moved it to a remote location for detonation. Which he spelled out in his ransom note. However the FBI didn't believe it for obvious reasons. Replicas of the bomb are still used to train the FBI's bomb disposal team and even decades later with new technology and the blueprints no one has managed to safely disarm it as it was built.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Red Wire Blue Wire, Wrong Wire


Rincewind and the Bomb

Rincewind tries to disarm a bomb planted by an Assassin, but turns the wrong flask and causes it to detonate instead.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (5 votes)

Example of:

Main / WireDilemma

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