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Wrong Wire

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Riggs: Rog?
Murtaugh: Yeah?
Riggs: Grab the cat!

A sub-trope of the Wire Dilemma, cutting the Wrong Wire will very often simply speed up the countdown to detonation or, for some reason, jump it ahead an arbitrary amount, typically just enough time to pull out a Million to One Chance at salvation.

Of course, this would realistically require a far more exotically-designed detonator than most would bother with. In reality, if cutting the Wrong Wire doesn't cause the bomb to go off, there's really no reason why it should do anything at all. In point of fact, the easiest to make, and by far most reliable bombs only have two or three wires: a positive and a negative to the ignition switch, and perhaps a ground. Cutting either of the non-ground wires would logically disable the bombnote , since without power to the ignition switch, there's nothing to trigger the detonator, and the ground wire would do absolutely nothing.


Of course, any bomb maker would know this, and could conceivably start thinking of countermeasures to stop a bomb squad if they start to enjoy the "game" too much. They might even be willing to risk the bomb being disarmed Just in Time to rub their superiority in their enemy's face.

There is one particularly good reason to build a detonator with wiggle room; if the bombmaker screws up while assembling the bomb, they thus have time to correct that screwup before it kills them.



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    Anime & Manga 
  • In Gunsmith Cats, bomb-maker Ken Taki uses Wrong Wires for safety reasons, and has become more safety-focused recently as he has early stage multiple sclerosis, but was forced by The Syndicate to keep making bombs despite having a degenerative nerve condition that made his hands shake uncontrollably under stress.
    Minnie-May: Oh, Crap! The power cut off and the power-off switch cycled! We've got ten minutes before it blows!
    Rally: Why use a timer when the power's cut? Why not just, "Boom?"
    Ken: Hey, everyone makes mistakes, huh? And I like living!

    Film — Live-Action 
  • In Lethal Weapon 3 the use of this trope leads to the memorable "Grab the cat" line.
  • When the student-built atomic bomb in The Manhattan Project is accidentally activated, it's initially set for 999 hours. Plenty of time, right? Except that the circuitry has been damaged, and the clock begins speeding up exponentially...
  • When Myung-shik is attempting to defuse the bomb on the bridge in Quick, he sneezes at the wrong moment and cuts the wrong wire. The countdown immediately speeds up.
  • In Serial Killing 4 Dummys, Amil uses a homemade shaped charge to blow open the doors to the school. However, he has forgotten how he wired the bomb, and spends a few minutes trying to remember which wire connects to which. He eventually connects two wires and, instead of starting the timer, immediately detonates the bomb.
  • The Shadow: In The Movie, a colorblind scientist cuts the wrong wire on the nuclear bomb, making the timer go to warp speed. By the time he's reconnected that wire to fix it, he's gone from having hours to having about two minutes.
  • Sneakers. Not a bomb, but amusing nonetheless —
    Bishop: You're sure you know which one to cut?
    Carl: Yes! The alarm's always the green one.
    *snip* Darkness falls around them as the fire alarm keeps ringing.
    Bishop: Good, Carl...
  • The climax of the mid-90s Denzel Washington vehicle Virtuosity looks like a straight example of this trope, with a virtual recording of the now-dead antagonist mocking every wrong choice thrown in for flavor... until the timer hits 3 seconds, freezes, and begins looping back over the last 30 seconds or so of video. He'd actually gotten the right wire some time ago, but had broken the detonation program in the process.

  • The (in)famous ending of Digital Fortress does this with a computer virus, accelerating the destruction when the wrong password is entered. Considering that the password is THE NUMBER THREE, they deserved all they got.
  • In The Frogmen by Robb White, a Drill Sergeant Nasty at the Navy's frogman school becomes infamous for the fiendish tricks he puts in his training mines. Unfortunate trainees who fail receive a shock.

    Live-Action TV 
  • An episode of CSI had a bomb tech disarm a bomb, only to discover that it has come back on. He disarmed a decoy bomb and this activates the real trigger mechanism. The bomber specifically designed the bomb to kill the cops trying to disarm it and was playing games with them.
  • In the BBC series Danger: UXB our heroes are constantly discovering that the Germans have added new and ingenious Wrong Wires to their bombs. Because this was Real Life, it's never as simple as a literal wire, and it's rarely as harmless as "countdown speeds up".
  • In Eureka, a doomsday machine jumps from 20-something hours to 7 hours when the wrong wire is cut.
  • The pilot for MacGyver has one of these in its opening scene, prompting him to get out a paper clip and do his thing for the first time in the series.
    • In "Off the Wall", Mac is trying to defuse a Time Bomb. He takes the cover off but when he touches the circuitry, the timer drops from 7:52 to 0:52.
  • In M*A*S*H, a rogue U.S. bomb once landed near the camp and Hawkeye and Trapper went out to disarm it with the instructions read out by Col. Blake. Unfortunately, one of the instructions was written in reverse (i.e. "do A but first do B") and with Henry reading the instructions out one line at a time, they don't become aware of the "but first" until after they've done the thing they weren't supposed to do yet. Hawkeye and Trapper run before the bomb goes off. Luckily, it's a leaflet bomb.
  • Pixelface: In "Saving Private Romford", Romford's self-destruct protocol has been activated and is counting down to an electronic pulse that will wipe out all the data in the console. Clairparker comes up with a plan that amounts to 'pull out a random cog and hope that it stops things'. She pulls out a cog and the countdown speeds up. The other characters scream at her to put it back.
  • Riverdale: In "Dog Day Afternoon", Polly has been forced to wear a bomb vest. Charles talks Betty through disarming it and tells her to cut the wire that is connected to the battery. She cuts a wire, but it makes the timer count down faster. In the nick of time, Betty disarms it by sticking her bobby pin into an override switch.
  • A similar situation (not with wires, but close enough) occurs in the Stargate SG-1 episode "Serpent's Venom", where Carter and Daniel have to enter a combination code into a mine in order to reprogram it, but they enter the wrong code, resulting in a countdown starting up (as this is the defense mechanism put in place on the mine so it wouldn't be tampered with.)

  • A particularly nasty, not bomb-related, takes place in electrical circuits that have three phases plus neutral to provide power to devices that use single phase (thus lower voltage). If the latter is cut or disconnected while having single-phased devices connected, those will suffer higher voltages and have a very high probability of ending up fried, especially electronic devices.


  • Happens on The Navy Lark when the crew of HMS Troutbridge is attempting to defuse the self-destruct mechanism on an American satellite. Fortunately, the first time this happens it turns out that what they have retrieved is not the satellite but a marker buoy. The second time, however...

    Video Games 
  • The classic point-and-click adventure game Discworld 2: Missing Presumed...? further spoofs the above Lethal Weapon 3 example in the intro, with Rincewind and the Librarian standing in for Riggs and Murtaugh. This being Discworld, the bomb is a Clock Punk contraption consisting of three flasks of mysterious bubbling liquid to be turned upside-down, rather than wires.
  • Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes plays this trope both ways, and extends it to every bomb module possible. Screw up with strikes remaining and the timer speeds up. Screw up when there aren't any strikes left? Bye bye.
  • During one mission in Return to Castle Wolfenstein, two German soldiers are working on disarming an aerial bomb and discussing which wire to cut. They cut the wrong one and blow themselves up.
  • A variation occurs in the Playstation/N64/PC game based on Spiderman, where a group of terrorists have set up a massive bomb in a bank: the player has to pick up the bomb and carry it over to an explosion-proof safe, but dropping the bomb at any point speeds up the countdown.
  • In Bomb Squad, incorrectly replacing a piece will cause the Magic Countdown to speed up until you remove it. Cutting the wrong piece causes the bomb to explode unless you quickly resolder it.
  • Yakuza 2; Majima is tasked with defusing a bomb, which he does pretty well on instinct alone until he gets to the last two wires. He picks one at random and cuts it, triggering a massive explosion ... In Kaoru's dream, anyway; in reality Majima got it right and shows up back in Purgatory congratulating himself on a job well done.

    Western Animation 
  • On Archer, cutting the green wire of a bomb speeds up the timer, because Archer misread the bomb's serial number to their bomb expert. M... as in Mancy?
  • Justice League
    • The show uses the "wrong wire speeds up the countdown" method in the episode "Wild Cards." Justified because the Joker built the bomb in question, and it turned out to be a fake anyway.
    • Happens more than once. This becomes an Overly-Long Gag, and at one point The Flash has to "run with it".