Mr. Wizard dickery

Okay, honestly, some of the scenes in this video of out-of-context clips from Nickelodeon's 1980s reboot of Mr. Wizard hardly count as dickery. In fact, some bits just look like what happens when a good teacher tells kids they aren't quite understanding the science yet. But, then, I have a Mr. Wizard bias. And a bias toward not coddling children.

Nonetheless, there are parts of this video that are downright hilarious—"See these two pins, Stacy? Today I'm going to stick them in you!" And, of course, you must watch through to the end, where Mr. Wizard abandons a poorly dressed 1980s child by the side of the road.

Via the SF Signal and the wonderful Joanne Manaster.


  1. Holy crap. I used to watch Mr. Wizard religiously as a kid and also cringed with the crotchedyness he could unleash on the young children. It was such a love/hate relationship.

  2. Ah, the memories this brings back. In the end segment some might think it adds to the dickishness of Mr. Wizard that he was making that kid hold a walkie-talkie and was about to fire a gun into it (okay, a starter pistol, but still…). It was then the kid’s job to start a stopwatch when he heard the gun through the walkie-talkie and stop it when he heard the actual sound of the gunshot. It was an experiment to determine the speed of sound, although Mr. Wizard would then explain that the speed of sound isn’t constant but can be affected by various factors.

    In another segment he showed a girl how to measure the height of a tree using a pan of water. At the end she came up with a height and asked if she had the right answer. He gave a fairly vague reply and then asked her if she thought her answer was right.

    That was the sort of thing that always made me love Mr. Wizard as a kid. Yes, it seems like dickishness, but he was really pressuring the kids to understand the science behind what they were doing. Although even if he’d been more like Mr. Rogers I still would have loved him because, hey, science!

  3. That was hilarious. I’ve heard of, but never seen, Mr. Wizard before. Is this just in his house? Some old man invites kids over to his house to show them science experiments?

    1. Well, gee, when you put it like THAT it sounds kinda wrong…

      Seriously, though, Mr. Wizard’s World was a show that ran on Nickelodeon in the late 80’s on Nickelodeon. I like to refer to it as the time when Nick was still cool.

      It was (I think) a reboot of a short-lived TV series also hosted by Don “Mr. Wizard” Herbert from 1951 which I’d heard a couple of adults talk about but had never seen. And based solely on the way they talked about it I was a fan even before the first episode aired.

      1. The original Mr. Wizard actually ran for several years in the 50s and 60s. The main difference, other than the introduction of color video, wqas that the old sequences were longer and more involved. Apparently modern kids don’t have the attention span of us Boomers.

  4. My friend sent me this link with the same “What a Dick!”  reaction.

    But it seemed to me that he’s just a patient, if slightly crochety, teacher. No harm in telling kids they need to try harder or get something right, as long as praise is given just as freely. 
    My best teachers were the ones who pushed me harder. 

    He SHOULD be chastising those kids for their fashion, haircuts and eyewear choices. 

  5. I am remembering John Candy portraying Mr. Science in his Johnny LaRue character on Second City TV

  6. We need a new Timmy.

    Well, now I finally know where “Mr Lizard” from that Dinosaurs Show comes from.

  7. I saw Mr. Wizard at a public event before his show reboot in the 1980’s. He put a quarter on top of some insulation on my hand then took a blowtorch to it. He was thoughtful enough to ask if I was right-handed (I am) and put the quarter on my left hand. 

  8. They missed the volume displacement episode where the kid was repeatedly dunked in the 55 gallon drum of cold water.

  9. I loved this show so much! Supermarket Science was always awesome, because I could usually try those at home because we would actually have the stuff.

  10. Whoa, wait, now telling some kid they’re wrong is being a dick?  Oh the poor fragile egos of children who can’t ever be wrong.

    FSM forbid!

  11. I was in the experiential science education world for a number of years (science demonstrations and hands-on experiments in a museum and classroom context), and I can say that most of us have a fond respect for Mr. Wizard, while still acknowledging the fact that his methods are a bit primitive, by today’s standards. Experiential education is a well researched field that has developed a lot in the last 20 years. Sometimes Mr. Wizard was a bit of a dick, and could tend toward the didactic (let the smart guy tell you how it is).

    That said, he was a pioneer, and you can’t fault someone for not being perfect when they are pushing a whole new method of teaching science in a world where, “go ahead and try it” was not a common way of teaching science. It’s no wonder that people have fond memories of Mr. Wizard – we just can’t hold him to the same standard we have today for this type of science demonstration based education.

    And it isn’t just a matter of “kids these days can’t take a harsh truth” which is starting to become my least favorite untrue thing that “old people” think about “kids these days”, next to every generation’s favorite “all their music sounds like toilet sounds”. “Kids these days” are as good at harsh truths as anyone (IE, still not very good, but that’s not generational), but the reasons that people deliver messages in a harsh way tend to have more to do with their own need to be “right” than it does with an actual attempt to bring understanding on a topic. Sometimes to win the war you must lose the battle, and occasionally pass up an opportunity to just tell someone that you were right, and they were wrong. That’s not coddling the student, it’s just focusing on a longer goal.

    1. I’ve often thought the manner of speaking Mr. Wizard employed was more on a kid to kid interaction, rather than an adult to kid interaction. He looks crotchety, he sounds 8.

    2. As a yoga teacher, I would correct new students once or twice.  If I went over and corrected them twenty times, that would have been the last time that they ever came to a yoga class.

  12. Most of the time he’s just telling them they are wrong. This isn’t dickish.  Letting people think they are right when they aren’t is dickish.  Althought, pointing and laughing at them people wrong would also be dickish, but he doesn’t do that.

    The only people who think that being told they are wrong is dickish are the ones who enjoy being stupid.

    This is most people.

    1. Hi Most People!

      It isn’t his words that make him come off as a dick, it’s his crotchety delivery.  He snaps at kids with a short temper, delivers the words bitterly, seemingly without any compassion.You can say “Stop Suzy, you’re doing that wrong!” in a few different ways. If you snap it in an exasperated voice Suzy is going to stop all right, but I’ll doubt if she’s in a hurry to start again.  Saying it kindly and with patience will get a much better reaction from the kid.

      1.  I never realized the goal was to get a better reaction. I thought he was teaching science and critical thinking skills.
        He was treating them in an honest, direct, and sincere manner. Mr. Wizard must have thought that young people can handle being spoken to directly and without the kid gloves. Watching the show as a young man, I remember respecting him for respecting his assistance enough to treat them like full people.

        1. That’s at the most basic. If you want to endear kids to the subject and encourage lifelong learning skills then isn’t that better?

          Treating people with courtesy has nothing to do with them being kids or adults. It has to do with not being a dick.

    2. The only people who think that being told they are wrong is dickish are the ones who enjoy being stupid.

      I bet you’re fun at parties. Or would be if you were ever invited to one.

  13. ZOMG, thank you for this. As a kid I had a certain empathetic amusement at Mr. Wizard’s style. To be honest though, compare him to “Julius” from the PBS series whose name eludes me. Julius nearly always had a “failed” experiment and became more of a laugh than Mr Wizard, who could be harsh to a youth assistant, but always with the intent of educating. 

  14. In case anyone thinks this is serious, all of the “you’re wrong” quotes come from an exchange like, “You’d think A, but you’re wrong, it’s actually B!”  A fine way to get anyone to open their mind and challenge their own assumptions.

  15. I remember the original and the reboot with nothing but love. The original was so amazing to a young science/sci-fi fan. Actual experiments showing the scientific principles I had been reading about, and for kids! And back then we had some serious chemistry sets that we could use to try some of them ourselves. The local hobby shops actually carried numerous chemicals and professional glass experimental equipment for the more ambitious amateur chemist. Probably not as safe as it could have been, but it was “science as a fun kid’s hobby” for the first time.

  16. Telling anyone they’re wrong is perceived as mean or “dickish” because the US has an anti-intellectual society. People aren’t interested in knowing, they’re interested in being right and inflating their egos.

    1. Interesting premise. Besides he wasn’t as harsh as this out-of-context video makes it look. I think it’s more a case of being a slave to the clock. He had lots of these to shoot in a short time, he just rushed the kids along a little. We look back and see it as being dickish, perhaps because of what you describe here.

  17. I remember that one with the car. (Nice Buick, Don. Does it come with life rafts?) He drives 1km away and fires a starter pistol. The kid is holding a walkie talkie and a stopwatch, and times the difference between hearing the gunshot on the radio (via the speed of light) and in the air (via the speed of sound). It’s 3 seconds, so the speed of sound is about .33km/s. Science!

    Pretty sure that was the only Mr. Wizard’s World bit that was done outside, too.

  18. I was almost on that show and knew some of the kids in this video when we were all in elementary school together. I should rejoin the facebooks and show this to them.

    I remember Eugene was new to Canada and when the teacher would ask him a question, he would stand to deliver answer, be it a math question or reading from a book during reading class. Well she loved that so we all had to stand to answer questions after that. In worked pretty well and I don’t know why they didn’t continue the practice through out all grades.

    I, on the other hand, caused all sorts of problems in class and was told I wouldn’t be chosen to be on the show because of this.

  19. “Great Jumping Jehosaphat! The water’s starting to get all bubbling on top I guess doing that instead of turning into a vapor offers conclusive proof that water’s not a chemical property. Right, Mr. Science?”

    “No. That’s not quite correct, Jimmy. You see, those bubbles indicate that the water is starting to boil. And now, if you’ll look closely, you can see steam beginning to rise from the test tube.”

    “Oh, wowie-two-shoes! But that stuff sure looks an awful lot like the smoke that was rising from the candle. You wouldn’t try to slip me the old rubber peach just because I’m a gullible child, would you, Mr. Science?”

    —Bob and Ray

  20. They should have put a clip in from the water boarding episode where Mr. Wizard made a kid think he was going to drown for a good 30 seconds. 

  21. I saw this yesterday and this moment was the best:

    I was literally in the giggles for ten minutes when i heard that. I couldn’t stop laughing:

    “Before you leave today, *YOUR* head’s gonna be on that platter!”

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