911: Magic School Bus

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Magic School Bus
At my OLD school, we used Microsoft Encarta 2005.
Title text: At my OLD school, we used Microsoft Encarta 2005.


The Magic School Bus is a series of educational children's books in the US that was adapted in the mid-nineties into an animated television show. The series centers on a class of children whose teacher Ms. Frizzle makes use of the titular magic school bus to take her students on a variety of magical field trips that allow them to experience various scientific topics first hand, such as the inner anatomy of the human body, the effects of friction, what goes on inside a beehive, and many others.

In this comic, however, Ms. Frizzle initially takes the students onto the bus apparently for one of these field trips to explore the way batteries work, but then for whatever reason, she has the students get off the bus again and simply resorts to looking up the Wikipedia article about batteries. The implied joke is that, with the advent on resources like Wikipedia, it's no longer necessary for Ms. Frizzle to take the students on half-hour long trips in the bus to experience whatever phenomenon they are studying that day (which is what the third panel symbolizes) - Wikipedia effectively answers the question quickly and easily. An alternative answer is that Ms. Frizzle has just gotten lazy, and has resorted to looking up the answers to the students' questions on Wikipedia instead of taking them on field trips. The alternative seems more likely, since the third panel shows them still going on an adventure, however briefly it takes to get to the library/computer lab.

The red and white checkered rocket in the bottom-right of the third panel can possibly be a reference to The Adventures of Tintin Destination Moon and Explorers on the Moon, in which Tintin goes to the moon in a rocket that is similar, if not identical, to the one depicted. To the bottom-left is a green Ciliate, a single celled life-form covered in hair-like fibres. At the top right are a set of Planetary gears. To the top left is a ringed planet, perhaps Uranus and in the background is a complex Feynman diagram.

The child who is asking the question looks similar to Wanda, one of the regular students in the class who often asked the questions that set the field trips in motion. Ralphie, the student in the second panel with the backward hat, was another student who often asked these questions. The students in the class were shown to be from many backgrounds (i.e. some of the students were black, another was Asian, etc.), something Randall appears not to have added into this comic, despite it being in color.

The title text is a reference to Phoebe, one of the students in Ms. Frizzle's class, who would regularly make a remark beginning with "At my old school..." (Phoebe used to go to a different school, unlike many of the other students in the class) to express wonder at how unusual were the events of Ms. Frizzle's field trips (e.g. "At my old school, we never rode on bees!"). Phoebe actually said that so much that in an episode where she goes back to her old school, the sign out front labels it as "Phoebe's old school".

Microsoft Encarta 2005 was a digital encyclopedia that was often used in school settings for learning with the aid of computers. Arguably, with the advent of Wikipedia, programs like Encarta have become relatively less widely used, which is part of the joke in the title text.


[A girl sits at a desk in a classroom, and the teacher stands before her. The teacher has a blue dress and blonde hair piled on her head in a bun. The girl raises her hand, the teacher raises both arms above her head, a pointer in one hand.]
Girl: Ms. Frizzle, how do batteries work?
Ms. Frizzle: To the bus!
[Ms. Frizzle and the children are shown getting onto the bus.]
[The bus, with Ms. Frizzle at the helm and a child's face in every window, soars through a rainbow void filled with a giant amoeba, a rocket, an epicyclic gear, a planet with rings, and a Feynman diagram.]
[The bus is parked, and the occupants have gotten out. The children stand around Ms. Frizzle, and she stands at a desk with a computer on it, typing.]
Computer: Wikipedia - Batteries

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They need to get on a bus just to access a computer? That's a pretty awful school. Davidy²²[talk] 01:38, 17 April 2013 (UTC)

The description says that Mrs. Frizzle has gotten lazy, and just takes the bus to the school’s computer lab. But if she really is lazy, why take all the effort to herd a gaggle of excited kids to a bus and DRIVE to the computer lab when a walk would be just fine? Won’t that take more effort? 42.book.addict (talk) 21:58, 2 February 2024 (UTC)
All traditional computers have buses. Tryc (talk) 13:45, 25 July 2013 (UTC)
...We are no longer friends. 00:04, 5 March 2014 (UTC)
Alternatively: "CARLOS!" Nyperold (talk) 19:31, 27 December 2016 (UTC)

I thought the joke was that the bus drove past all sorts of usual things (gears, rocket, single-called organism, Saturn, Feynman Diagram - ok, that last one isn't usual for MSB, but perhaps xkcd), but they couldn't find any batteries that day, so Wikipedia comes to the rescue. -j 19:01, 2 August 2013 (UTC)

My headcanon is that they looked at Wikipedia to figure out where to drive next for hands-on experience. I think usually Liz does that, but I can't see her anywhere in the comic... maybe she wasn't available that day? -- 18:53, 12 May 2020 (UTC)

Incidentally, much of the demise of Encarta was blamed on Wikipedia. --Quicksilver (talk) 20:09, 17 August 2013 (UTC)

It really, is sad, I used and loved Encarta. Dontknow (talk) 23:37, 17 April 2017 (UTC)

What about Dorothy Anne (with the pigtails)? DA was my second favorite. After Arnold's (not shown) "Why does this always happen to me" monologues, her "According to my research..." (always with some big book in her lap) was very entertaining indeed. Also, has it really been 20-some years? Anonymous 07:24, 5 December 2013 (UTC)

None of the children are particularly identified in the transcript, and neither she nor Ralphie (also seen) did anything of note in the comic. I suppose if the consensus is that they might be mentioned anyway (with "Girl" replaced with "Wanda"), then... sure, but if that were the case, it's likely that it would have been changed since. Nyperold (talk) 19:31, 27 December 2016 (UTC)

Isn't that the rocket from the Destination Moon/Explorers on the Moon Tintin books? 16:31, 14 June 2014 (UTC)

It is! That's pretty cool! 625571b7-aa66-4f98-ac5c-92464cfb4ed8 (talk) 15:14, 7 March 2017 (UTC)

Another reason for the use of Wikipedia may be due to the fact that battery acid is, as the name implies, an acid, and the bus likely wouldn't be able to travel through it. Though it's doubtful that this was the main joke, this could still be a sub-reason. Khrocksg (talk) 03:11, 12 November 2020 (UTC)khrocksg, 11:11, November 12th 2020

in one of the episodes they literally go to the sun i think it's fine 16:09, 7 June 2024 (UTC)